The Five Simple Rules of Effective Brand Building

Or, How to Win Friends and Influence People Without Sounding Like a Total Jerk

Jan 28, 2014 · 4 min read

We’re often asked by potential clients ‘what’s your take on branding’? And they’re a bit taken aback by our answer. We tell them branding, as it used to be known, is dead. The days of hiring a crack team of super-talented creatives to help you conjure up some illusory brand promise that will resonate with consumers’ deepest aspirations–and bring them (and their dollars) in droves—are done.

And we, of all people, are pleased as punch. Why? Because we were never really that interested in creating illusions in the first place. We’ve always been more about helping clients get to the truth—of who they are, of who their audience is, of how to make things that are actually valuable. And in the past it was a bit of an uphill battle. But now that folks across the business spectrum have started to see the power of real, personal engagement with actual consumers, the whole notion of branding has changed forever. And for better.

How has it changed? Well, basically, it’s a conversation now—not a monologue. It’s about figuring out what makes you tick, staying true to it—and finding the right ways connect with consumers about the common ground you share. It’s about being human, being honest, and being yourself.

It means doing a lot less talking and a lot more more listening. And it means engaging with people on their terms, not yours. Above all else, it means staying curious about what your audience cares about and turning that curiosity into tangible action. Like Dale Carnegie said: You can make more friends in two months by becoming more interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.

Anyway, here’s our take on how to do that with smarts. It’s not rocket-science. And nicely, once you get the hang of it, it’s actually kind of a breeze. Think of it as a little primmer on how to be your better self—as a company, as a brand—illustrated by our pal Peter Arkle.

01 /


Genuinely care about people’s interests and encourage them to share. Hear what they have to say and be stoked by what they do. Respect their time and value their patience. And don’t overwhelm them with stuff that’s not immediately relevant. Pay close attention to their needs and meet them.

02 /


Make people feel important by rewarding their actions and promoting them or thanking them for engaging with you. Show how what they care about is what you care about, without just reflecting back their interests. Invite them on stage with you. And do whatever you can to share the spotlight.

03 /


Stay positive and helpful. Like your customers and the things they do. And delight them with seemingly random acts of kindness. Reach out without expecting anything in return and you’ll be surprised by the massive amounts of good will you can generate.

04 /


Ask their name. Get to know who they are and work to maintain an ongoing relationship. Try not to monopolize the conversation or overshare. Don’t blather on about yourself. And be wary of the temptation to switch into sales mode. Stay curious by asking questions.

05 /


Talk to people in terms of your shared interests. Tell stories in a context your audience already appreciates. Keep it real and keep it relevant. And try to stay mindful of the medium. Don’t expound on how awesome you are in a forum that should really be more about the things you’re both interested in.

So, long story short, don’t be a jerk.

Branding for Humans

Miscellaneous thoughts about marketing brands in a noisy…

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