Brand Identity Breakthrough Preface
Many business owners and entrepreneurs today don’t understand the essence of what makes their ideas amazing. They lack narrative and deeper meaning to their business. They obsess over the most visible components of their brand, but they ignore character and core values. And without these things, they will never reach the market appeal and penetration their products and services are capable of.
I wrote Brand Identity Breakthrough to help current and prospective business owners craft valuable identities and tell their story to the world. From day one, long into the lifetime of their company, these strategies will continue to maximize their impact on the market. A comprehensive brand identity will save you countless missteps along the path to success. They can be the linchpin to marketplace dominance.
Profit is the byproduct of creating enormous value in the world. To make the biggest impact on the quality of life for others, you need to be clear about, dedicated to, and focused on exactly what you wish to offer. It is necessary to know yourself and your audience on an intimate level, so that you can bridge the gap between where they are now and where they would like to be.
Over the course of my worldwide travels, I’ve worked with many types of entrepreneurs to improve their messaging. In this time, I’ve learned that people’s actions can change when they hear stories that speak to them. When you learn to tell a better story, you change your own actions and the way that others view you.
Any business or independent entrepreneur has the ability to stand out distinctly from its competition. If you personalize your approach, you can eliminate the side-by-side comparison buyers intuitively make with other businesses in your industry and exist in a category all on your own. You won’t just be the best at what you do – you will be the only one who does what you do.
This book is a journey of personal discovery and value creation. Prepare to be asked difficult questions and discover real answers about who you are and what you are trying to accomplish in the world. Prepare to innovate unique solutions for your customers’ biggest problems. Prepare to show off the personality and philosophical values that will separate you from the crowd.
Set aside - for a moment - what you think you know about what will make your business successful. You are on your way to a compelling new identity that will forever change how your business operates in the world.
This book is meant for:
Entrepreneurs who have a product or business concept, but lack storytelling or sales skills.
You are developing a product or service which offers a solution that other people need. In your head, the appeal of your product is obvious. But you are frustrated because other people don’t immediately share your devotion to your product. No matter how many times you try to get the message across, you run into the same obstacles again and again. Why don’t other people understand your message? Why don’t they see the same benefits that are so obvious to you?
For some people, talking about what they do is far more difficult than actually doing it. They freeze up. They ramble. They either don’t know where to begin or try to force far too many details. Nobody taught them how to focus on the most pressing concerns of their audience and refine their words accordingly.
Startups needing a fresh take on their messaging.
Where do you turn when your business’ former strategies for success stop working? If you don’t know who is buying your product and why they like working with you, you won’t know how to optimize your approach. You won’t know which actions are moving you closer to or further away from your goals. Brand Identity Breakthrough will teach you how to identify what makes your business valuable in the eyes of your audience and turn it into the consistent focal point of all your outreach.
Established businesses with the opportunity to reach new markets through rebranding.
All things change with time. Once your company has been around long enough, it can reach a point where its original messaging strategy cannot take it any further. It’s time to move goal posts and expand horizons. Is there a new vertical you could easily break into if you knew how to reframe the value propositions you used on other audiences? Have the majority of your target market showed a change in their buying preferences?
Sometimes bigger goals require your company to embrace a new brand identity with a change in your marketing focus. You will have to learn how to present your company and its products in a way that is in line with your higher ambition.
And remember, if you find what you have read here valuable, I encourage you to join the mailing list at http://www.brandidentitybreakthrough.com where you will get exclusive access to webinars, future books, and advice on honing and displaying your unique value to the world.
Imagine that you are aboard a plane which has crashed onto an unpopulated tropical island. You are the sole survivor. As you survey your surroundings and scavenge what you can from the plane wreckage, you find limited supplies to aid you in your survival in this unknown environment: a book of matches, a blanket, a pocket knife, packaged meals, and enough material to establish a basic shelter.
Considering how much worse things could have been, you’d be very lucky to start your life of survival in these relatively comfortable conditions. You don’t have to put out any fires just yet, or tend to any other time sensitive emergencies. You have the luxury of taking some time to survey your surroundings and think critically about what to do next. But eventually, you will need to make a fundamental choice. This choice will determine everything that happens to you from that moment on. It is the choice to play things safe and minimize the potential for loss, or to take strategic risks and maximize the potential for improvement.
Are you going to go out there and figure out how to hunt? Or are you just going to sit in your camp and hope somebody rescues you before you run out of supplies? Are you going to learn through trial and error how to fashion a spear and hunt wild boar? Will you discover how to collect rainwater and seek out sources for hydration? Are you going to experiment with building a shelter to withstand the changing weather?
Or, will you play it safe and hide away while you ration whatever dwindling supplies you have in the hopes of lasting as long as possible until some outside force intervenes and saves you from this unfortunate situation? Do you see yourself a victim of circumstance which only someone else with greater fortune could rescue you from? The longer you delay in making this fundamental choice, the more opportunity you will waste.
The everyday reality for entrepreneurs is like that survival scenario on the island. You are forced to sink or swim, either to make the most of what you have to work with in your environment, or refuse to take action for fear of making your situation worse. The life of your business depends on the actions you take right now.
At times, it can feel like you are grasping at every straw for meager results, and that you will always have to struggle to get by. But if you persist for long enough and learn from your actions, you will eventually become master of your environment. You will know without hesitation how hard to throw that spear at just the right angle to catch your dinner every night. Your identity will fundamentally change in response to the demands of the context you are in, just as it already had to your lifestyle before you ever arrived on the island.
The man who waits for rescue may indeed be lucky enough to be rescued. There is still a chance that he will live to see the future, but he will do so without having changed himself at all. He will have no new skills, knowledge, or character development. But the man who masters his environment, even if rescued and returned to his earlier environment, will come away a forever changed individual who is ready to once again adapt and master any other environments life puts him in. He is capable of performing many functions and holding onto many identities, seamlessly shifting as the situation calls for it.
Maybe you already think you have a pretty good handle on the business environment you’ve had to work with so far. Maybe your present level of information and abilities has been enough to sustain your personal brand or small business until now. But circumstances never stay the same for long. An entrepreneur, to thrive for any length of time, must be adaptable to the new environments he will eventually find himself in. If nothing ever changes, it simply means he is not growing. And in the end, we are all either growing or dying.
The fate of your brand identity will ultimately be a product of your own development as an entrepreneur. Are you willing to become the kind of person who works towards mastery of his environment? Or are you just going to sit and wait for circumstances to change in your favor? What defines a master of identity is his level of comfort in situations of the unknown. He may not know what he is going to do, but he knows down to his bones that he is damn well capable of figuring it out. An entrepreneur is able to make order from chaos, and spontaneously improve his situation by changing himself.
What if you don’t know whether or not you have the natural personality of an entrepreneur? If you’re coming from a traditional salaried employee position, you might not be used to existing in this way. It’s natural to be overwhelmed at the idea of being completely responsible for your own success in business. However, the fact that you are reading this book now speaks volumes more about what kind of potential resides within you, regardless of your past experience.
Many people spend their lives never seeing the furthest extent of their potential because they never made the choice to break away from the mold conventional society crafted for them. There are certainly jobs that do require you to adapt, and discover, and change yourself regularly, but most exist within the context of a larger a plan which is decided for you by people higher up in the company than yourself. If this is you, I sincerely congratulate you for taking these necessary first steps into a much larger world. This book is meant to guide you along the transitional journey from where you are to where you want to be.
And remember: the only real way to know your limits is to just keep testing yourself. I hope you take that to heart as you read the following chapters and begin to think about how better narrative, communication, and identity could launch both your personal life and your brand to new places if you are willing to adapt and thrive (not just survive) in the untamed wilderness that awaits you.
My Unconventional Path
For certain types of person, the conventional path will never be a viable option. Even in early childhood, I knew there was something I didn’t like about the way most of the adults around me had structured their lives. It wouldn’t be until I was a little older that I would finally have the power and the courage to explore my innate curiosity about the many possible ways a human could live on this planet. On my 18th birthday, I moved out of my parents’ house in southern California and lived comfortably in an oversized Ford Econoline van, finishing high school and supporting myself teaching freelance guitar lessons and playing music for tips on the tourist-laden 101 coast highway of San Diego.
The level of freedom I experienced during that initial unguided lifestyle experiment couldn’t possibly compare to the perspective I gained from international travel after graduation. Building my profession as I traveled forced me to be adaptable and resourceful.. It has been difficult at times, but my goal of learning to live and make money on my own terms kept me on my chosen path until I could become financially comfortable. A multicultural lifestyle also showed me that the world was not how I had been told it was supposed to have been. I experienced extreme cognitive dissonance for years as I continued to experience things which contradicted my previous worldview.
Traveling the world on my own terms taught me that human beings make decisions based not on the reality of things, but on the stories that fill their heads about how things are. I’d been told that Latin America was a wholly dangerous and unstable place. Instead, I found some of the nicest and most functioning communities on earth. I learned, as well, that stories could be altered and manipulated for a specific purpose more easily than reality ever could. I finally saw how the power to communicate important information in a compelling way was the source of all progress.
As part of my global journey, I worked as an educator in countries like China, Thailand, Iraq, Italy, and different parts of Latin America. Having this kind of direct exposure to the developing children of so many societies gave me a unique outlook on the many ways in which people are conditioned to think from a very early age. Volunteering in Ghana with the Africa Youth Peace Call Liberty and Entrepreneurship Camp, I helped the young adults and teens who attended learn to see the world through the eyes of an entrepreneur. This meant not just creating value, but learning to communicate it to a world which would be very unforgiving of foreign appearances.
The stigmas that they will face as young entrepreneurs rising up out of poverty into a worldwide marketplace are the same stigmas you will face as you introduce any new product, service, or proposition of value to people who think they already know what they want. Communication is the bridge which will break down the default barrier others hold towards new ideas, and all that occurs as a function of your compelling brand identity. Education removes the resistance to new ideas inherent to each of us.
Shortly after I started my travels, I met a man in his seventies named John Pugsley, or Jack to those who knew him. I learned that he had been a very influential writer on free market economics, his most famous titles including The Alpha Strategy: The Ultimate Plan of Financial Self-Defense and Common Sense Economics. At the time, I felt lost about the role I was going to function in the global human civilization I was gradually becoming more aware of. Jack was kind enough to spend much of his time mentoring me in the subjects he understood would help me make sense of my life. He became a gateway into many other important influences on business and society.
John Pugsley passed away only two years after I met him, but during those couple of years I learned a lot through his writings and the time we spent together discussing how large-scale human society did not have to exist as the random chaos I perceived it to be. It was all part of an elaborate order called the marketplace. This was the first functional filter through which I could make sense of the world of exchange. I realized that an entrepreneur was someone who created new processes for producing value and could convince people to make beneficial decisions they hadn’t previously known were possible.
Before this pivotal paradigm shift, I had been struggling to understand how the human race could ever progress from its present state of political and economic adolescence. Despite my newfound perspective on human culture, I didn’t know what to do with my life or what it meant to play an important role in the human world. I know now that every intentional human action is performed in the pursuit of happiness, or in the avoidance of unhappiness. We are all trying to make our own lives better. Everyone else is simultaneously doing the same thing in their own lives the best way they know how.
We all have different ideas about what happiness is and the best way to acquire it. That's where we run into conflict, and it is only with respect to the larger system of free market exchange that a solution to that conflict becomes obvious. You begin to see the human race and every way we interact as a system of mutual happiness pursuit, irrespective of our subjective variations on happiness. It doesn’t matter if what you want is completely different than what I want, so long as there is a way for us to interact where we are both getting closer to our respective goals.
When you understand such a simple concept, you will see that money is just a vehicle through which people exchange happiness, and that businesses provide a method for people to do this in a tailored and systematic way.
The Focus of This Book
If the role of business is to be a system of exchanging one form of value for something of higher value, what implication does this hold for business owners today? How ought they best to go about communicating the value they offer and their potential to help their audience achieve higher states of happiness than before? The burden falls on entrepreneurs to really analyze the value propositions of their businesses, specifically embodied in each of the products and services they offer.
In the same way, business owners must also identify what type of person is going to be most inclined to see that specific value because no two people ever evaluate things in exactly the same way. Once you understand these elements, you have to be able to talk about what you do in a way that attracts the right people and makes them think your business can bring them happiness in a way that no other business can.
The skills I gained in education and sales have enabled me to teach entrepreneurs what they can do to more effectively communicate with their audience, and in time rebuild their entire brand identity from the ground up. It was the experience of helping dozens of businesses from such a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and industry niches which inspired me to share what I had learned in this book.
This book has faced obstacles on its path to publication, but each has taught me valuable lessons about clarifying my own message. I spent countless hours writing in cafes, on planes, and in the back of taxis in over a dozen countries for the last year to bring this text before you today. Merely creating and organizing the content I would need for the book was not the only problem I faced.
I had initially hired a woman who claimed to be able to help me create a manuscript and market it until it reached bestseller status on Amazon. Long story short, I wasted nine months of my life and $5,000 of my money with little to show for it. That was a pretty discouraging turn of events. But rather than let that stop me from proceeding with the book, I used the negative emotions I experienced to galvanize my ambitions for what the book should be. The realization that it was entirely up to me to make it successful put me back into the “island survival” mode I had come to know so well in my travels. It was time to adapt or die, and the book you are now reading is the result of my efforts.
I have chosen to focus on the process of building a powerful identity for your business – one which works as well internally within your organization as it does externally for the people you sell to. I don’t mean to imply that a good story is all you need to succeed as an entrepreneur. But without it, you will always struggle to move from good to great.
Throughout history, the best minds with the most valuable inventions have failed because they could not get others to see the worth of their work. It is a fallacy to think that merely making a great product is enough. Saleablity of that product is at least as important, and often ignored by the technically-minded. The principles of this book are meant for the creators of products and services which deliver genuine value to some group of people. I never advocate tricking others into doing something which is not actually in their best interests. Ethical selling is about enabling others to make more informed choices with better options at their disposal for pursuing their own happiness.
Whether you are a solo practitioner, part of a small team, or a member of something larger, somewhere within the many interesting facts, features, and people that make up your business is a profound story to tell, which will forever change how the world interacts with your brand. You can learn to look at your own company the way that an outsider with no previous exposure does. You won’t find a foolproof formula to follow for instant success with your brand. Instead, you will find a series of principles that make up make up how consumers view products and the people behind them. You will be given a new framework through which to examine your own business, or your plans for introducing your idea to the world.
So slow down, philosophize, introspect, and ask yourself the difficult questions which will lead to meaningful answers. And you will make something new out of both yourself and your business.
Introduction to Section I: Why Identity Matters
Your business is a way for people with different subjective preferences to trade one type of value for another. By building a business which can sustainably create value, you put yourself in a position where people will value your existence and be willing to pay to keep you around. Understanding this one simple principle instantly puts any entrepreneur many steps ahead of the many people who never realize that they are in complete control of how much money they make merely through the creation of greater value.
This is an important foundational premise to operate from. By focusing first on creating value, you put yourself into a completely different head space, and all your actions will be different as a result. Too many business owners look at the monetary value of what they are selling or the cost of the service they are offering, without seeing the value that those numbers are supposed to represent. Figures, profit & loss statements, and balance sheets start floating around in their minds and this becomes their entire focus.
There is so much more to developing a solid business structure than the “bottom line”. This is not to suggest that you should ignore the hard and fast numbers of what you are attempting to do. But a major problem can arise if business owners don’t get past this limited way of thinking about their own company.
Many people go into business because they don’t want to work for others and wish to be more independent. Some believe that they will be able to free up more time and make more money. These are all valid intentions and should not be discounted. However, they are not reasons which will sustain your development, or lead to the formation of a brand identity that people want to buy from.
Once your mindset becomes "how do I create value today?" you've already won the largest battle: the battle of your own internal motivation. If you can truly embody this principle in everything that you do, you will have already ensured that you will always be producing and earning a living in some way. Likewise, there will always be people willing to exchange some value back to you for what you do for them.
Live securely in the knowledge that no matter what trials await you in life is a powerful form of self-mastery: waking each day and focusing on what kind of value you can create for your audience gives you the confidence that you will never be poor again, and never struggle to survive. Even if all your worldly possessions were to disappear overnight, you would still have the mentality and the knowledge you would need to regain it all quickly and effectively. That is the power of knowing how to make other people happy through targeted value. As an entrepreneur, value creation will always be your first line of defense against business failure.
Specific Value Makes You Stand Out
The purpose of this book is to help you learn to see your own value, the value of your business, and the value of your products from the perspective of your customers and fashion your identity around it. If you can train yourself to think like your customers, you can get a much better idea of what value you should be focused on creating.
Think about a product or a service that you feel connected to in some way. The quality offered is paramount, or you wouldn’t have purchased it in the first place. But of all the many purchases you make, there are some businesses that you undoubtedly feel more loyal to than others. The strongest source of this heightened sense of loyalty is the feeling that a company has gone out of their way to create a special type of value specifically for you.
Think of your favorite coffee shop that goes a little bit further in service, personality, and menu offerings. While they are competing with much larger companies that have a lot of money to spend on advertising, you still prefer them because they add specific value to the product and the service they offer. They stand out in your mind better than others, and you forge a real relationship with their brand. This results in them being able to stay afloat in a highly competitive environment and, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are improving the lives of the people they encounter in their own unique way.
This value is not another “add-on” or “bonus” on top of the basic service. It is something much less tangible and yet quantifiable in other ways. Many people today still hold on to the idea that business is about greed - that it's about tricking people into giving you their hard-earned money, or coercing them into wanting things they don't really need. Or worse, that it’s about putting yourself above them, keeping them down while you get richer and richer and the poor get poorer and poorer.
While cartoonishly malevolent people like that do exist, that's not an intrinsic characteristic of what business is, and it’s not what you have to strive toward to be successful with your brand identity. Business is about the creation and exchange of ever-increasing amounts of value. It incentivizes innovation in society, and makes life better all of us, from the very rich to the very poor. The worst off among us today in developed nations often has it better than kings of bygone eras, and we have market forces to thank for that.
My Lightbulb Moment in China
It took a profound personal experience on one of my travels to begin to understand the emotional power of being able to give people exactly what they want in a very specific way.
Years ago, I was having a miserable time teaching in China. I made the decision to leave the country as quickly as possible to get away from the high levels of authoritarian control and conditioning of children I witnessed. At the time, I saw the entire few months I had spent there as a waste for myself and everyone else involved. But when I told the mother of a young girl I had recently began tutoring of my impending plans to get on a plane and never look back, I was quite shocked when she literally begged me not to go and offered me a blank check to stay and teach her children full time.
As it turned out, this family had been searching for years for a native English teacher who could actually connect to their daughter - emotionally so that she would enjoy the process of learning, but also as a quality language tutor so that she would grow in her speaking and writing abilities as quickly as possible. They were eager to leave China and emigrate to the United States, which meant their children would need to have excellent English abilities. The mother of the family confessed to me that she had seen more progress in her daughter in our few short weeks of working together than in years prior with numerous other teachers.
That moment was when the lightbulb turned on in my head. Instantly, I knew, in a very real way, how big of a difference it was to have someone who could provide exactly what they needed instead of something that was just “close enough”. While English teachers were plentiful in China, there were none which could cater to this family’s highly specific goals in the way that I had already demonstrated to them. I ended up staying a few months longer to work with this family directly, and it turned out to be a highly rewarding experience for me as I was finally seeing the results of the value I was creating. I realized that everyone has something they desperately need, and they will be deeply appreciative of whoever can provide it for them.
Knowing Your Company’s Value Makes You Adaptable
When things become difficult, and cashflow slows or even stops, many people are not emotionally prepared to deal with it. They become disillusioned and lack focus. Some may lash out and blame the economy or even the customers. Then, they fruitlessly try more of the same of what they’ve always done in higher and higher capacities, wondering why nothing works the same as it once did.
This is commonplace in retail environments, where the lack of customers is often blamed on anything and everything external to the actions of the owners. It could be the weather – it’s too hot to shop or too cold to leave the house, for example. There might be another event happening in town, like a festival; that will be blamed for distracting customers away from the shopping precinct. At other times, shop owners have labelled their customers as lazy and ignorant for buying elsewhere. But it will be a cold day in hell before most of them ever turn their focus inward to look at how their own actions have allowed for this situation to exist.
Blaming the customer for lack of sales is proof that the business owner has not created sufficient value around what he or she is doing - or else has not communicated that value in the right way to the right people. Remember that everyone is looking for something. The only reason we ever take any intentional action in the world is to get something we want, or get rid of something we don’t want. If owners were to approach their business by waking every day and asking, “How do I create value today?”, blaming others for a business’ downfall becomes irrelevant and empty.
Pet stores have come under fire because profit has come before the welfare of the animals in their care. Successful pet stores have recognized this sharp change in the attitude of the market and used it to their advantage by creating an atmosphere of value around responsible pet ownership and the animals’ welfare. They promote pet adoption and will often sell an animal at cost. Financial success is then focused on pet related supplies and material objects that don’t have the same emotional appeal. In a moment of crisis when they could have lost everything because the demands of the market changed, they acted like a smart investor and changed their actions accordingly.
Because people’s values are constantly changing, you can never be completely sure that the specific value you thought you were creating today will be relevant tomorrow. When the money slows or stops you have the opportunity to reflect and add further depth to your understanding of what is going wrong.
What is it that you need to be doing to solve the most pressing needs of your customers? How do you give them what they need most in a unique and compelling way? Your brand identity must become that of the person best qualified to make their lives instantly better in a significant way, just as I instantly changed the lives of that Chinese family at a time when there were zero comparable options.
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