Your brand is, essentially, the sum total of people's perception of who you are. The stuff that most overtly affects that perception (your ads, your logo, your slogan, your colors, your voice, etc.) is typically what we're talking about when we discuss the idea of branding. Of course, I don't need to tell you how important and valuable that perception is, because you already know that.
But I will anyway: it's really, really, crucially important.
So when you're thinking about building out your branding, you're effectively trying to come up with a system to shape people's view so they see you in a certain way. But, before you can answer those questions, you must first answer a more foundational question: "what do I want people to think of when they think of me?"
This is usually a throw-away question, right? I mean, isn't the answer obvious? I want them to think that we're [insert cliché positive business jargon here].
Yes. Great. You and everyone else. But I'm not really interested in that.
I'm more interested in you. And please, pardon the fact that I sound like a pathetic guy at the bar when I say that. Seriously, you almost certainly had reasons beyond finances for why you do what you do. You were compelled by thoughts and experiences to get into whatever you're into. You were inspired, and hopefully still are. What's your story? Why are you on this road? What motivates you?
There we go. That's interesting.
Branding is sort of where the rubber meets the road. Do you really believe the stuff that got you to this point? Do you actually think that your motivations have merit? That this is where you should be? If you do, then double down on it and build a brand that reflects who you are and why you're here.
This is a bottom-up approach to your brand. Start with you and go from there. It's truly a process of building, beginning with a foundation and growing from that. The alternative would be a sort of top-down approach. That is, looking around to other companies or organizations and doing something roughly the same as what you see from them. Not only is that miserably boring, it's also probably doomed to mediocrity as a best case scenario.
Why? Because we love authenticity. Today we can hardly agree on anything but we can all agree that we don't much enjoy being deceived. We have all sorts of different tastes but we all want the those things to taste the way they said they'd taste.
Be authentic in your branding. Share your story. Show people why you do what you do and think the way you think. If they start to think like you, then what they think of you will trend where you want it. And that's a successful brand.