If you Google “how to build a brand,” it’s mind-boggling how many terms are thrown around:
- Brand strategy
- Brand architecture
- Brand assets
- Brand archetype
- Brand personality
- Brand positioning
- Brand identity
- Brand voice
- Brand values
Whew. It’s overwhelming and confusing, and some of the definitions of these terms overlap. But when you’re just starting out, let’s keep it simple.
In this chapter I’m going to tell you THREE things you need to lay the foundation for your brand. In the next chapter I’m going to tell you TWO things you need to start creating your brand presence online.
Three Steps to Lay Your Foundation
First you need a mission statement, then a vision statement, and finally, a brand value proposition. These things are closely related, but they all have different purposes.
- A mission statement defines what your company is and what it does.
- A vision statement defines what you want your company be and achieve in the long term
- A brand value proposition defines the reason why a customer would buy your product
I’m a firm believer in the importance of approaching your business with a mission in mind, and really it’s at the root of all that you should be doing and the decisions that you make.
Your Mission Statement defines what you or your business are about. It is action-oriented, determining what your business does, how it does it, and who it serves.
Jeff Sheldon from Ugmonk.com, who I interviewed in this session of the SPI Podcast, has a very clear and simple mission statement:
“Create high-quality, well-designed goods that I would want to buy myself.”
It’s this mission that led to several popular products in his line to fully fly off the shelf, including cool, well-designed apparel, sleek, minimalist desk accessories, tumblers, coffee mugs, and more,
Sean Wes’s (SeanWes.com) mission is also very clear and powerful:
“To demystify the path to building a sustainable, profitable, audience-driven business.”
Sean, whose company is a one-stop shop for business knowledge and creative support and offers courses, videos, a podcast, and a book, is definitely someone who has inspired me, especially when it comes to how clear his head is in terms of where he dedicates his time. All that supports the mission statement above.
I like Warby Parker’s mission statement, which speaks to their culture and philanthropic aim:
“Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”
And a good (and out of this world!) example of a mission-vision statement combination would be from one of my favorite companies, SpaceX:
“SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”
To live on other planets. Now that’s just awesome. Sign me up for Mars!
Now, when it comes to me and Smart Passive Income, for a long time I didn’t even have a formal mission statement, but when I started out I had this on the homepage of my website: “the crash test dummy of online business.” And, below that, “My experiments will show you how to build an ethical business fueled by passive income.”
So that basically served as my mission statement.
These ideas have been with me from the very start of SPI. They mean the world to me, and are at the core of who I am and what SPI is all about. Sound like a mission statement? Because it is!
But recently my team and I developed an official mission statement, and here it is:
To elevate entrepreneurs to within reach of their dreams.
From the beginning, I wanted to serve my audience first, and lead by example, providing fellow entrepreneurs with the opportunity to learn from my personal experience—both the ups and downs—to help inform their own journeys. That has been the mission of SPI all along.
Do you know what your mission is? It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your business, it’s always important to remember why you do what you do, and the best part—it doesn’t cost any money to determine what that is.
In Will It Fly?, a best-selling book I wrote a few years ago to help future business owners like yourself, I created what I called the Airport Test, which is a thought experiment to get you to think about your personal vision. In it, the reader is faced with a hypothetical scenario:
Imagine that you are five years in the future, and you run into a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. This friend asks how you are doing and you respond by saying that you are “amazing, life couldn’t be any better.”
I then ask: “What’s happening to you in five years that makes you respond that way?”
The test is designed to inspire you to start thinking about your future, and the components that can lead you to a successful future in business.
So, how would you answer that question?
To help inspire some thought, here are a few responses I received from readers who went through the Airport Test exercise:
“If you do the paper airplane exercise (The Airport Test), you will really see what’s really important to you and you can make sure that you never do anything that takes you off of your path!” —Jeff
“My favorite section, so far, is the airport test which has already been helpful with important life decisions. I no longer feel guilty standing my ground because I know what I truly want.” —Jessica
“The best part of the book so far has been the Airport Test, I have it with me and review it daily since I don’t think I need to wait 5 years to START living many of those statements, it just means giving myself permission to do so.” —Denise
Now it’s your turn. How would you answer that hypothetical question? Where will you be in five years?
A vision statement is the place you want to be, the place you’re striving for.
Here is the SPI vision statement:
SPI is a trusted learning and development ecosystem that serves a worldwide community of online entrepreneurs. The community is alive with individuals and teams from all walks of life and at all stages of their entrepreneurial journeys bonded by a common cause — to build purpose-driven and profitable businesses they can be proud of. SPI empowers its community members to take action toward achieving their goals by providing best-in-class educational content and training experiences. Beyond its own creations, SPI partners up with other industry experts to develop and champion useful resources that further enable its own mission.
We can learn as many strategies as we want, we can build businesses that make money, but unless we know what those foundational elements are—the mission and vision statements—we’re just going to be heading down a direction that we ultimately don’t want to be. It might be fun at the time that we’re building it, but if we don’t consider foundation upfront, you might look back and say, “Wow, I did all of these things that actually didn’t help me get to where I want to go.”
Remember to make sure your goals are within the realm of possibility. I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream. Dreamers are folks like my hero, Elon Musk. You should dream, but you should also understand your strengths and limitations. Each year is a blank slate, a fresh start, so don’t feel defeated. You can do whatever you put your mind to.
Brand Value Proposition
Now let’s go one step further. It’s essential to nail your mission and vision statements, but those statements are for you and your company, to know who you are and to guide you where you want to go in your business and life.
But, I hate to break the news to you, but your customers probably won’t really care about your mission and vision statements. They want to know WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM. That’s where the brand value proposition comes in.
Let’s revisit Entreprenuer.com’s definition of a brand: “Your brand is Your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitor’s offering. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be, and who people perceive you to be.”
I really like this definition because it’s simple and easy to understand. It gets right to the point. It also covers the three foundational elements we’re talking about in this chapter: “Your brand is derived from who you are [your mission], who you want to be [your vision], and who people perceive you to be [your value proposition].”
Since we’ve already talked about your mission and vision, let’s move on to your brand value proposition. In my free online course, Build Your Own Brand (more on this later), I give students an exercise that helps determine your brand value proposition:
Fill out this sentence:
I help __________ get _____________. They’re attracted to my brand because unlike everyone else, _________________________________.
Basically, who are you trying to help? How are you trying to help them? And what makes your product or service better than other products and services in your category? How is your product different? What will make customers want to buy your product and become raving fans?
To write your brand value proposition, you need to know these three things:
Who is Your Target Audience?
First, is that you need a target audience. If your answer to the question “Who do you want to read your blog?” is “Everybody!” – then you have some major rethinking to do. You will be more successful (and have an easier time) catering to a specific, target audience.
I like to use the shoe store analogy. At the malls here in San Diego, you can see up to five or six different shoe stores in the same mall. There’s a walking shoe store, a running shoe store, a sandal place, casual/hip shoes, and even stores that sell stilettos and crazy 4-inch wedges with goldfish in them.
Each of these stores sell a specific type of shoe, to cater to a specific type of customer. A customer who is looking for running shoes will most likely visit the running shoe store because that is their specialty. This is how the little guys can compete with the big guys – specialty.
Similarly, you need to define your target audience. The more specific, the better.
Here are a few examples:
- School librarians who need ready-made curriculum
- Entrepreneurs who are overwhelmed but aren’t ready to hire a full-time team
- Industry leaders who want to write and publish a book
Secondly, you must know your target audience. What are their likes and dislikes? Where do they come from, and where do they go? What do they love or hate? The list of things to know about your audience goes on and on, and the more you know about them, the easier it will be for you to specialize for them.
When I started my very first website and business, GreenExamAcademy.com, I knew exactly who my audience was: Architects who wanted to pass the LEED exam.
The LEED exam tests knowledge based on the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating Systems. At the time, I was an architect myself, and I was also studying for the LEED exam because I wanted a promotion and I thought being LEED certified would help me stand out from other candidates. The exam is difficult, and to help me study, I started a blog where I could organize all of the information I needed.
Those of you who have already heard my story know that soon after that I was laid off from my job during the Great Recession of 2008. But I was able to leverage my website to start my online business. Turns out, thousands of other architects had been following my blog because they wanted to find out how I passed the LEED exam! I created a study guide that I sold on my website, I started making money, and the rest is history.
So I knew exactly who my audience was: architects. Of course in the 10 years since I started my business, my audience has changed. But back in 2008, if I was filling out the sentence above, I would have written:
I help architects . . .
Okay, great! I knew who my audience was, but why were they following my blog? I was surprised to learn that I was getting thousands of visitors a day. How could that be? There were other LEED study resources out there. So what made my blog so appealing to other architects?
I was helping them in some unique way . . . but how?
How Will You Help Your Target Audience?
When I created GreenExamAcademy.com, it was mostly for myself. I was using it to study for the LEED exam and to document my journey to passing the exam. When I started studying for the exam, I noticed that the information I needed to know was pretty dense, and not easy for me to personally understand.
I needed organization, charts, and helpful tips from others. Nothing of that sort really existed for LEED on the internet, so I figured I’d do it myself.
I organized my notes, read all of the study guides, took a class and spoke to a bunch of people and placed all of that information online so I could easily access my notes from anywhere to help me understand.
Little did I know, I was starting something big. I launched GreenExamAcademy.com in February of 2008, and passed the LEED AP Exam on March 28, 2008. Soon after that the website reached 500,000 visitors (over 3 million page views!). Other architects were using it for help. My website was helping them pass the LEED exam!
I started hearing from my audience things like:
“I passed the LEED exam yesterday thanks to your website. It is by far the most helpful out there! Your brain dump idea was GENIUS! I am telling everyone in my company about the site. You need to write a book…LEED for Dummies or The Idiot’s Guide to LEED. Your information is essential to passing the exam!”
“It was nice to get connected with all of you through this site, thanks to all, especially to Pat! I passed it on Saturday! Took Friday off, I am so relieved!”
So I could fill out the second part of my brand value proposition statement (although I wasn’t calling it that at the time! I didn’t even know what a brand value proposition was).
I help architects get the knowledge they need to study and pass the LEED exam.
What Makes Your Product or Service Unique?
So why were so many other architects using my website to help them study for the LEED exam instead of using other resources?
Well, they were using it for the same reasons I created it: because all of the other study guides and information out there was really dense and hard to understand. I needed to break down the information, simplify it and make it easier to understand so that I could pass the exam. It turns out, other architects needed that as well.
So if I had been writing out my brand value proposition back then, I would have written:
I help architects get the knowledge they need to study and pass the LEED exam. They’re attracted to my brand because unlike everyone else, I break down the information so it’s easy-to-understand and they can trust me because I’m a fellow architect who recently passed the exam myself.
To be honest, I just stumbled upon my brand value proposition for that first product I created. It’s clear to me now why people were attracted to what I had to offer. But at the time I was just creating a website that would help me pass the exam.
My business has grown like crazy and has evolved into Smart Passive Income. So of course my brand value proposition has changed over the years. But I wanted to tell you about GreenExamAcademy.com because it’s a really clear illustration of 1) an audience, 2) how I could help them, 3) what made my product unique.
I feel very fortunate that I ended up getting laid off, and also very fortunate that I already had a product to offer and use to launch an online business.
But most people start their businesses from scratch and don’t have a ready-made audience. The good thing about that is that you can be really intentional about your brand value proposition. What audience do you want to serve? How can you help that audience? What makes you, and your product, unique?
Maybe you already have a business. Then now is the time to revisit your mission statement, vision statement, and brand value proposition to make sure they’re still accurate.
If you’re just starting out, spend some time creating your mission and vision statements, and your brand value proposition.
This step is extremely important, because these three blocks lay the foundation on which you will build your brand and from which the rest of your business will flow.
Personal Brand vs. Company Brand?
As we close out this chapter, I want to address one more thing that you will need to decide as you move forward and build your brand. Will your brand be a personal brand, or a company brand?
We’ll talk more about tips for building each type of brand in Chapter 3, but I want to briefly mention it here because you’ll need to decide early on what type of brand you will be.
A personal brand is different than a company brand. A personal brand is built around you — your personality, your lifestyle, and your interests.
In contrast, a company brand is built around an identity you create for your business. With a company brand, you can stay behind the scenes.
Since the advent of the internet, it has been easier and easier to build a personal brand. But personal brands didn’t start with the internet. Think about Oprah Winfrey. Her whole business is built around who she is: The Oprah Winfrey Show, O Magazine (a photo of her has been featured on the cover of every issue since its inception), her website: Oprah.com. At this point, probably everyone in America knows her by her first name.
It’s Oprah’s personality, lifestyle, and charisma, that have made her successful.
But some entrepreneurs aren’t comfortable being so much in the spotlight. They want to stay behind the scenes and brand their business, not themselves. And that works, too!
When you’re just starting out, you’ll need to determine whether YOU want to be in the spotlight.
Learn to build a website and a brand you can be proud of
Is a Personal Brand Right for You?
There are a number of things to consider before focusing your energy on building a personal brand, such as:
- If you succeed, you will be in the spotlight – a bright one. Can you handle the attention? If not, then creating a brand around YOU probably won’t work out very well.
- It might get to a point where your every move is watched very carefully – almost paparazzi style. The more popular you get, the more doubters, haters and trolls arrive to try and knock you down too.
- If you can’t take criticism very well and feel you might lose focus because of it, then again a personal brand may not be for you.
- When your brand, websites and products sell because you’re the person behind them, it can be very difficult to sell your business or pieces of it. If you’re looking for an exit strategy, then it won’t come easy with a personal brand.
- Building a personal brand is a long term process with long term goals. If you’re looking to “get rich quick”, then you’ve got to look elsewhere.
Some people think that you need a personal brand in order to succeed online, but you don’t. We just hear more online success stories from those with personal brands because they are the ones sharing everything. So think about what type of brand you want to be before you proceed!
Now that we’ve laid the foundation, let’s talk about how to start building your brand online!