Branding: is the question who are you, or who can you be?


Brand identity. Whether you are building a brand from scratch or revamping an existing one, who you are as a brand is key. As part of the strategic thinking process behind it, I often refer to a brand as a person with values and beliefs, characteristics and personality traits.  It makes the approach to communicating as a brand more concrete – and more appropriate – in the golden age of social media and its drive for personal connection.

However, when exploring your brand identity … should the question be “who are you” or rather “who can you be?” And what does the difference even mean?

I had never given the idea of identity – let alone my own identity – much thought until I migrated to the US in 1998 and my most official source of identification became an alien registration number.  Quite sobering, but easy enough to laugh away when put into its due bureaucratic perspective.

I quickly discovered that I could not fully transplant “me” from one continent to another. To properly function in my new home environment, I had to adjust to its foreign social structures, values, and belief systems — whether they were aligned with the ones I grew up with or not.

So the question became: who could I be given my new social, economical and political environment?

It became a fascinating journey in debating which new values to adopt; which old beliefs to shed; and which ones to keep as they were unapologetically me. At first, this evolution was hardly noticeable as there were only superficial habits/beliefs to change. But the longer I stayed, the deeper the values that were up for (re)consideration.

Apart from a very authentic state of me, this relocation experience also resulted in novel insights into brand identity, brand evolution and brand communications uniquely tailored to the current digital age.

So I ask again. As a brand … is the question who are you, or rather “who can you be, given your individual/market circumstances?”

What are your social, economical and political conditions? What is your product or service? What is your target audience, and what are their circumstances? How do they think, behave, where do they hang out online and offline? What makes them laugh, what makes them tick, what catches their interest? What is their mission and can you feed into it?

Based on the above questions, is it still about who you are, or, about who you can be as a brand?

Obviously, none of this suggests that you create a fake brand identity that is not authentically you.  This is not about presenting a persona you are not, only to please your market. Rather, it is research to clearly define your brand identity and the values you stand for, as well as those of your target audience and the market you would like to develop. A better match will lead to greater success!

And finally, a solid core identity sounds great, yet values and identity will necessary shift over time. Brands evolve, as they should in our fast-paced digital age culture. So don’t neglect to continuously re-evaluate and debate your brand values to decide which ones to preserve, which ones to fade out, and which new ones to develop to move forward.

Establishing your brand identity is a continuous work in progress, and as you communicate with your audience they evaluate you at any given time.

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