Field Notes

A Brand-First Philosophy

If you spend any amount of time around the Infantree office, you’ll hear the idea of branding come up quite a bit. To us, this means much more than a logo or a website.

While we provide a variety of creative services, we always tie them back to a larger brand strategy and brand story that we’re trying to tell on behalf of our clients. We don’t jump to marketing tactics without first inspecting the relevancy of the brand itself. Why? Because brand building is about creating specific value for a specific customer in a specific way. It’s about making choices about what you will stand for, and why you will or will not provide certain services or products. If you don’t understand your value, how can you tell anyone about it? A brand must create focus, and you need to understand why you’re focusing on certain things and not others. Only with that clarity in hand can you create the perfect logo or website to take that message to the world.

The General Store

To further illustrate brand-first thinking, imagine that old general store found in almost every frontier town in America. From flour to boots to nails, the general store offered it all. It quite literally became all things to all people, with a simple value that it had all the stuff, all in one place. And why not? It was the only game in town. When competition is low, this model isn’t hard to pull off. Quite frankly branding doesn’t really matter within this basic marketplace. There literally isn’t another choice.

But if I had to guess, your market context is nothing like a frontier town. You have competitors up and down your block, offering similar choices, driving your profit margin down, and making it continually harder for you to stand out, attract customers, and just run a business. Believe me, I know that frustrating feeling.

The Pickle Guy

Now imagine a pickle merchant on the bustling streets of New York City, peddling some of the best dill pickles in the city out of his barrel on the corner. The market context is huge, choices abound, and he’s fighting through a lot of competitive messages all day long. But he’s got focus going for him. He simplified his model, made his brand stand for just one thing, and sells pickles all day. He’s the pickle guy. And his message is crystal clear. He made a brand choice, one that affects every aspect of his business model. Hopefully, he actually likes pickles!

Let’s assume our pickle merchant is a success and he starts thinking about expanding his offerings. He sees an opportunity to steal some market share from the food trucks and starts selling milkshakes, too. Now he’s the pickle and milkshake guy. Can you see how quickly his message and brand value dilutes? No matter what the profitable opportunity might be, now he’s just another guy on the corner hawking street food.

I think I’ll just go to Shake Shack.

Making Choices

What if you started to make some choices in your business about what you will and will not stand for? This is brand-first thinking.

Ask yourself this basic question: For who and in what situation is my product or service always the best choice? Force yourself to be more specific than you’ve ever been before. Until you and your key stakeholders feel convinced—even passionate—about your answer, continue to scrutinize the extent of your offering. It might be time to scope it back and plant your flag on the simplest message you can; the one that you can deliver easily and authentically every day. Why not innovate a little bit? Take a risk. Dream big by thinking small.

Seth Godin talks about this in terms of minimum viable audience:

When you have your eyes firmly focused on the minimum viable audience, you will double down on all the changes you seek to make. Your quality, your story and your impact will all get better.

Still, your market context might lead you to a general store model, and that might be okay. Every market is different. But I’m pretty sure your context is much more like the pickle merchant. We live in an age of worldwide brands, massive global marketplaces, and an absolute glut of advertising and marketing. Relevancy and value are harder to maintain as you fight through all the noise. Shouting louder and blasting ads is not the answer.

When competition is high, it’s time to think small. It’s time to make some choices. It’s time to employ a brand-first philosophy.

Ready to Brand First?

Infantree has a team of branding experts ready to get to work on your behalf. We are strategically led and creatively fueled. We don’t just talk a good game; we put our strategies into action. Our passion and mission is to elevate your business or organization through the power of branding.

So, who wants a pickle?