Building a Brand

I'm no branding expert or fanboy. Growing up, I preferred the cheaper no-name alternatives and thought the brand loyalists were suckers for paying a premium. As I have grown older, busier, and slightly wealthier, I have gotten to enjoy and appreciate a few brands for their craft, reliability, and familiarity. Apple, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, Costco, Uniqlo, Amazon are my top ones. I'm also a fan of a few "personal brands" like Elon Musk and Naval Ravikant, for what they represent and do.  

As a product professional and an individual creator, I see the immense value and art in building brands.  Here's a very high-level breakdown of brand building. 

3 Levels of Brand 

Level 1. Name recognition: People know who you are and roughly what you do. You can earn name recognition if you are around for long enough, have a large enough customer base, and have a memorable name.  

Level 2. Quality & Trust: People love and trust your products, and are enthusiastic ambassadors. Amazon, Google, Costco, and Starbucks are some good examples. 

Level 3. Inspiration: This is the highest level of brand. This goes beyond business, your product, or other offerings. People understand and are inspired by what you stand for, your purpose, and your values. Very few people or companies reach this level. Nike stands for "Everyone with a body is an athlete" and honors great athletes. Apple stands for creativity and "think different". Elon Musk is one of the rare humans whose life mission is well known and inspiring to millions.

Why brand matters 

1. Love and support: It feels good to be appreciated. It is powerful to be supported by others in your mission. 

2. Preference: People trust, listen to what you have to say, and choose you, and continue to be long-term users. You stand above the competition, have pricing power, and enjoy higher revenues and market cap.  

3. Growth: Your customers and fans become voluntary ambassadors. Employees want to join you and organizations want to partner with you. New product lines also gain quick traction because of your brand. 

Your level of return and investment in brand depends on your situation and what you are optimizing for. If your goal is to run a small, medium, or commodity business, then just name recognition and trust may be sufficient. Most companies or people don't need to be a world-wide brand either - you can aim to be loved by your niche community or target market. A small group of superfans is usually better than a large group of lukewarm supporters. 

How to build a brand

In my opinion, the way you build a brand is the reverse of the pyramid above. You need to start with a purpose and values that go beyond yourself and profits. That inspires you to create great products and eventually earns you a following and support.  

1. Authentically and boldly stand for something: Life is short and we just get one shot at it. Individuals or organizations should start with an intention of what they want to do in their life and how they want to live it. Having a clear sense of purpose and living in integrity with that keeps us going and live with peace and joy. If your purpose is exciting, durable, and goes beyond yourself, the bonus is it may inspire others and build support and community around it. 

There are people or organizations that create a purpose in order to earn support or following. The main risk with that is fooling themselves into living an imposter life. As a brand strategy, I feel it will pretty quickly come across as inauthentic. True purpose and values are reflected in everything we do and that's hard to fake. 

2. Be uniquely good and earn trust: If your product and service are not unique, consistently and significantly better than other comparables, they are unlikely to stand out. People trust Amazon because of its incredible customer service. People love Apple because of how consistently good their products are. Treat your customers like long-term fans or community. It's also important to keep inventing. Sony and Xerox were great brands, but their product innovation fell behind. 

3. Reach out and be memorable: Lastly, it isn't enough to have an authentic purpose and great products - you need to nurture the brand by strategically and creatively put it out to the world or your target market. Building a community of fans or assimilating into an existing one, like Nike did with athletes, also makes it powerful.  As Steve Jobs says in this video below, it's a noisy world and people aren't going to remember a lot about us. You need to be very clear about what you want people to remember about us and creatively share that. 

Check out this video of Steve Jobs talking about brand building and Apple's iconic "Think Different" ad.