To Build a Powerful Brand, Begin on the Inside and Move Out
Powerful brands don't look to consumers to define them; they do what they believe and look at consumers for advocacy.
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We are living in an authenticity economy. Consumers have taken control of the conversation and, thanks to the internet and social media, can see for themselves what's real and what isn't. They can see when a business doesn't keep its word, or when it's being phony and simply doing and saying whatever they think consumers want. "You want blue? Sure, we've always believed in blue. Oh, you want green? That's what we meant, green is what we believe."
And why not? For decades, businesses have looked outside of themselves for their beliefs. They've spent incredible amounts of time and money paying so-called experts to ask consumers what their brand should stand for. Once they uncover an appealing space, they use loads of money and fancy marketing to try to get consumers to buy into it.
But that's fake authenticity, and consumers are rejecting it. They reject it in business the very same way they reject it in politicians, the media, religion and many other institutions.
On the other hand, when consumers see a business with an authentic brand belief that they share — and the business reflects that belief in everything it does — they become loyalists, even evangelists. That's because consumers buy into belief, not pandering.
The Dyson conviction
Take Dyson, for example, a brand that has used its belief in the power of great design to create better products of all sorts. Dyson doesn't look to consumers for answers; it does what it believes and looks to consumers for advocacy. I know because I worked firsthand with James Dyson and got to understand his belief and see it in action. What I saw was a brand that authentically believed that brave design, combined with inventive engineering and constant improvement, can, and should, make things better. James didn't spin anything; his company behaved with his belief and hoped people would come on board.
And come they do. They pay extraordinary amounts of money for a vacuum cleaner and other everyday products. And while it's true that people are buying a great product, what they're also doing is buying into Dyson.
James Dyson's strong, consistent and clear belief has built an incredibly successful brand, not only in terms of economic success, but as an innovation juggernaut, disrupting and influencing categories and even entire industries. Dyson is unwavering in its commitment to its belief and that has created a fiercely loyal customer army as a result — an army that is willing to follow that belief into all sorts of products.
To be powerful, be authentic
For people today, authenticity matters and they demand it — authenticity that lives firmly at a brand's core, not some manipulated baloney pulled out of thin air. People look to why a brand does what it does and the reason its product/service exists. If a brand has a core belief and people believe what it believes, they will more likely become loyalists.
Therefore, every brand today must uncover, or rediscover, its core belief. And they must look inside — not out — to find it.
It's important to remind ourselves that this kind of authentic brand belief must be truly foundational; it must come from the principles of the business. Too often, brands confuse principles with practices. They think that certain practices can define their brand, like messaging, when, in reality, practices can be fluid and change, while principles are carved in stone.
Instill authenticity into your culture
But knowing that is only half the answer — it's a great start — but if a brand can't install that belief into its culture, it'll only ever be a start. Every organization needs to know how to commit to it. It must install it into its DNA, commit it to muscle memory and become a conviction business. It must behave as its belief, make decisions because of its belief and hire, innovate and execute through its belief.
This goes beyond "marketing." This is defining and installing the core principle of what your brand stands for. This is its mission and why it gets out of bed in the morning. Because it's not only consumers that want to buy into what a brand believes. So do employees, stakeholders and stockholders. In fact, they must, because the behavior of a brand's internal culture is the brand itself.
But there are constant factors that conspire to take a brand off its course. So instilling and maintaining that authenticity takes talent, creativity, great execution and a whole lot of persistence. To use James Dyson again, he didn't simply cross his fingers and hope that the people he hired and worked with would get on board — he made it happen through the ways he communicated and the things he communicated with, including writing an employee book that stated his belief between its covers so that there could be no misinterpretation.
If you can't tell, I believe that branding starts on the inside, with internal culture. Oh sure, a lot is said about branding as an external force designed to get the consumer to engage and hold on, and that's true. But branding isn't only a design and messaging exercise — it's a commitment to a behavior. And if that behavior doesn't dovetail with the external expression of the brand, it's doomed to be seen as just another marketing ploy.
Unfortunately, there is no template for articulating and installing a company's core belief. But one thing is for sure: There's a whole lot of success when done right.