Photo by ali pazani on Unsplash

How to Create A Brand in 3 Hours

Use the DOW method. (Patent pending.)

Listen, numb-skulls. I know a lot of y’all probably saw the alluring pic and the attractive headline and thought, “well … shit. This looks like some clickbait. But, like, really tho … how do you create a brand in just the length of an NFL football game?”

I’m glad you asked, comrade. We’re about to dive deep — yet succinctly deep, as you’re a busy marketing professional, or startup founder, or business consultant, and you don’t have time to waste — into my other other other other job. The one with the corporate cubicle. The one who takes meetings with clients at coffeeshops. The one who funds the work of the existentialist Egalitarian empath you read here. My venture capitalist.

So, if you came here hoping for some of my trademark sarcastic armchair philosophy, your princess is in another castle — let me point you someplace else. 42,000 ft up:

Alright, now that we’ve got all the cool people cleared out, let me talk to you “marketers.” First of all, there’s a billion other posts out there like this. So, what makes mine credible?

First: I’m a 15-year marketing professional who’s done lead gen, analytics, research, ops management, product management, project management, copywriting, brand strategy, brand advocacy, startup consulting, brand consulting, political branding, influencer marketing, and I’m the CEO of my own business. I don’t say that to brag. I don’t even have a damned portfolio. My business is all referral, and I have a day job. On the side, I write essays on Medium. It’s dope as hell. I live comfortably and get to travel a lot.

Second: It’s clear. Concise. And it works. Efficient. Effective. Enthralling. You don’t need much else in anything you offer your clients than those three words that start with E.

Also: really, critically, ask yourself this question: Does that Forbes Contributor really have all the answers? Or the content marketer at your local digital agency? Maybe. But here, we’re going deep. I want to let you marinate on the particulars. I want to tell you a story about storytelling.

The other day, I met with a client on the roof of the Austin Public Library, on a beautiful Chamber of Commerce Sunday in the Live Music Capital of the World(TM). It was 1 p.m. She says to me, “John, I just have all these things I want to do and no idea how to turn it into a business.” That’s when the alchemy started.

“Listen. Three hours from now, you will have a business.” That’s what I told her. Then I went out and did the damn thing with her. In three hours. In three steps. What are those steps? Lawd … glad you asked. This is what I call the DOW Method. Patent pending. Nah, fuck it. Just steal it. I don’t need the money.

D: DOWNLOAD (Step 1)

So the first question I asked my client was, “well … what do you want to do?” And then I just branched out from there. And I just let her talk. Where my interest was peaked, I just asked her to expand. I urged her to keep talking. Asked her questions to prompt her and excite her. Asked her uncomfortable questions. And just let her hit me with a Tsunami of facts, ideas, conditions, problems, challenges, strategies, opportunities, aspirations, goals, passions and so on.

The “Download” is the first step. It’s the one where you do the discovery. The fact-finding. The listening. Pay really close attention. Ask follow-up questions. And take copious amounts of notes. Sit across from your client with your laptop open. Clearly communicate what you are doing and why you are doing it. And let them open up to you. You’ll find by the end of the hour, you have roughly 3–5 pages of single-spaced Google Doc text. The note-taking is crucial. You’re going to want to refer to your notes in the next step.


So, in secret, I just made casual conversation with my client — sometimes about her business, sometimes not, sometimes asking even more followup questions — while taking the notes and placing them in a brand platform. Of course, you know what a brand platform is, and there are plenty of templates available. Here’s the pieces I use:

Vision (the why): A one-sentence statement that clearly articulates the end-goal of the brand. These are their hopes and dreams. This is their Utopian near-future crystal ball. This is the problem statement … flipped and reversed into something optimistic.

Mission (the what): What do we do? For whom? And how? Here’s mine: “I tell galvanizing brand stories for renegade organizations through unconventional means.” That ain’t actually it. But, now that I’ve written it, I think it fits.

Value Prop (benefits): These are the things that make what the brand offers good. Or great. Or spectacular. Think of it as how their own clientele will feel after they’re done being serviced. Not a euphemism. Things like “one-click on-demand service.” Or, “Unleash the strengths of each individual and the organization as a whole.” Or, “Ensures at least one orgasm every time we make love.”

Positioning (differentiators): These are what makes the brand stand out. What they offer that no one else does. Or the difference in how they offer it. Or the difference in why they offer it. 3–5 are fine. Things like “we’re the only BDSM club in North Austin.” Or, “The most transparent supply chain amongst all organic dragonfruit vendors in Southern California.”

Proof Points (reasons to believe): These are the stats that provide the incontrovertible evidence that this brand is to be trusted. Either attesting to the validity of the problem to be solved, or to the validity of the solution the brand offers. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend. 27-time GRAMMY award winner. One out of every three statements is a lie. 5–10 are fine.

Key Offerings (the how): These are the the actual products and/or services the brand provides, bucketed out with sub-text underneath. (Usually fits nicely in a three-up on a website or a PPT side.)

Key Pillars: These are the 3–4 messaging buckets that focus on either the various things the brand stands for. Environmental activism, economic transformation and social justice, bucketed out with sub-text underneath.

Personality Traits (what are you like?): 6–10 adjectives that explain what the brand feels like. Happy. Murderous. Whimsical. Sexy. Ethereal. Timeless. Meta-cognitive. The more compelling the adjectives, the better.

Essence (what do you value?): 4–8 nouns that are value statements. Things like transparency. Empathy. Pan-Africanism. Flavor.

Story (about us): A couple paragraphs of backstory, personal story. The raison d’etre.

Strategy (how do you go to market?): This is a definition of the vehicles, merchandising, and project plan of taking whatever it is they do and turning it into something profitable. This is an overview of the tactics and why they’re important.

If you’ve taken thorough and compelling notes, all you need to do is slot those notes into where you think they belong. You’ll naturally refine the messaging as you slot your notes into their proper spot on the hierarchy. Which will lead you right into …

W: WRITING (Step 3)

If you’re more of a writer than a strategist — like me — this is your favorite part. This is the wizardry. This is the combination of the ingredients that hits all the proper flavor notes. The sweet, the spice, the sour, the salty, the savory. This is the seasoning.

You take all those refined notes you threw into those buckets and you turn them into liquid gold. Writing should be accessible, believable and consistent.

  • Accessible: Tailor to your market. Are you a budget brand? Eighth-grade reading level … max. Mass-market? High school graduate. Maybe some college. Upscale or luxury? Sound like you’ve got your Masters Degree in Pretentiousness. Ain’t no J. Peterman copywriters lurking in the Wal-Mart catalog.
  • Believable: If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Dial it back a little. Hyperbole only works if it’s funny. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I dive into my vault full of C.R.E.A.M. like RZA-meets-Scrooge McDuck.
  • Consistent: All parts of the platform should ladder up to and map to each other. If your brand essence is “optimistic,” “prep,” “athletic” and “basic,” don’t make your mission, “To be Canada’s №1 supplier of kinky de-motivational doom-metal t-shirts and hoodies.” That’s confusing. (BTW: The name of that company should be ‘Tragically Hip.’ You’re welcome.)

Once you’ve finished putting your unique stamp on the souffle, then you can dig into the final two pieces of the brand.

Tagline: Simple, catchy phrase that grabs people’s attention without lying to the general public. “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” “Come nappy, leave happy.” “Just because you did it doesn’t mean you’re guilty.” Come up with 3–5 options for this.

Brand Name: If someone tells you they’ve come to you with a name … change it. You don’t come with a name first. I had a guy come to me with an idea of “I want to start a food truck named ‘Eat Out.’” And I was like, “What kind of food y’all serving?” He says, “Vietnamese Soul Food fusion.” I was like, “No. You want to start a truck called ‘O Pho Sho.’” (NOTE: Truck did not actually go to market. I merely told that story to illustrate a point. The name should reflect the brand, rather than the brand reflecting the name.) 8–10 options are usually enough.

Now. Will you be able to do all that within three hours? Probably not at first. You gotta get your Brandercise reps in. You’ll probably have follow-up questions as you create in Steps 2 and 3. That’s okay. Get them answered. I like to do my Organizing and Writing with my client right there with me, so I can keep them engaged and further refine our work. Also, because I’m a massive extrovert. And, candidly, because I want them to hold me accountable.

The three-hour time limit, is, of course, totally arbitrary. I’m not going to walk into Google and and re-brand them in three hours. But, for a startup just looking to get a start on their beginning? Yeah … you can do it. Obviously, if you’re finished after three hours and it’s not where you want it — keep going. It’s better to deliver quality than to deliver quickly.

The client looked at me through misty eyes, a wide smile, and said, “Holy shit, John. You’re a genius.” I’m not. It’s mostly just the Adderall and the micro-dosing. But, she is going to market with the plan we put in place for her business. And she wouldn’t be the first. Just the most recent. And I have numerous other clients on deck.

I’m telling you: if you can demonstrate that you’re listening by asking good questions and taking good notes, and be intentional about how you structure and organize that information, and craft a devilishly clever and detailed narrative, you can tell just about any brand’s story, keep your clients happy, and unlock truly breakthrough creative and strategic ideas that elevate brands, take ideas to market, and give hope to the masses.

[***checks news***]

Well … maybe not that last part. We’re all pretty fucked. Thankfully, the existentialist Egalitarian empath is on the case … writing philosophical essays and progressive political platforms in the hope of driving real change fueled by kindness, wisdom, collaboration and intentional investment. Making the world suck less … one word at a time.

Well, shit. That’s a tagline. Now all my business needs is a name.

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