Last night I had the great honor to participate in an engaging conversation about branding and authenticity hosted by L.I.R. Productions.
The conversation was geared primarily towards helping entrepreneurs navigate the waters of building a business brand that’s intimately linked to your personal self.
I was very impressed by the insight of my fellow panelist: Aja Aguirre, Beauty Editor at Autostraddle; Joelle Jean-Fontaine, Founder + Designer at KRÉYOL; Natasha Moustache of Natasha Moustache Photography; and Jenn Walker Wall, Research Associate at MIT & Founder/Coach + Consultant at Work Wonders Coaching + Consulting; along with moderator Trish Fontanilla.
Reflecting on the conversation after the panel, I found I had a surprising take-away: don’t over think your brand.
It seems kind of blasphemous to write that: after all, I do have a Masters’ degree in marketing and strategic branding. And it drives me crazy when companies don’t put appropriate resources into to thinking and acting strategically about their brand.
But branding for small businesses, and especially independent entrepreneurs, strikes me as notably different from branding for larger organizations.
I once read – I believe it was in Made to Stick – that the purpose of a good communications strategy is to empower employees to act on behalf of a brand. They compared it to military orders from some far off headquarters: soldiers in the field needed to receive clear instructions but also needed to understand the intent behind those instructions so they could dynamically respond to the context on the ground.
Similarly, people who who speak on behalf a brand need to understand the voice and personality of the brand so they can all be good stewards in their various contexts. A person in customer service needs to be just as empowered to speak on behalf of a brand as the person who runs the official Twitter handle.
It takes a lot of effort and a lot of thought to accomplish that. It takes strategic branding.
A individual proprietor doesn’t need to be so rigorous. An individual person can find their own voice and follow their own authenticity.
That’s not to say that a small businesses brand should be synonymous with the owner’s voice – but an entrepreneur has a lot more flexibility to find their business’ voice just as they find their own voice.
“Branding” is such a buzz word, the tendency it to assume that it is something you have “get.” A business needs a brand.
But really, a brand is just the authentic voice and personality of an organization. You can find that and cultivate that without big budgets and powerpoints. For a small business, you can find that if you just relax and let the brand speak for itself.