We’ve had a few years to build Zerothreetwo as a brand, but make no mistake, we’re still in the early stages. I remember coming up with a name for this little venture. We wrote a list of names on a piece of paper, many of them were crappy. I wish we still had a copy of that paper just so we could look back and see what we wrote. Fortunately for us, someone came up with Zerothreetwo and it stuck.
But a brand isn’t just about a name or a logo. It takes commitment to truly build a brand. What starts as a good idea isn’t worth much without the weight of years and hustle behind it.
With that in mind, here are a few of my rules on building a brand:
Consistency is showing up every day. This is everything. If you can do that, you are way ahead of the curve. There are many brands that have come and gone. They were the hot new thing, but couldn’t last. Longevity is everything. How to achieve it? You find out through consistently working, consistently showing up, consistently putting yourself out there.
Don’t skip a day. One day skipped turns into two then three. Before you know it, your brand becomes one of those stories you tell yourself about good times and war stories lost.
Show up. It takes years of grinding it out. If you can’t do that, you should stop now. Exit this page and don’t turn back because it gets harder.
- Stay on brand
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. At first, you will want to say yes to everything, every opportunity, every chance to reach more people, every chance to get more sales, more referrals, more, more and more. You’ll soon find that not everything works, might be a waste of time and can even hurt your brand.
The inverse is true also. There will be times you will say no when you should really be saying yes. Many opportunities have been lost by people who think they know better.
The art is learning when to say yes and when to say no. How do we learn? By making mistakes, make lots of them. The more you fail, the more you learn.
- Find your audience
Not many people can pull off creating a brand that serves everyone. Most brands serve very specific niches. Even a giant brand like Facebook started out serving a very specific niche, college students in Harvard.
Your audience is not everyone. Look for the people who are first to consume your brand. They buy everything you release, read all your posts, watch every second of your videos, and show up to all your events. They are the ones who care about what your brand is doing. That is your audience. For more on this, read about the long tail.
Now, ask yourself, where do they hang out? Where do they go?
Show up, whether it is on social media, the hip parties, or the library. If those are the people who you want to reach and who follow you, be there.
- You don’t define the brand
Once you put something out in the world, you lose control of it. You can nudge, suggest, and hope people perceive your brand the way you want them to, but this is beyond your control.
Your audience defines the brand. You can mold what they think, you can put it into words, but they have final say. Perception is everything. The best you can do is to tell your story, but the way that story is processed and ultimately judged is not up to you.
That’s the art in branding. Those who do it best, do it with laser focus. Others confuse through trying too many things too many times.
- A brand is a promise
A brand isn’t a logo. It’s not the font you use on your website, not the color of your clothes, not your price positioning, not your target market.
A brand is a promise. It’s a promise to provide value to a specific group of people.
A brand dies when it stops delivering on that promise. When mistakes are ignored, when laziness creeps in, when the audience is taken for granted, when focus is lost, these are all signs of a brand slowly dying.
- Taking risks is a requirement
Risk is a prerequisite. You will make mistakes, but for a brand to grow, mistakes are to be expected. When a brand stops taking risks, a brand stops growing. The edges are scary but important. Only when a brand stands on the edges can it know if it should move forward or fall.
This is especially true in the beginning. When no one knows the brand, this is the best time to take risks. It’s easy to take risks when no one is looking. If you fail, who cares? No one saw anything. If you succeed?
Don’t be afraid of the fall. It’s never as bad as it seems. But expect it. Plan for it.
- Show who you are
Make no mistake, all brands start small and they take the personality of the first few people working in that brand. There’s no way around it. If the brand founders are two faced backstabbing snobs, chances are people will see the brand that way. So try not to be jerks.
Brands that succeed unapologetically take on the personality of the first few people in the brand. They aren’t trying to be something they are not.
If you are a small brand, take advantage of that fact. It’s easier to connect with a person than it is to a soulless logo. People connect to people. It’s much more difficult to find a connection with a logo. There’s no sense in seeming bigger than you are. No point faking a huge company when you are only two people. Being true is the first step to making a clear brand with a clear message.
- Steal don’t follow
Practically everything in this world has been done. Hardly anything is truly original. Look at what other people are doing. Don’t follow, but steal what you like.
Here’s the difference between stealing and following.
Following is copying. It’s doing exactly what someone else is doing. It’s blatant forgery of a concept, sticking to the same colors, the same shapes, and the same idea.
Stealing is making it yours. It’s finding a good idea, taking its essence, incorporating it into your specific way of doing things, and tweaking. Continue to steal different ideas and put them together. With perseverance, you’ll reach a point where it is yours.
The masters steal. Those who know how to steal do so in such a way where it isn’t obvious.
- Have fun
What’s the point of having a brand if you aren’t having fun? One of the biggest advantages of starting a brand is being in a position to make decisions, compared to working for someone else where the decisions are made for you.
But make no mistake, starting a brand is a tough ride, and the only way to persevere is to actually love what you are doing.
*Header photo by Scott Pacaldo.