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Beyond Brand Building: When You Are Your Brand

These four companies manifest their brands in a way that is indistinguishable from their products or business activities.
We are seeing a shift in what it means to be a brand and how to build your brand.
From about 2007 or 2008 -- alongside the rise of social media as a mainstream technology -- we cultivated a mindset around building our personal brands (where the winners were the ones shouting the loudest). This in turn led us to reimagine business brands where the focus was on humanizing those brands. Brands evolved beyond the words and visuals to describe them and manifested more as “what we do, is our brand.”

In recent times, this evolution has continued as brand building has focused on greater authenticity, transparency and empathy. This evolution has been inspired by consumers who have become more demanding of the businesses that supply them of products and services. Gone are the days where branding was considered a marketing activity purely for the benefit of the company doing it.

Not sharing your why? It’s time to start.
Today branding is about being open and accessible. It's about telling the stories behind the company you're building and the products you sell. Founders are sharing their "why's" publicly ever since Simon Sinek convinced us that "people will do business with people that believe what they believe." Consumers are more picky than ever when deciding the brands they are willing to support.

With this backdrop, I'm noticing a new trend though where it has become difficult to distinguish the brand from the business or products. This approach is inherently meta, where the brand is the product and vice versa. Basically brand non-duality (meaning “not two” or “nonseparation.”) for those seeking enlightenment.

To explore this trend, here are a few ecommerce companies that manifest their brands in a way that is indistinguishable from their products or business activities. As the founder of Conversio, an all-in-one marketing dashboard for ecommerce stores, I have discovered these amazing companies that are living their truth through their brands. Whenever possible, I also buys gifts for others from these companies as a small sign of support for their mission.

Allow your art to come to life.
When Ilse Valfré founded Valfré, a women’s fashion brand, in 2013, she wanted to bring her art to life. Today, her art adorns all of the garments and accessories the company sells. If Valfré stopped here, we could argue that her art merely informs her brand. The company went beyond this and is now creating the garments and accessories that the characters in its founder's art are wearing. Art becomes product and the lines between art, product and the brand are blurred.

Let your truth shine through your products.
Ozi Okaro is an African American mother, who noticed the lack of diversity in mass-manufactured dolls. She has two beautiful girls that have different skin tones. So she created Ikuzi Dolls, because she wanted to give her girls dolls that looked like them. This is the company's truth and this truth is fully represented in its products.

Take your brand comes full circle
Jessica Ekstrom was an intern at a wish granting organization when she noticed the difference a headband made in the lives of young cancer patients who had lost their hair during chemotherapy. She founded Headbands of Hope, which gives these young patients a headband for every one it sells. The brand has come full circle: from intention to idea to product to business, all the way back to the initial intention.

Intertwine your mission and your products.
Combat Flip Flops had its genesis in a combat zone and war-torn country. Today, both of those things are intertwined with the brand, company and products in a way that my words here can’t do justice (watch co-founder Matthew Griffin’s TED talk to experience this). The products -- ranging from flip-flops to clothing -- are manufactured in countries and by people affected by war and violence. When it states its mission as “Through persistence, respect and creativity, we empower the mindful consumer to manufacture peace through trade,” it is the company's truth.

Go beyond where other brands are willing to go.
I’m sure that if you asked these companies why they have built brands that go beyond just a marketing activity, they’ll give you a variation of “This is just who we are” as an answer. I don’t doubt that they had some commercial consideration when they started out; if they didn’t, they would probably not have used a business as a vehicle to pursue their respective missions. But, they have gone beyond where most companies and brands are willing to go and they have more complete, wholesome and authentic brands as a result.

If this inspired you to reimagine your own brand or to start a new one, here are a couple of actions you can take today:
  1. Start by figuring out your why. Why are you in this thing and why are you working on this? Where did you start and what prompted you to start? You can hide these truths or try to spin them in a way that you think is beneficial, but these truths are already inherent in your DNA. The ancient zen saying rings true in this regard: "The way a person does one thing is the way they do everything."
  2. Define and write down your values. What are the things that are most important to you? How are you pursuing these things and how do they relate to your “why”? Our time is finite, which means that we’re always -- consciously or subconsciously -- prioritizing certain things instead of others. Being clear about our values means we can take the actions and decisions in our businesses that align with our values.
  3. Accept that all of this is your brand. You can change the words on your website and you can plaster over the cracks of bad customer experiences with shiny graphics, but those things are already your brand. Accepting that your brand doesn’t need to be perfect will set you free to go beyond mere brand building. You don’t always have to represent your brand in this perfectly manicured way. Consumers seek authentic connection.

Are you living your truth?
I have not done an exhaustive research study that can show you that going beyond brand building has made these companies more successful. Their success is probably a result of a combination of things, and the way they’ve gone beyond brand building is just one of those.

Having interacted with all of these brands -- as a customer and as a supplier -- I have experienced great contentment about who they are and how they run and grow their companies. They are (successfully) living their truth.

- Adii Pienaar


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