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How to Define Your Brand (The Out of Africa Approach)

How to Define Your Brand - Carolyn Daughters

If you have a small business, you’ve probably been told to nail down your brand identity. Here, I’ll show you how to define your brand. I’ll also give you a valuable 10-step exercise to help.

In particular, I’ll explain why your brand is important, share tips on how to define your brand, and provide an enlightening exercise that should get you thinking.

What Is Your Brand Identity, and Why Does It Matter?

Who are you? It’s an important question.

Branding is who you are at your core. It’s what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and who you do it for. Branding can include color, design, your logo, and your font selection, but it is SO MUCH MORE. Branding is the way you talk about yourself and, more importantly, the way you talk about the things that matter to your target audience. It’s what you say and how you say it — your voice and tone. It’s what you stand for and what you don’t.

In short, if you try to speak to everyone, you end up speaking to no one. Speaking to everyone is really common. So is talking about one’s identity in a vague, unclear, or full-on convoluted manner.

Clarity is key, and you can be clear only if you truly know who you are.

How to Define Your Brand in 10 Steps

Here are 10 steps to help you start to define your brand identity:

  1. If your current brand was a car, what kind of car would it be?
  2. What year is this car? What does this car look like (color, make, model)? How does it drive? What features and benefits does it offer? From your perspective, what are the challenges, negative traits ,or downsides of this car?
  3. How do you feel about this car? (Note: Statements like “The car drives like a dream” and “The car looks super cool” do not describe how you feel. Try stating how you feel (examples: “When I see/drive this car, I feel on top of my game” or “When I see/drive this car, I feel powerful or happy or responsible …)
  4. How do your customers and prospects feel about this car?
  5. What are some of the characteristics of your current customers and prospects — what do they value? (Examples: Reliable service and speed of delivery are their two top concerns. Or, they only want the best ROI-driven service, and they’re willing to pay for it. Or, they value affordability above all else.)
  6. Is you could wave a magic wand and change, evolve, or rebuild your brand, what car would best represent that brand?
  7. What car best represents this renewed/refreshed brand? How does this car drive? What features and benefits does it offer? From your perspective, what are the challenges, negative traits, or downsides of this car?
  8. How do you feel about this car?
  9. How do your current customers and prospects feel about this car?
  10. Would this car better align with different customers or prospects? If so, what are some of the characteristics of this new audience?

How I Define My Brand

Me, I’m an old-school, green Land Rover. Outdoorsy. Sturdy. Rugged. This utilitarian 4WD off-roader climbs mountains and fords rivers and pounds its way through deserts and jungles. It handles bumpy terrain like a pro and gets my clients and me where we want to go. (Bonus: it looks damn impressive as it zips on by.) Though it has sleek lines, it’s rough around the edges. None of those friendly, rounded corners you find on every single car nowadays. The old-school Land Rover has all that, plus zero pretension.

Now, you may be thinking that a Land Rover’s a questionable choice. As just one example, it’s known to have some engine issues. Fortunately, classic Land Rovers were designed for easy repair and maintenance. The Land Rover’s risk management strategy involves getting you from point A to point B come hell or high water.

How I Feel When I See or Drive a Land Rover

When I so much as see an old-school Land Rover, my heart amps up a tick and my eyes light up. I feel spirited and adventurous. I feel as if I can conquer the world. I see challenges to be tamed, a world of possibility. I feel confident and powerful. I feel as if I can take my passengers anywhere they want to go. Let’s do this.

As someone who loves global travel and boards a plane as often as possible, I’m transported into a foreign land with much to see and learn, every single sight and sound and idea born anew.

When I see a Land Rover, I see Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen) on a years-long safari in Out of Africa. From 1914 to 1931, Karen ran a coffee plantation in Kenya on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. It’s a story of struggle and loss, dignity and self-discipline. A story about coming into one’s own and living one’s truth. Karen’s blunt, opinionated, and unapologetic, a fighter and a writer through and through. And in the 1985 film version, Robert Redford (Denys Finch Hatton) washes Meryl Streep’s (Karen’s) hair, for God’s sake.

Brand Strategy - Out of Africa - Carolyn Daughters

You’ve heard of Out of Africa, right? And surely you’ve seen it. If not, I want you to rent it on Amazon Prime right now. Stop reading this post, make yourself a Dawa, curl up in your comfy chair for 2 hours and 41 minutes, and then come back to me.

You’re back. Right on.

Now, to be fair, you may be wondering why they didn’t edit the movie down to a solid two hours. You make a valid point. Nonetheless, the cinematography is amazing, Karen Blixen’s a straight shooter and a sure shot if ever there was one, and Meryl Streep is always a wonder to behold. And then there’s that hair-washing scene.

And, weirdly, you now have more insight into why I love Land Rovers and why I’ve consciously made my brand the company equivalent of a Land Rover.

Brand Strategy Tips and Reminders

Defining your brand is a fluid, ongoing process. Yes, you ideally know who you are, who you serve, and what value you provide those you serve. However, the reality is that your identification with your brand and — just as importantly — your customers’ and your employees’ identification with your brand will evolve over time.

Start by asking yourself the 10 questions above. To do a deeper dive, set aside one full hour and write out or type your answers. Really get those juices flowing — don’t stop brainstorming until you’ve hit the 60-minute mark.

Also, check out these additional resources for more inspiration:

Get a Free Brand Consult

Let’s review your brand identity together. Schedule a free 15-minute meeting. Fortunately for you, I’m too rough around the edges to hard sell anyone, so what you’re really in for is a conversation that promises to be chock full of fast wins and actionable insights.

My aim is to help small businesses and teams make smart marketing decisions, optimize their time and money, and get out of their “random acts of marketing” rut. No smoke, mirrors, BS, or fluff. All fast-win informational goodness that you can put into action straightaway. Sign up to get on the list.

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