What Branding Isn’t, What Branding Is, and How to Make Sure People Join Yours

Here’s what branding isn’t:

It’s not having a cool logo. It’s not dressing for success. It’s not self-serving competitiveness. It’s not converting yourself into a corporate clone. It’s not telling everyone you meet how awesome you are.

It’s not endless self-promotion at the expense of others. It’s not getting ahead of people and moving up the ladder. It’s not memorizing some hollow, hackneyed mission statement. It’s not puking your unique selling proposition all over everyone you meet.
It’s not integrating a sequence of promises that align with organizational initiatives.

Here’s what branding is:

How people experience you, and how people experience themselves in relation to you.

THE COOL PART IS: If your can nail those both, people won’t just buy your brand – they’ll join it.

Here’s how to make it happen:1. Don’t force your brand into a box. Here’s the problem with our hyperspeed, instant gratification culture: People who fail to summarize their brand’s uniqueness in three seconds are shunned.

Sadly, there’s all this social pressure to know how to articulate your value in a concise, intriguing and relevant manner. As if people who didn’t were the scum of the marketplace.

Excuse me, but branding isn’t that simple.

First of all, the term “branding” is finished. This is about identity. This is about bringing your humanity to the moment. Branding is for cattle. Secondly, while positioning statements are fun to come up with – and make you feel good about your value when they’re staring back at you from your shiny new website – branding isn’t some empty slogan you knock out on a Tuesday afternoon with your mastermind group.

Branding takes time. Years. And yours will evolve, just like your life evolves. Hell, mine took five years to crystallize, only to be upgraded two years later.

The point is: If you can summarize the entire scope of value that you, as a human being, deliver – in five words – then you’re doing your customers a massive disservice. Walt Whitman was right: You are large. You contain multitudes. And if you want people to join you, you have to peel the branding onion slowly. Otherwise, limiting your brand to some arbitrary, one-sentence overarching statement will limit its ability to grow into something better.

Remember: A forced brand is a forgotten one. Have you ever read Apple’s positioning statement?

2. Understand the evolving business landscape. Now, customers have the power. Now, customers make the choices. Now, customers drive the engine of interaction. And now, customers decide how much attention to give you. But if you cling to traditional ways of communicating, your brand will remain an unnoticeable blip on the radar.

One example of this principle in action is my daily fill in the blank exercise on Facebook. After running this mini experiment hundreds of times with thousands of people, I’ve discovered that it engages on several levels:

It’s fun. It’s funny. It’s organic. It taps into people’s creative flair. It meets people where they are. It flips the spotlight. It opens a direct channel. It provides free research. It doesn’t require much thought. It introduces an element of intrigue. It never has a right or wrong answer. It spices up people’s daily journey. And it gives people space to express themselves on my platform.

Look: Customers don’t want to constrict themselves into a predetermined mold; they want to create their own personal media landscape. Let them. Turn down your control freak knob and leave it up to them to close the loop. After all, people buy what they have a role in creating. They’re motivated by their own achievements, not your company’s accomplishments.

The point is, surrendering ownership doesn’t impede profit – it invites commitment. How vulnerable are you willing to make yourself?

3. Appeal to the human appetite for playful experiences. The best part about wearing a nametag every day is how much fun I get to have with people. From jokes about my memory problems to pokes about my identity crisis, the gags haven’t stopped in eleven years. And what I’ve learned from this trend is simple: Play draws people your brand’s orbit.

First, by spicing up people’s daily journey. Because when you bring your humanity to the moment, you make the moment a more pleasant passing of time. Second, play helps customers create their own game experience. That’s what allows them feel adventurous and exploratory.

And third, play creates an encounter in which anxiety is temporarily bracketed. In that safe space, people believe there is no reason not to take risks. Who wouldn’t want to join a brand like that? No wonder the Apple store is always crowded. It’s not a computer shop – it’s a jungle gym. I wonder how you could turn more of your brand moments into playful moment.

After all, branding isn’t just how people experience you; it’s how people experience themselves in relation to you. How are you letting your customers out for recess?

REMEMBER: Good brands are bought – great brands are joined.

Think about how people experience you.
Think about how people experience themselves in relation to you.

And nobody will even care what your logo looks like.

Is your brand buyable but not joinable?

For the list called, “26 Ways to Out Brand the Competition,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Publisher, Artist, Mentor

Who’s telling their friends about YOU?

Tune in to The Marketing Channel on NametagTV.com!

Watch video lessons on spreading the word!

How Joinable Is Your Brand?

Good brands are bought — great brands are joined.

Here’s what I mean:

To join a brand is to connect with it on a visceral level. To join a brand is to engage with it on a human level. To join a brand is to unite with it on a personal level.

Otherwise people are just giving you money.

Today we’re going to explore a collection of ideas to help your brand become more joinable.1. Surrender is the new control. Here’s the mistake stupid brands make: Instead of satisfying a compelling need, they project onto the market what they think they ought to want. Like the startup that invests thousands of dollars creating an elegant solution to a problem nobody has. Or the non-profit that drains the entire budget conserving irrelevant resources that are going extinct anyway.

In short: People fall love with their own marketing without recognizing that it’s already engaged to someone else.

Sounds like a bad country song to me.

If you want to make your brand more joinable, master the art of sweet surrender. Enable people to take your idea into their own hands by openly embracing a fan mentality.

For example, Scott Adams allows any of his readers to mash up his daily Dilbert comic strip. And if they’re funnier than his version, he’ll publish them. This demonstrates trust, transfers ownership to the customer and leverages vulnerability into viability. Does your brand do that?

As I learned from Vicki Kunkel’s book, Instant Appeal, “People who exhibit some sort of visual vulnerability relax out defenses and get greater support for their causes and companies.”

Remember: It’s not your job to tell customers how to consume you. Their taste puts food in your mouth – listen to it. Are you willing to give up some control of your brand in exchange for being able to let grow and expand it better and faster?

2. Inbreak is the new outreach. Outreach is outdated. Brands that claim to “start with the customer in mind” are full of crap. What they’re really trying to do is figure out how customers fit into their nice little marketing plan so they can bother them into buying something they don’t need.

Nice try, Don Draper, but that approach is broken.

If you want customers to join your brand, here’s my suggestion: Actually start with the customer. Focus on how your brand fits into people’s lives. That’s inbreak. That’s joining people first. And when you take this counterintuitive approach, a few cool things happen.

First, you proactively meet people where they live instead of cleverly sucking them into your marketing vortex. This lowers the threat level of your offering. Second, you extend respect for people’s life situation. This demonstrates empathy, respect and boundaries.

Third, by joining people first, you make them feel seen, heard and participated in. This delivers the social gift of gratitude. And lastly, instead of proving to people that you’re the kind of brand they can live with, you allow people to show you that they’re the kind of person you can’t live without. Which of your customers are just waiting for you to join them?

3. Click is the new join. To make your brand digitally joinable, you have to make it accessible through multiple channels. The secret is to help big numbers of people join you in small moments of clicking, the aggregate of which strengthens your brand over time. Here’s a collection of options you might consider:

*Make your brand subscribeable. Syndicate your brain. How many blog posts have published?
*Make your brand followable. Recognize that you’re a writer. How many of your tweets are worth printing out?
*Make your brand friendable. Become a virtual extrovert. Whose life is better because they know you?
*Make your brand likable. Get a personal demo video. How easy are you to get along with?
*Make your brand stalkable. Establish greater photo equity. How many pictures have you posted?
*Make your brand clickable. Build remarkability into everything you publish. How many bloggers are linking to you work?

Remember: Small moments plus big numbers equals huge profits. How many digital options are you giving people to interact with your brand?

4. Show-up is the new sign-on. When I first arrived at my professional association, the president took me aside and unexpectedly told me not to join. “Just show up, hang out and ask questions. Worry about joining later. Cool?”

Well, that’s a relief, I thought.

So I took Richard’s advice. And it turned out to be a much smarter investment of my time, money and energy. Plus I didn’t have to deal with the awkward pressures of membership, dues, committees and the like. Thank god. That’s all I need: Another affiliation.

The cool part is, after two years of casually showing up, I eventually did join. Then became a board member. Then became chapter president.

Lesson learned: Sometimes the best way to become more joinable is to tell people that it’s okay not to join. What do you have to lose? Why not look them in the eye say:

“Look, we have no petitions for you to sign, no recruitment drives for you to mount, and no expectations for you to fulfill. Just relax, and enjoy hanging out with the one club that requires absolutely nothing of you. Cool?”

Who knows? They might tell everybody. Are you blinded by the illusion that everyone in the world needs what your organization offers?

5. Imperfect is the new brilliant. The customer isn’t always right – but the customer always loves being right. And if you’re so smart, why aren’t you making other people look smart? Truth is, brands that are willing to broadcast their imperfection, remain open to improvement and allow customers to make their business smarter are eminently joinable.

Netflix, for example, offered one million dollars to anyone who could improve the accuracy of their movie recommendation algorithm by ten percent. This program was called The Progress Prize. And although it earned criticism from privacy advocates – not to mention the Federal Trade Commission – you better believe it positioned their brand as more joinable.

My suggestion: Kick your addition to terminal certainty. Be smart enough to be dumb. Besides, perfectionism enables procrastination, blocks inventiveness, stains communication and slaughters playfulness. Exert your imperfect humanity and your joinability will skyrocket. Are you still laboring under the myth that you have to do everything right? 

6. Engagement is the new marketing. For the past decade, I’ve never left the house without nametags. Because everywhere I go, people ask me if they can have one. And I’m happy to pass them out. To strangers, to friends, to random kids at the ballpark, whatever. My brand doesn’t discriminate.

The secret is, I don’t pass them out to make people wear nametags — I pass them out to make a point: My brand is participatory. Personally, I don’t even care if people wear the nametags. A lot of them don’t. What matters is that they join me that spontaneous moment of authentic human interaction, infused with a sprit of humor, playfulness and connection. That’s my brand. And people’s life is better because of it.

Your challenge is to determine the level of participation garnered by yours. After all, brand perception hinges on human interaction. And the only thing people can make a judgment about is how engaging with you makes them feel. I challenge you to think about how your brand could become more participative. Because encounter you have with another person either adds to – or subtracts from – its overall joinability. Do customers see your brand as a one-way street?

REMEMBER: Your people need to connect with you on a visceral level, engage with you on a human level and unite with you on a personal level.

Because it’s not enough for a brand to be bought – it has to be joined.

Is your brand buyable but not joinable?

For the list called, “26 Ways to Out Brand the Competition,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Who’s telling their friends about YOU?

Tune in to The Marketing Channel on NametagTV.com!

Watch video lessons on spreading the word!

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