So why should I head off to the woods and look for bugs in the grass to help me define my brand?
Let me explain.
Long, long ago, when we lived in a simpler, slower world filled with birds, wild animals, bees and campfires, we were tuned in to the world around us in a way which we (mostly) simply are not today. Being quiet and watchful, noticing small details, soaking it all in and making unconscious decisions about your next move was what kept you alive, and indeed let us thrive. Tristan Gooley talks about this in his book 'Wild Signs & Star Paths'. As Tristan observes in his book, we still do this in a way, it's just our environment has changed. But I would say that the amount we trust these unconscious signals in business is vastly reduced. We are taught to understand through analysis; everything must be proven so you can de-risk your next investment.
Of course we can't simply throw caution the the wind entirely and throw out our spreadsheets in favour of our dowsing rods. There's a place for analysis, but I think where branding is concerned it needs to shift a bit. There are people who are naturally good at this 'tuning in', unconsciously unravelling the world around them and making everything seem crystal clear - we've all met them, and envied their clarity. But it can be learned too.
We are all born with the ability to subconsciously analyse our environments, it's part of what makes us human. The first step is to learn to trust your instincts, and take some time out in nature to quiet your brain and take in what the world in telling you in that moment. The times when I've been particularly good at seeing my way are not when I've been fired up on cortisol and had my head firmly stuck in a spreadsheet. They're when I'm walking the dog through the forest, or meandering along the beach at dusk.
Why is this so important to branding?
There is nothing more intangible in business than branding. As I've said before, brands don't really exist, they are like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest where there is no-one to hear it. Brands only exist in the minds of the people who are, or have been in its presence. Great branding manages to bridge the gap between having a solid strength of purpose but fluid delivery of that purpose constantly evolving in its environment.
In a way brands are like our prehistoric selves, in tune with the world around them and consciously and unconsciously adjusting themselves within it in order to survive. Only it's branding and marketing professionals who are in charge of that decision making, and in larger companies it's whole teams who (hopefully) work together to steer this amorphous living thing; that's a tall order!
So, clearly this is easier to do the smaller your brand is. A startup brand is really the embodiment of the founder's vision. Startup brands in most cases really are personifications of their founders. But as they grow their meaning changes and it's harder to keep the purpose and vision strong, especially when you have multiple, possibly disconnected teams working on bringing it to life.
For this reason, I like to see brand strategy like the guiding star that keeps you on the straight and narrow. When I work with brands I work hard to balance the rational and emotional, in terms of how your brand is communicating its value proposition. But over time, I've realised that it's more about what's going on inside than outside. You need to give people inside the brand the freedom to tune in and act on their instincts. They are what keeps the outside balanced with the inside. In larger teams you need guiding principles and time for people to connect, but you need the culture to lead.
In nature biological systems work in harmony in an ecosystem with a common goal - survival. Today's brands are much like this in many ways. They need a strong unified goal, the right ingredients and the right environment, and off they fly!