Every enterprise has the power to create a truly magnetic brand that compels consumers before they even know what the business does. How? By fully discovering the meaning of a brand so that its essence can be defined and brought to life. Try following these six creative steps to realize the meaning behind your brand and unlock its full potential.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”Steve Jobs
In December of 2010, nearly a foot of snow fell in my hometown of Highlands, NC. It was the perfect backdrop for me to withdraw from the world for a few hours and hear myself think.
I was smack dab in the middle of my Nuclear Winter period and would be leaving what my divorce attorney referred to as “the marital home” soon. I was terrified.
I bundled up, put on my snow boots, and tucked my journal and a pencil into my coat pocket. I closed the front door behind me with barely an audible click.
The hike up and then down the driveway to where it met Shortoff Road was a workout. The snow was almost to my knees. I tucked my head down to shield my eyes from falling snow and kept going.
There were tracks on the road that I calculated to be about two hours old given the rate of snowfall. I placed my boots squarely in the center of the right tire track and silently thanked the hardy soul who had ventured out.
When I got to Mr. and Mrs. Woods’ home, I stopped and admired the plume of smoke curling in little puffs from their chimney. I knew that Mr. Woods had been up early to build that fire so that when Mrs. Woods woke up, the house would be warm.
The sweetness of the gesture in my mind’s eye, the automatic nature of his attentiveness, cut through the wind and my jacket. I was transfixed by the cozy, charming ranch home, tucked just off the road under the trees.
A home where daily routines and seemingly simple and considerate acts filled with love comprised not only a shelter but also a life, a devoted partnership.
I continued walking, past snow-laden rhododendron, pines, and naked branches of maples, oaks, and tulip poplars. Every sound was muffled within layers of icy powder, and I used the rhythm of my breathing, its syncopation, to slide into a dreamy meditation.
I needed to figure out how I was going to set up an entirely new life while supporting my son and myself.
I had chosen to lean into what I knew. And even though we were in the throes of the Great Recession, I had decided to begin a real estate firm against a backdrop of cries and warnings that I was at best foolish and, at worst, insane.
And in profound silence on that road, I could finally hear the urges from my brain to move forward by focusing on the meaning of a brand: Create a singular enterprise, Susie, with every detail conveying the vision you hold. By taking extraordinary care of your clients and imbuing every touchstone of the business with gorgeous design and care, you can succeed.
My Brand Discovery & The Meaning of a Brand Identity
I stopped at the red barn, Shortoff Road’s iconic structure, and began jotting down notes about the meaning of a brand like this. I scribbled in quick pencil strokes, made clumsy by my mittens. I wrote down details for every aspect of the brand, what we stood for, our values, philosophy, and how I wanted clients to feel.
I mapped every step of the customer experience via the entry points of phone, email, website, and walk-ins.
A few months later in the spring, I began renovating 180 SF of an old building that fronted on 4th Street. I joked it would be like living on a ship. A tiny, jewel box of an office that exuded every detail of how I wanted people to feel.
And when we opened that summer (and for years thereafter), person after person was stopped in their tracks as they made their way along 4th Street. Captivated by the office design, the landscaping, our sign, and the interior, they’d open the front door and peer in.
On an early August morning, one woman flung the door open and yelled, “I love it! What is it?”
I immediately knew what she meant, and her comment/question signaled to me that we had nailed the expression and had brought to life the meaning of a brand that began as scribbles in my journal on that snowy walk in December.
We had created the Art of an indelible brand. We had successfully embodied the meaning of a brand—a brand so attractive that people were drawn to it and wanted to engage even before they knew what the business was.
White Oak Realty Group embodied hi-touch/five-star/spa-like service, beauty, innovation, advocacy, integrity, thoughtfulness, strength, wisdom, and experience.
The tangible meaning of a brand was so strong and dynamic that within three years of our opening, I had gotten out of debt, set myself up to be able to pay for my children’s college educations with cash, and bid adieu to my Nuclear Winter period.
The business, the brand was my magic carpet to a brand new life.
Creating an enduring and magnetic brand requires thoughtfulness and devotion to detail with empathy and compassion. Every enterprise, great or small, can achieve this by realizing the full, dynamic meaning of a brand.
6 Steps to Discover the Meaning of a Brand
Realizing the meaning of a brand requires an intentional discovery process. Here are six steps to get you started:
1) Tuck into a quiet space and silence your phone. Get out your journal and a pen/pencil. Yes, analog trumps digital for this exercise.
2) Ask yourself: What is it that I want people to feel when they first experience my brand and throughout every moment of their engagement? Write quickly every word, every idea that comes to mind. Do not censor anything your brain offers. In this stage, filtering dilutes the meaning of a brand.
3) Close your eyes and see how your beloved clients are treated. What do you see? Imagine their first phone call, first text, first email. The first time they cross the threshold of your front door. Map it all out on paper.
4) Consider: What is it that I value more than anything else and how can I thoughtfully design every detail to reflect those values? Making a quick mind map can surface these ethics, standards, and principles.
5) Next, sink more deeply into the details. Probe around for the colors, words, and images that hold the energy of what it is you seek to deliver. What would comprise a design that leaps right over the prefrontal cortex and lands in the heart and soul? Photograph/cut out stellar examples that you see in the wild that stir you, make you sit up and pay attention. Lean into these examples for inspiration.
6) Gather all of your notes, ideas, and images together. Put them aside and let it all compost for at least a week. The meaning of a brand needs time to fully form.
7) When you return to your notes, write a comprehensive design brief for your brand that captures every detail.
Our ideal clients can feel us long before we have our first conversation. What we say before we speak—via our brand, energy, and values—is what draws our market right toward us.
Then, how we deliver on our brand’s promise is what turns strangers into life-long friends, devoted ambassadors who relish the experience they enjoy every single time they work with us.
When we serve from a place of selflessness and an authentic desire to elevate a life, every client will embrace and remember such curated care. Defining how you do this is realizing the meaning of a brand.