Your work, no matter what you do or offer, is about people. Whether you have a new service design, a fresh concept, a revolutionary idea, or an innovative product that you believe can do wonders, you do it for people. And that means you need people.

It doesn’t really matter whether the brand is you, a service, a movement, or a product. It begins with people. And in order to attract and unite people behind a shared ideal, purpose, or experience, you have to connect and relate. And not just with anyone, but with someone who gets what you’re offering and will hopefully come back for more, or care enough to tell others about it.

You don’t need to have it all figured out.

When you’re just starting out, the sage advice is to do market research and customer discoveries. Now, not all of us get this exactly right. In fact, you’re not really going to nail it down perfectly, because even if “everything is figureoutable” (don’t you just love Marie Forleo for saying that), people are not so easy to figure out. In the course of exploring your idea, trying to understand the market, and find your tribe, the process may reveal to you some challenge, problem, or trend that either solidifies your idea as a solution, or totally debunks it. So, you then go back to the drawing board, put some refining touches, rearrange some things, or wipe the slate clean and start over. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles and you’ll have to put your back into it. And if your sole focus is on what people are lacking or what problem they’re facing, you might figure out the thing they need. And boom, just like that, you’re in business. But if all you do is figure out what they need and overlook why they even need it in the first place, you miss the opportunity to connect beyond what you can deliver. And that’s where branding can make the difference. How? When you zoom in on the ‘why’, the heart of the matter so to speak.  

“Even though you humanise an idea or thing with personality traits, if there’s no heart in it, it doesn’t really come alive.”

Put your heart into it.

Remember in school how you learnt about personification? No? Okay, a quick refresher on [English] language studies. Personification is a way of speaking figuratively by giving an idea or thing human attributes and/or feelings. It’s how you make it, whatever ‘it’ is, come alive. In much the same way, brands are all about personality and personification. When we talk branding, we talk about identity, voice, and style. We even talk about DNA, the distinguishing markers that signify what makes a brand uniquely stand out. But the thing about being human is that you get people whose personality actually means they can appear to be quite impersonal with others, uncaring, even heartless, though they don’t mean to be. Even so with branding. It can be a bit tricky because even though you humanise an idea or thing with personality traits, if there’s no heart in it, it doesn’t really come alive. It’s there (strategically positioned), it’s visible (people are aware of it), and it’s taking up space (because market share is the name of the game). But really deep down it’s like the living dead (that is what we call an oxymoron because you don’t really know what to make of it). So, what’s to be done if you want people to take an interest in your brand, enough to actually connect? You’ve got to wear your heart on your sleeve and show yourself.  

You’re probably thinking you’ve ticked all the money boxes, right?

  • Brand positioning, done…Your customers see you as you see yourself.
  • Brand awareness, done…They could pick you out of a line-up blindfolded.
  • Brand equity, done…You’re usually the go-to choice.

Is anything more needed? So glad you asked! And the answer is yes! We could all do with a lot more care!

Show why and how you care.

“Successful brands of the future care about people, not branding”. At first that sounds ridiculous, but it actually makes sense. Here’s why: they are designing for interaction, not transaction. Transaction is all about getting the basics done, the ‘what’ that you promised to deliver. And let’s not get it twisted…Of course you have to make good on what you agreed on. That’s standard. But interaction is anchored on the ‘why’, the reason for going beyond the standard. Because when you care, the standard is natural and everything else is about raising the bar. So, how do you show people that your brand cares?

Start from the beginning.

People love origin stories. So, talk about the things that got you started on a journey, with an idea, building this brand. Something magical happens when people see themselves and can trace their becoming with the unfolding of your timeline. The hurdles you overcame, the hard lessons you learned, the small victories you won, the milestones achieved, and the great insight you gained all serve to show that this is bigger than you and they too can be part of it.  

Stay true to your values.

You have a set of principles that stem from who you are. They guide what you do publicly and privately. For those who hold the same conviction, your values will not only attract people to your brand, but they are what helps you retain connections, cultivate relationships, and build loyalty. And when everything else shifts or transitions, the keep the core intact. That’s how you build a community that grows with you at every stage. 

Remember humans are beings, not doings.

The customer isn’t always right (in a perfect world maybe). But no matter what they do, the customer is definitely always key. When you focus on the human, you become what you continually behold. More human. You build trust, go beyond the extra mile, show empathy, extend grace, protect someone’s dignity, make them feel seen and heard, and do the extraordinary when they can’t afford to do the ordinary.

When you design systems, processes, and experiences with care, you’ll win their hearts. They won’t just take an interest in your brand. They will do more than connect. They will cling to you because your heart is in the right place. It’s with them, the people.