Let’s get real:

As humans, we like to celebrate the individuality, uniqueness and creativity of our family, friends and peers. We’re told to stay true to ourselves and develop the traits that best define our originality. But in a world full of social media platforms and trendy lifestyle blogs, how do we avoid comparing ourselves to others? How original is that seemingly perfect 20-something floral artist Instagrammer with a dream home and the ideal family, really? More importantly, how do we ensure we’re living our own, individual truths instead of imitating the facade that we see in our news feeds?

Many people are facing these identity challenges individually. As a designer, I’ve found that brands—just like the people who work for them—are frequently dealing with just as intense an identity crisis. Brands represent complex organizations with complex personalities that need to be nurtured and maintained. Any hint of uncertainty in their identity leads them to inevitably face the same challenges and pressures to become something others suggest they should be. The temptation is to imitate one of the many other organizations out there doing amazing and groundbreaking work. Looking to others for inspiration is vital, but to truly make your offer stand out, your brand needs an identity that is just as true to its culture as it is unique.

At Intrinzic, we push our clients to dig deep to discover their brand’s true identity before we do anything else. While the process isn’t always seamless, it’s what inevitably allows us to create a result that is tailored to a company’s needs and, more importantly, the truth that’s the center of what they do. With each new brand that I work with, I’ve found that the following actions are what ultimately help define a brand’s truth and ensure they’re living it fully and accurately:

1 Ask the tough questions (and answer them honestly)

With every client, we begin the project with an intake session. We come fully equipped with a list of questions intended to spark organic conversation about not only where a brand currently stands, but also where they hope to go. I’ll be honest—these questions aren’t always easy to answer. They may dig into unchartered territory and at times even feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, there’s even a long silence and multiple looks exchanged around the room to determine who from the brand will take the plunge in answering. Even though it may seem like the right thing to do, these answers should never be embellished or glamorized. They just need to be honest. Because these answers open up the opportunity to discover realities that set the foundation for the work we will create from that point forward. This conversation also helps companies who might be comparing themselves to iconic brands like Apple or Nike examine what’s true about their offer, their market and what they need to do to meet their goals.

2 Collaborate to shape the brand

Just like many people in your life have had an influence on who you are and your core values, it takes a team of people to develop the same for a brand. At Intrinzic, we believe a brand is rooted in the culture it inhabits and that no one person can solely define the brand’s qualities. In fact, those tough questions that were asked earlier should be asked to people at every level of the organization. After all, the people who work for the company are the ones expected to live and breathe the brand, in turn making it authentically come to life. Not only does it help the organization, but asking employees to collaborate and address both their successes and frustrations allows them to be heard and reminds them that their opinion is important in the bigger picture of the company.

Every bit as important as the employees’ perspective is the customers’. While brands have always been built on a social component and word-of-mouth, now more than ever brands have to address the emotional needs of their customers. Reaching out to key customers to collaborate in the branding process is a sure way to know whether what you believe is true about your brand feels true to your customers, too.

3 Evolve the brand as needed

As people grow, so do their personalities and values. These traits should evolve and allow us to showcase our honest selves in the best ways possible. Brands need to do just the same thing. While defining a brand’s identity can be a heavy undertaking, its value is obvious. But, brand launch doesn’t mean the work is done. The brand needs to evolve just as honestly as it was built. In the past the mindset of many brands was that the best way to protect your brand was to do nothing to it. But that’s just as dangerous as a carelessly crafted brand itself. Ignoring necessary evolution will not only make it hard to clearly communicate with your audience, it will inevitably pave the way for other companies who are resonating with them to take away your business. Almost every brand today is on Facebook, but what about Snapchat? As one generation moves out of a marketplace and another one moves in, ensuring your brand message is relevant and reaching the right people on the right platforms is critical.

At the end of the day, a brand’s authenticity and truth in its identity is not only evident to consumers, it’s actually a driving factor that they heavily consider when making purchase or relationship decisions. Looking to famous leading brands is a helpful exercise in understanding what’s resonating with people, but if you want to attract their attention and loyalty, you’ve got to be honest with yourself and carve out a space that is entirely your own.

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