How to build a brand without looking like a jerk

For years I’ve scoured my library, Goodreads, and Amazon for books on anything about sales, branding, design practices, and advertising. The best books have always come from people with gray hair or are long dead. Their advice has always been never to treat people as if they’re stupid and that good marketing won’t sell a bad product (for long, anyway).

It’s the modern books and blogs that make me dizzy. Everything is in pursuit of “building a brand”. I hear this all the time from clients. “We want this brand to resonate”. “We want people to notice our brand.” “This needs to match our brand values.”

In a lot of the branding babble today, you don’t have to go far before you land on something like this:

“Research your target audience, pick your personality, and write your slogan”


“Conduct a thorough brand audit. Establish your unique value proposition and develop your brand’s creative elements”.

You can find these and more by Googling “how to build a brand”.

Somewhere between the 1950’s and today the word “brand” became a verb. When it stopped being a noun it became a thing people do as opposed to a thing people are.

Put another way, imagine that every interaction you have with your friends, family, co-workers, and the people you meet through the day was now a “brand interaction”.

“Hi, welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?”
“Hi, I’d like a venti tall mocha cappuccino. Remember to “like” this on Facebook!”
“Uh, okay. THat’s a venti tall mocha cappuccino. We’ll have the right out for you.”
“Great, thanks. Don’t forget to subscribe and tell me how I did today!”

Sometimes the more you try to address a problem the worse it gets. Too many companies think about their brand as if it were a baked good. That the right mix of ingredients and time will yield the best dessert. And once that gets dialed in, everything becomes a means to baking the same thing faster.

You build a brand the same way you build a personality. But no individual “builds a personality”. If you’re a nice person or a mean person, people just pick up on that and act accordingly. Likewise, you can’t just be the best company for Widget X no more than you can “just be happy”. Your character and a brand is built slowly based on experiences you have and the experiences of others.

If you start focusing on your personality flaws and try to “work on them” as if they’re a recipe you want to bake faster, you get pigeon-holed into all the wrong things. The result is just worse.

To have a strong brand you just need to do the same things people do:

  1. Make sure you’re nice and easy to get along with.
  2. Do good work and try to make the product better.
  3. If someone asks you what you do or sell, tell them how you or your work is different or better than whatever’s come before.

In other words, just be nice. And ask yourself, “Did you do what you were supposed to do?”

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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