Want people to connect with your brand? Then your brand needs this.

Recently, I led an organization through a series of exercises to help them define their brand. Here’s the challenge: most of them didn’t have an understanding of what a brand is, much less how to define it. What I led them through not only helped them understand branding, but it also helped them create something that every brand needs: a brand personality.

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What is a brand personality? It’s not your personality or even your team’s personality. It’s not the look and feel of your product. But it is a collection of characteristics and traits that best describe your brand’s character as if your brand was an actual person. If corporations are now people then it’s only fair that brands can be people too, right?

Think about how your brand wants to be perceived by your audience – how it wants to make them feel. Who is your brand as a person? What are those human personality traits and attributes that define your brand?

When you think about it, the strongest brands are those with the most well-defined personalities.

A brand personality demonstrates how you’re different from others.

A brand personality proves there’s more to you and your company than just facts, figures, products and technology.

And most important, a brand personality with human characteristics makes it much easier for people to want to connect and engage with that brand. Laura Busche speaks to this in her book, Lean Branding: “People relate to people, and if your brand feels like people, they’ll relate to you too.”

There are some technical brand models and brand personality archetypes you can study to define your brand’s personality. But to keep from getting overwhelmed I think its fine to go with a clean-slate approach and base your brand’s personality on your own ideas and language. What’s great is that this exercise works whether for a Fortune 100 company, a small business or even your own personal brand.

With that, here’s three steps to define, and then check, your brand’s personality.

  1. Define your brand as a person.

The first step is to define who your brand is if it were a person. Imagine you met your brand on the street, at a party or on a plane. How would you describe your brand as a person?

  • Is your brand a male? A female? Neither?
  • Is your brand young? Old? Middle-aged?
  • Is your brand conventional or free-spirited?
  • Where does your brand live? The city? The suburbs? The beach?
  • Is your brand from a specific city or region or is it global?
  • What level of education does your brand have?
  • What type of clothes does your brand wear?
  • What kind of car does your brand drive?
  • What’s your brand’s favorite music?
  • What’s your brand do for fun?
  • What are the causes most important to your brand?
  • If your brand were a movie character, who would they be? Indiana Jones? Harry Potter? Katinss Everdeen? Elle Woods? 

 

  1. Define your brand’s personality attributes.

Now that you’ve defined who your brand is as a person take some time to list some single word personality attributes (that’s a fancy word for adjectives) that sets your brand apart from anyone else. Ideally, you’ll have three to five that really describe how you’re different. The list of attributes to choose from is as endless as your vocabulary

  • Modern or Traditional
  • Luxurious or Austere
  • Fun or Serious
  • Innovative or Secure
  • Tranquil or Excitable
  • Flexible or Rigid
  • Simple or Complex
  • Respectful or Irreverent
  • Formal or laid back
  • Adventurous or Cautious

Remember, these are the traits that need to set you apart and differentiate you from others. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you define your brand by minimum expectations. You’re reliable, trustworthy, caring and personal? Great – you should be. Your audience and customers expect that from everyone. Now what attributes actually make you stand out?

 

  1. Check this personality against what your customers say it is.

Talk to your customers, your audience, your family and friends. Find out what they say your brand personality is. Do they match what you defined? Great! You’re on the right track. If they don’t – where do you need to focus your efforts? Do you even have the capabilities to get where you want to be or do you need to go back and redefine it to something more attainable?

Once you’ve defined your Brand Personality, you’ll be able inject these attributes into everything you do and say. This process should influence your approach for every interaction someone has with you and your brand — the tone of your communications, your visual style and design and even how front-line team members dress and act. So your social media can’t be fun and playful while your emails are solemn and serious. That’s a big disconnect that sends a schizophrenic message to your audience. If your audience faces inconsistent personality traits they can’t get a true sense of what you or your company stands for. When that happens they begin to lose trust in you. And if you want to stand out in the crowd, your audience has to trust you.

 

Question: How would you define your brand as a person? What are the top five attributes that describe your brand’s personality? Does your audience agree?

 

My 6-year-old Showed Me How a Leader Walks

Want to stand out from the crowd as a leader? Here’s something you can do that my six-year-old son showed me at soccer practice.

Courtesy of 123RF

Courtesy of 123RF

 

My six-year-old had his first soccer practice last week. Have you ever seen four to six-year-olds playing soccer? It’s not FIFA. Someone’s going to sit in the dirt picking flowers. Someone’s going to stand there having suddenly forgotten how to run. Someone’s going to run away from the ball. Someone’s going to (excitingly) kick the ball toward the wrong goal. And at some point, someone’s going to cry. Don’t judge kids crying at soccer practice. It happens. If it’s not your kid today, it may be them the next time. It’s just kids being kids.

One boy showed up and began crying before practice even began. No one’s sure why. He’s probably not sure why – new experience, new strangers, new authority figure. It’s scary. It was time for practice to start so the coach called everyone over to a goal on the far end of the field. But this boy didn’t move. He just stayed on the bench whimpering. I motioned my son over and whispered, “Why don’t you go help him out?”

Now I just assumed my son would simply nudge the boy, say, “Hey. Come on, let’s go.” and then run off onto the field. That alone is more than what most others would do. But here’s where my son showed me what a leader does. He walked over to the boy, gently grasped his arm and pulled him off the bench. Then he placed his hand on the boy’s back and slowly walked with him all the way to the team. The whole time he kept one arm on the boy’s back, letting him know he was still there. As they walked, I couldn’t fully make out what my son said, but I heard, “We’re going to have fun…We’re going to get to…We’re going to get to…” By the time they made it over to the team the tears had stopped, the boy was ready to play, and for the next hour he had a tear-free blast.

My son didn’t have to do anything, but that simply act of walking with someone helped a scared boy get comfortable, get onto the field and actually have fun.

That made me recall some of the best leaders I know and how they help their teams move forward. When you’re leading a team, you have a few options.

  • You can stand back and direct people to go forward.
  • You can go forward and direct people to come along behind you.
  • You can move your team forward as you walk along with them.

The best leaders are able to recognize what the situation calls for. A lot of times that means walking with their team. You can’t always walk with them, and sometimes you even need to give them their space to grow. But your team needs to know that you’re there to walk with them at the right times.

What does it mean to walk with your team? It depends on the situation. It depends on each individual team member. The best way to understand that is to get to know your team. Common sense, right? Unfortunately, it’s not common practice. Few leaders actually take the time to invest in fully knowing their team members. Strong leaders take the time to fully know and appreciate every aspect of each individual – their personality, their hopes and dreams, their strengths, their needs, their challenges. Bonus: when you get to know your team it’s natural that they get to know you too. Winning all around!

Need help understanding how you can walk with your team? Here’s a few ideas to get you started.

Have their backs: Your team needs to know that you support them no matter what. Ask them questions. Where do they feel like they’re winning? Where do they feel like they’re challenged? What barriers are they facing? When you find out as much as you can and act on that knowledge, your team knows you care and they’ll trust you even more.

Include them in planning: What’s more effective, creating a plan by yourself and then handing it over for your team to work out or including your team in the planning process from the beginning? If you’ve been in either of those situations then you already know the answer. When someone’s included in the process to develop the plan, the mission, the goals they’re much more likely to be invested in accomplishing them. And when you include your tam in the planning, they’re much more likely to think through solutions to possible roadblocks instead of simply complaining about them later

Stay visible: If your team can’t see you you’re not walking with them. If you hide in your office (or if you’re always out of the office away from your team) you can’t assume the work will just get done without you. In fact, go ahead and assume that: your team won’t be aligned, your team will face challenges you’re not aware of, and the work won’t get done the way you intend. You’ve got to be visible with constant face-face discussions. When you remain visible, it’s much easier to give those constant reminders on your team’s (or individual’s) mission, plan, goals. It’s easier to give and receive real-time feedback.

Don’t get me wrong. Walking with your team isn’t the only thing you have to do to be a great leader – there’s lots of aspects that go into being an intentional leader. But if you learn how and when to walk with your team, you’ll stand out from the crowd.

 

Question: What steps are you going to take this week to begin walking with your team?

Your brand’s story has a hero. It’s not who you think.

I had a fantastic opportunity this past weekend – I got to take my son, Allen, to see Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis. I felt like I was 5 again, and Allen felt like he was, well still 5. I’ve seen this movie over 100 times in 30 years and can throw out some of the best Indiana Jones quotes, but seeing it on the big screen again I realized how it stands the test of time – it’s powerful storytelling. Later, Allen was acting out scenes pretending to be Indiana Jones, and I realized something else. We like to see ourselves as the hero when we see a story.

Lots of brands and individuals have taken to storytelling as the way they communicate with their customers, audience, peers and friends. But there’s a bit of debate when brands want to define who the hero is in their story.

So who’s the hero in your brand’s story? It’s not who you think. If you’re telling the story about your brand, you are not the hero.

 

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If I’m not the hero, who is?

One of the most common mistakes companies make in their communications is to show their company or their product as the hero of the story. It’s understandable why they want to do this because, like my son, everyone likes to see themselves as the hero.  Here’s the rub – if you want to influence your audience, if you want customers to buy from you, you must tell a story where the customer is the hero – not you.

Don’t just take my word for it. MarketingProfs’ Chief Content Officer, Ann Handley regularly says, “Make your customer the hero of your story.”

Customers are always tuned in to their favorite radio station WIIFMWhat’s In It For Me? (People do still listen to the radio, right? Sometimes?). You know who customers care about the most? Themselves. To them, you come a distant second.

So your company was founded 75 years ago? They don’t care.

So you’ve received prestigious awards 5 years in a row? They don’t care.

So your latest product has 12 features, all designed to reduce costs and increase revenue? They don’t care.

When you place yourself in the hero role it doesn’t matter if you tell this story with all the enthusiasm and confidence in the world. You’re making a huge mistake, because you’re turning the customer into a minor character in the story when they see themselves as the hero.

And this concept isn’t just limited to your customers. Consider your personal brand story. Are you managing a team? Your employees are the heroes. Are you interviewing for a job? The hiring manager is the hero.

 

Okay, so I’m not the hero. Then who am I?

Great news! You still get to play a role. And in your audience’s eyes, it’s a major one. Every hero needs a guide, a mentor, a sage. You get to be the one who emparts wisdom to the hero. You get to be the one who gives the hero the tools, weapons, knowledge they need to succeed. You’ve been through this dilemma before, and you know how to get past it. They can trust you. You’re Yoda. You’re Gandalf. You’re Glinda (the good witch).You’re Haymitch. You’re Dumbledore. You’re Ms. Norbury. Get it? You are absolutely important here. Without you, the hero doesn’t move forward, does not pass Go and stays stuck in their day-to-day dilemma. Now on the inside, you’ll feel like a hero and get to celebrate every time your audience and customers keep coming back to you for more.

 

Okay, we’ve established who the hero is. So is there a villain?

Every story has a villain, or at least a problem that needs solving. Your brand’s story is no different. What’s stopping your customer, your audience from moving forward and from achieving all their goals? That’s the villain. Not only that, but the deep internal and emotional frustrations they have from not achieving their goals is the super villain.

Think of it like this. If you provide tax accounting to small businesses, your brand’s hero is that business owner who wants to focus on their business, not in their business. Their lack of understanding of managing their taxes and finances? That’s the villain. Their deep frustrations,  emotional concerns and intimidation from the possibility that they may be losing money, or worse, being called out by the IRS for inaccurate payments? That’s the super villain. As the guide, you’re here to help the hero defeat those villains.

 

How does my customer defeat the villain?

This one’s pretty simple. Your customer defeats their villain and solves their problem through your service.

Your product? It’s a lightsaber.

Your consulting? It’s the enlightened knowledge that tells exactly where the Ark of the Covenant is and what not to do with it (Spoiler Alert: Don’t touch it! Don’t open it!).

You want the story of the hero defeating the villain to be a quick one, right? Don’t make your audience guess. Don’t give them riddles to solve. Give them what they need in the most straightforward, concise, simple way. Give them a clear call to action. Otherwise they may go find another guide to help them.

 

Great! So now what?

Now it’s time to review all the ways you communicate to your audience. What does that look like? Can your audience clearly see themselves as the hero? If not, start changing it. Either remove or flip every story that’s about you. Here’s a hint: every time your content says “we” or “I,” your customer isn’t the hero. From now on, everything else you create and write needs to pass the WIIFM test. When you place the customer as the hero, everyone wins. When everyone wins, your brand’s story lives happily ever after.

 

Question: What can you do to show the customer as the hero?

5 Ways Marvel Studios Teach Us How to Build a Heroic Brand

With Marvel Studios’ latest Avengers: Age of Ultron on its way to reaching $1 billion it’s a great time to reflect on the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The MCU films have grossed over $8 billion at the global box office. Add to that two network TV shows on ABC, one Netflix show with four more in the pipeline and at least 11 more movies in development.  It’s currently the highest grossing film franchise of all time.

There are five big lessons Marvel teaches when it comes to managing your brand. Good news: these apply no matter if you’re managing a brand for a Fortune 100, a small business or even your own personal brand. You don’t even need Marvel’s (or Disney’s) budget to make these happen.

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Marvel Studios, LLC

 

  1. Be different – when others zig, you zag.

While DC was focusing on just its top properties – Superman and Batman – Marvel chose to be different. At the start of the MCU Marvel focused on lesser-known characters (at that time most weren’t on Spiderman’s level with the public). This approach worked right out of the gate. Later, Marvel figured if their lesser-known properties can generate half a billion dollars each, why not invest in an ensemble where one of the main heroes is a talking raccoon (seems legit).  That one grossed over $700 million world-wide. Meanwhile, DC drug its feet on developing a Wonder Woman movie. If you want to stand out from the crowd you have to be different from everyone else.

  1. Your brand has a history – leverage it.

Are you just starting out or have you been going at this for a number of years? Doesn’t matter. Every one of us has a history and a story of where we came from. Use it. Marvel gets it – they’ve dug in to over 50 years of history and brought the best of their stories into their films. Even better, they’ve done this in a way that brings nostalgia to long-term fans while not alienating new fans who are curious. Marvel has a lot of brand equity in its history. Your history either has equity or allows you to build equity once you open it up to your customers.

 

  1. Create a long-term plan. Stick to it, but stay flexible.

When asked how to make a successful universe like the MCU  Kevin Feige says, “have a plan”. It doesn’t have to be set in stone – really, it shouldn’t. Feige estimates that Marvel movies have been 75% plan and 25% “bob-and-weave.” Without giving anything away, Feige has also shared that they have their movies planned out (along with how they’re connected) through 2028. With each movie as part of a decades plus story, moviegoers are more inclined to be invested for the long haul.  This lesson’s difficult, but oh so important. Your brand should focus on keeping customers for the long-haul instead of just having them engage with one promotion to the next one.

 

  1. Everything you do should connect.

It would have been much easier for Marvel to simply focus on their movies and TV shows as stand-alone products. Instead they chose to connect EVERYTHING. What happens in one movie affects everything else. When S.H.I.E.L.D. fell apart in Captain America: The Winter Soldier fans wondered what would happen to the TV show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Guess what? It was already planned out, and it was all connected. With different, directors, visions and themes each film can stand alone, but they’re still connected under one cohesive universe.  You can do the same and build your “universe” for all of your work. While individual pieces of your work may have specific goals (a social post may be different from a brochure and from legal terms and conditions) they should always move towards your brand’s broader goal too. You don’t have to keep it 100% consistent – just keep it connected.

 

  1. Reward your loyal fans.

Every MCU movie consistently has at least one additional scene either during (or after the credits). They introduce newer movies and build anticipation for them. Sometimes they just offer up an extra treat for those faithful fans willing to stay after the movie. While each movie can be self-contained, these scenes lead movie goers to the next ones in the series. MCU also rewards the faithful with “Easter Eggs” sprinkled throughout the movies. Easter Eggs don’t make or break a film for the average viewer, but a fanboy can have his mind blown just from hearing the name “Stephen Strange” referenced in a database.  What’s great is that these aren’t some magical tricks that only Marvel can do. Every one of us has the ability to “surprise and delight” our loyal fans.

If you want to successfully manage your business’ brand or your personal brand you need to follow those who are doing it right. And those who are doing it right may not always be in the first place you think to look.

Question: Where have you found inspiration for building your brand?

 

Want something fun?

Take a look back at the movies leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

How My Toddler Gave Me a Lesson in Branding.

I don’t know about your children, but my toddlers are not yet considered wise sages full of advice. But there are those moments when, probably not by their intention, they teach me some pretty valuable lessons. One day, my toddler gave us a major lesson in branding just in the way he introduced himself.

 

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Courtesy of Matt Lyles

Both of my sons have always been outgoing – they go out of their way to talk to every single person they see. They want to make sure everyone knows their name.

A couple of years ago, my oldest was at the gym with my wife. As they were walking inside, my son decided to stop a lady on her way out. My son walked right up to her and said,

“My name is Allen, but my mommy calls me Allen Jefferson Lyles don’t hit, don’t kick, don’t push, don’t pinch!”

Hearing my wife relay that story I realized that, even before the age of three, my toddler was wise in the ways of branding. Many never learn this lesson. Many that do learn it tend to forget it over time.

There’s a name that we have for ourselves, and there’s a name that others have for us. If those names match – awesome! If they don’t – well we need to recognize that and know we have some work to do.

Marty Neumeier shares this lesson in his book, The Brand Gap. I like to turn Marty’s lesson into a game of Bad News/Good News. I’ll give you the bad news first.

Bad news: Your brand isn’t what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.

Who are THEY?  They are every person that interacts with you, your organization, your product or service. They are every person that even hears about you from those you interact with.

Your brand isn’t your logo, your products or what you believe about your business. It isn’t what you believe about yourself.  It is what THEY feel in their gut – the sum total of all experiences they have with your brand.

Amazon.com founder, Jeff Bezos, offered up more of a Mean Girls approach when he said that your brand is “what other people say about you when you leave the room.”

 

Good news: You can still influence what THEY say your brand is.

Once you define your brand attributes (the words you want people to think of when they hear your name) you need to make sure that everything you do, everything you say, everything you create matches those attributes. They’ll soon start to see it and will start to give you the name that you have for yourself. It’s as simple (and difficult) as that.

Want to find out if what they say your brand is matches what you say it is? Ask. Survey your customers. Ask your peers, co-workers and friends for feedback. Given the chance, most people will tell you exactly what they think. The good news? They most likely won’t say your brand name includes “don’t kick, don’t push, don’t pinch…”

 

Question: What steps are you going to take this week to understand what THEY say your brand is?

 

Want to learn more?

Check out Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap.

Welcome to My Blog. Come On In!

Over the past few years, I’ve spoken to a lot of audiences on topics I’m passionate about. Someone always asks if I have my materials written down anywhere for them to reference. I always just assumed that my head was the best reference location for all my stories – it’s always with me wherever I go. Turns out, if I want others to learn what I have to teach I need a better solution. Here’s my attempt at a better solution.

Courtesy of Stockvault/Merelize

Who am I?

For over 15 years I’ve helped some global, national, regional and local brands help tell their story. I’m a marketer, leader, mentor, protégé, father and husband.

I want to be clear here. I’m not labeling myself as the expert on anything. In reality, most self-labeled experts actually aren’t.

I’ve learned a lot in my career and in my life. I want to share with you what I’ve learned so far.

I’m still learning every day. I want to share with you what I’m currently learning.

I have a lot left to learn. I want to learn from you.

 

What will I write?

I write on what I know and what I’m passionate about. My focus is primarily marketing, branding and personal branding. But I want to make these subjects relevant to you and your life.

Of course I’m passionate about my family. My family serves for a lot of inspiration for what I write and speak on. Don’t be surprised if one day I give you a business lesson from one of my toddlers.

I love music. I love superheroes. I may fit those into my writing. In fact, my holy grail writing may very well be how R.E.M.’s cover of “Superman” can serve as a blueprint for marketing your business and managing your own personal life.

Don’t hold me to any of this. I may add new subjects some day. It all depends on our journey.

When I speak to audiences I get lots of questions. Sometimes they’re during a Q&A. Sometimes the person asking may wait until a 1-on-1 chance if they think it’s a silly question. Here’s my rule: there are (almost) no silly questions. If someone’s asking, chances are others have the same question. From time to time I’ll write on some of the questions I get, and I’ll share the answers for all.

 

How often will I write?

Here’s how I see this working. Periodically, I’ll write new posts. I plan to write a couple of times a week. Some weeks I may write more. Some weeks I may right less (don’t judge me!).

 

What do you get to do?

I want this to be engaging for you. This isn’t my platform for giving a soliloquy. If that’s what you want, you’ll need to visit MattLylesPerformsHamletsSoliloquy.typepad.com.

Let’s make this a conversation. I plan to end each post with a question for you to answer. I can discuss with you. You can discuss among yourselves.

Everyone has opinions. I want to hear yours. I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Do you agree with anything I wrote? Awesome – let me know! Do you disagree with anything I wrote? Awesome – let me know! Either way, I want to hear from you. You have a few opportunities to interact and discuss with me at any of my social channels.

 

Shouldn’t I give some notice on here that’s supposed to keep me out of trouble with my employer?

I’m not a spokesperson for anyone other than myself. Even when answering a request from my boys if I don’t have full backing from my wife I still have to say, “opinions are my own.”

But the reality is that in all interactions we are always representing our employers, our families, our churches, our volunteer organizations, our schools… Maybe some disclaimer is needed at times.

So here it is:

Opinions are my own, unless they’re about Batman. Everyone should share my favorable opinion of Batman.

 

I’m looking forward to where this goes.

 

Question: What do you want to see written here? What questions do you have for me?