Despite the necessity of branding, I have trouble with the notion. It is so easy to manipulate and distort people’s perceptions through smoke and mirrors. Branding often makes mundane and superficial something that I truly believe we would be better off making [more] sacred. Somewhere along the way we conflated branding as a mark conferring ownership, particularly around livestock and human trafficking, with branding as a mark expressing the purpose and identity of a business. More recently, branding has also become something that those of us with “portfolio careers” must diligently create, guard, and monitor for the rest of our lives. Apparently, we are now all rock stars with personas to “manage” (see my post Stop Managing and Start Leading!).
So, whether we are a business of one or a corporation of 300,000, our brands must reflect the “marks” we use to express the core of our being and our raison d’être. That is not discovered by surveys and marketing specialists or multi-million dollar campaigns, but through the hard work of really knowing and living our purpose.
What distinguishes us?
I’ll take myself for example. I could be wrong, but I don’t think you really want to know what my brand is. You actually want to know what do I stand for? Who am I? What is my character? Can you trust me? Do I know my stuff? You want to be able to distinguish me from a sea of other humans who all look remarkably the same on the surface. Crudely speaking (and more than a bit tongue and cheek), you want to know if I am that special cow you are looking for. And, that’s tricky, because with money and aesthetics any person or business can make themselves “look” good to set themselves apart.
So, my question is, can we really substitute bling and pizzazz for substance and reputation? We can try, but there is something besides our “mark” that we need to convey, and it is something you cannot buy, it’s a way of being. When we are true to ourselves and authentic, we are wholly unsubstitutable, in the economic sense. We own the market, because we are the only ones who have what we have to offer.
When I look out into the world, what I want to know is if a person (or a business) is living their purpose and approaching their life like art. Why art? Because art is unselfconscious, delightfully unpredictable, and unique. I would suggest that is not brand. That is essence. And that is powerful. It is also really, really, hard work that moves from the inside out (not the outside in). Because living life like art means you are constantly thinking about what you want to create to better express your experience and share your secret sauce. It’s not about impressing me; it’s about stretching yourself to the edges of what you know. Living life like art means you let yourself be touched by the experiences and conditions of others and you do not avert your eyes. Living life like art means that everything is possible and design and creativity and innovation is just how you meet the world.
Our unique presence
In my post, Genius Requires Solitude, I spoke about the etymology of the wordgenius and how its original Latin meaning was the attendant deity or guardian spirit present from our birth. Diving a bit deeper into the words, we discover that the original Latin meaning of the word spirit is breath. When we take these together, our genius becomes the unique presence that is ours from our first inspiration (breath), until we take our last, when we finally expire.
When we meet people or engage with businesses that are living their genius, they are approaching their lives like art. We know it immediately. We have an affinity with them. They are more than cool. They are totally hot. There is no pretense, only alignment. We feel like together we are part of something bigger than ourselves and we love that.
The notion of one’s genius is important, because part of the process of finding our purpose involves knowing what is unique about us. And most of us were not rewarded for being unique; we were rewarded for following the rules and living within the norm. In fact, being unique was outright dangerous for some of us. But, when you think about the really great people and the really great businesses you admire, they are authentic. They are irrepressible. They are the real deal. They are not trying to be like anyone else. They have tapped into an energy force of creativity and potential by living their purpose. They have found their genius. They have a moral compass and they know their place in history.
So, just for the heck of it, today when you move around, ask yourself –
- Why am I here?
- What is my purpose?
- What is my guardian spirit that has been with me since birth?
- What are my superpowers?
- What is my medicine, that elixir of healing that only I can offer?
When we are aligned with our purpose and identity we are living our genius. We are unstoppable, not from aggression, or will, but from the pure energy that is generated from knowing who we are, what we offer, and why we are here.
So, branding sh’manding. Just show me your genius.
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