We are inundated with marketing messages day in and day out; morning, noon and night someone is talking to or at us about something s/he want us to pay attention to.

Recently, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” in a series on marketing to millennials, a really fresh and clearly articulated perspective was presented. Some savvy, “hipster” types were interviewed, and had very specific do’s and don’ts for reaching them.

“I think we are a generation that wants to see innovation, but at the same time we don’t want to be bombarded with advertisements or other bits of marketing in places that are personal to us … that bothers us. That’s going to turn me off. … We’re skeptical; we want something that’s innovative. But at the same time, we want it to be genuine and heartfelt.” This was from a 28-year-old man working in startups.

It’s not just millennials that want to see a brand’s true colors within their marketing endeavors. It’s safe to say that, as a society, we all do.

Another person interviewed said, “Honestly, if I could say anything to the advertisers, it’d be this — entertain me, make me happy, capture my attention, speak to my conscious, and then leave me the heck alone.”

In other words, engage on my terms, but do not blatantly try to sell to me.

Identity Connection

So what’s a brand (or business) to do? It certainly can’t stop marketing.

It all comes down to being deliberate about whom you’re trying to be as a brand or a business entity. Brands build trust through consistent behaviors that are based on principles, credibility and core values. Defining your worldview and how you are different creates an opportunity for connection through shared values, challenges, pursuits, passions or causes.

A brand is not just a logo or web site. Do these elements help distinguish your brand? Absolutely. Your visual identity is exceedingly useful in allowing your audience to recognize you; however, your brand is really the perception, idea or impression that comes to mind for your audience.

It’s also the emotional connection or understanding that your customers associate with you. This perception can be influenced by “branding,” the process of crafting messages and strategies to help people form the impressions they have about your company.

Branding is about placing the correct seeds in people’s minds and watering them (through consistency in messaging and marketing) to help them grow into the complete ideas and feelings that you want your audience to have about you.

Creative Branding

Branding is accomplished through a variety of different marketing channels and experiences. Largely due to the advent of social media, what used to be “one way” is now a two-way street, or even an eight-lane highway. You don’t say what your brand is; your audience does. You can only create messaging and experiences to encourage your audience one way or another, but you also need to “be” the brand, not just talk about it.

So how does the modern brand, or any brand for that matter, create an identity that is unique, that is genuine, that stands for something and makes its audience give a damn? In the immortal words of Socrates, know thyself.

You must discover or clarify what it is that you believe is most important when conveying your brand message. Everyone is different, and sometimes the biggest challenge is to maintain or further define that difference.

The Brand Manifesto

What is your brand promise? What makes up the brand filter that this premise must pass through? Some call it a manifesto — it suggests disruption or at least a strong opinion. Aside from providing great quality and service, what are those attributes that must exist to be considered part of your brand? Every company’s brand filter should be unique, but there are a few core identifiers that should always be part of it.

  1. Authenticity is a must, but what that means to each organization can and should be entirely different. The word is thrown around a lot, but it’s important. It’s the reason you got into business; it’s the need you uniquely fill; it’s the problem you solve for your customers.
  2. What is your compelling story? In a nutshell, once you get past the survival instincts and physical necessities, there is a deep and unwavering need for emotional connection. Your compelling story helps define your purpose and the emotional connection that will create your followers.
  3. What is unexpected or different about your brand? Why should your audience care? What keeps them coming back?
  4. For millennials, and perhaps for everyone, your audience wants to connect to something that matters. Give your audience a reason to brag about you or feel good about their association with you. What is the social good or greater good or contribution you are making? Why should your audience support you, value you and become a brand follower?
  5. The quality of your product or service counts. When it comes to poor quality, branding cannot save you. With the Internet and all of the ways to learn about a company and its company-to-client history readily available, information travels too quickly to hide. For every service provided, there’s likely to be a public review (or lack thereof) explaining what a great (or inferior) service you provided. If the quality of what you provide is poor, the brand your organization creates is likely to be synonymous.

Whether, as a brand, you’re still in the discovery phase or you have good understanding of whom you are but are struggling with the best way to reach your audience, keep in mind these takeaways.

  • Be you. Don’t try to be like another company.
  • Create a unique brand filter and opinionated perspective.
  • Have a higher purpose that is part of a compelling story. Know it, embrace it, make sure your team is like-minded and then share it.
  • Have a cause, something to stand for other than mere commerce, a meaningful reason for being in business. Shout it from the mountaintops, because then you will find and grow “your” audience. But get out of their personal space unless they invite you in.

Wendy Baird is principal and president of Insight180 (www.insight180.com), a branding agency located in historic Ellicott City. She can be reached at 410-203-0777 or [email protected].