Dear friends & colleagues,
If you’ve been in the room during one of my lectures on branding, you know that I always start with the “three critical elements.” For a brand to be effective, it must be three things:
These are the necessary legs of the stool. Take any of them away, and a brand’s power to persuade falls apart. (You can run any number of thought experiments to test this out.)
But, in truth, there’s a fourth element to branding that’s just as important — if too subtle for a freshman lecture. This element is saved for the more advanced marketer:
A good brand is an authentic reflection of the company or product it represents.
It’s really not enough for a brand to be different, compelling and credible. It also needs to show people who you are.
Instead of a brand, let’s say we’re talking about a person — someone we’ll call Joe. Joe is different than most people you know; he’s a compelling and interesting speaker; and he comes across as honest and credible. You like and trust Joe. You want to be around him.
These are all good things. But if Joe never let’s you past the surface, you can only invest so much in your relationship with him. Joe needs to reveal something about himself — something true and meaningful — for you to develop a closer connection to him.
Put simply: If Joe can’t be self-aware and confident in his vulnerability, the roots of love will never take hold.
If you want people to really love your brand, you need to get real.
Think of Apple’s iconic and groundbreaking “Think Different” campaign. In an era where PCs were mostly for tech geeks,* Apple strove to create computers that anyone could use. And in so doing, they gave people tools that enabled greater purposes. You didn’t buy an Apple so you could learn how to use a computer; you bought an Apple so you could design a flyer for a bake sale, write a poem to your girlfriend, access that “internet” thing everyone’s been talking about, do your taxes, etc.
Apple was a company that thought outside the box, and that meant everything — to them and their customers. And they encouraged those customers to do likewise.
So, against the earlier-mentioned rubric for great branding — the four critical elements — how did Apple do?
Check, check, check, check.
My firm, IMA, launched in 2013 as “a Momentum Marketing agency.” We’ve gone through several brand iterations and taglines over the last five-plus years. But when the team did a “State of the Agency” analysis last fall, we realized that, all this time in, we still didn’t know who we were as a company. (Though we’d been hovering around it for years.)
We’d introduced concepts like Actionable Empathy and the Four Noble Truths of Marketing; we’d presented talks on the Tao of Content Marketing and Social Media Marketing. But we were missing what was at the heart of all that — the connective tissue that brought all of these actions and ideas together.
Then, one afternoon, as I was poring over our content archive — reading articles and watching videos, to get a sense of what we’ve been talking about over these past five-plus years — something occurred to me. Certain ideas and behaviors spoke to who we were. I grabbed a pencil and wrote it, quite literally, on the back of an envelope:
Everything we’ve done and talked about, since the beginning, has these two beliefs at the base of it. Let’s break them down:
(1) Listening first
Marketing typically starts with what a company or brand wants their audience to hear (or, put another way: what the company or brand wants to say). That’s the opposite of what marketers should do. It’s not about dominating the conversation or forcing your will upon an audience. The human mind isn’t a vessel waiting to be filled with the information you want to impart. You need to start with your audience — with the other — and consider what they care about, what they want to hear … and then figure out what your brand can say that will appeal to them on their terms.
(2) Change as the only constant
Many marketers are constantly searching for the “Golden X” — some magical variable** that will put them on the permanent path to success. The truth is, whether you’re getting great results right now, or you’re being clobbered by your biggest competitor, nothing is permanent. A company or brand should never feel defeated, nor should it ever feel on top of the world. The culture is always shifting. People’s needs are always changing. And if you aren’t thinking every day about what else you can do to make your customers’ lives better, you’re doomed to blow away with the changing sands of time.
These two notions — selflessness/empathy and impermanence — are two fundamental tenants of Buddhism. Not that we consider ourselves Buddhists; the members of our team represent a variety of backgrounds and worldviews. But, as an agency, we share in, and are bound by, the two beliefs listed above.
These beliefs are the connective tissue that bring us together — that make us more than a bunch of people just doing a job.
With this new-found self-awareness, we sought to craft our new brand identity. And, really, there wasn’t much to it. Who we are was staring at us in the face the whole time. When it comes to what makes IMA unique from other digital marketing firms, in the simplest terms:
We offer a more thoughtful approach
And when it comes to how we think, talk, write and act — who we are as marketers and people — we’re driven by what we call the:
Author, professor and TED speaker Brené Brown said that, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” All true. And, as Brown implies, it’s a process. You can’t simply flip a switch and turn self-awareness on. You have to be patient and work for it.
It is with much pride, gratitude and a long-awaited sense of Zen, that I announce the rebranding of IMA — which, really, is the unearthing of who we are and who we’ve always been. And with this newfound sense of self, I’m thrilled to walk forward with my team into the future … to see what the next five years bring.
If you have any questions about IMA’s more thoughtful approach to digital marketing, and what that can mean for you, please feel welcome to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours openly & sincerely,
president & creative director, IMA
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