Today we are answering the question on every entrepreneur’s mind: How Do I Start Building a Successful Brand in 2021? To kick this episode off, I’m going to start with the number one thing you should NOT do as an entrepreneur when starting a new brand in 2021:
Thinking You Can Do It All Yourself.
The mind of the entrepreneur is the birthplace of invention, and so it makes sense in the beginning phases, for your venture to feel like it’s your baby. It belongs to you, you created it, you love it, and you want to protect it. And when your business is new, especially if it’s an online business—You may find it’s totally possible to keep up with the many aspects of doing business all by yourself…at first. But just like a great piece of art— a successful innovation evolves to belong to the people who love it and need it most.
You’re not in the game to only play one inning, and you want to help more than just a handful of people, and so you’re going to need the support of other people who also believe in your brand. Your brand has a purpose that is far higher than just getting orders out on time. Your brand is here to make people’s lives better. And in 2021, to reach those people far and wide (and for many more years to come), you’ll need to be available to act as a guardian over something even more precious than your original ideas: I’m talking about your brand’s values and ethics.
Authentic values inspire people to form relationships with your brand. A brand with consistent values and ethics reminds us of ourselves, and they make us feel closer to the brands we trust. Values and ethics are what make your brand human and relatable, and we need that in order to build trust.
So what will make your brand feel authentic and relatable in 2021?
The answer is: your Brand Culture.
I’ve found that Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines defines Brand Culture quite clearly when he said, “Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”
The people on your team who believe in your brand as much as you do, not because you told them to, but because they are living better lives because of your brand—They will be the ones who telegraph that authenticity to your customers again and again and again.
Inspiration to Millions, Michael Jordan, once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
Most people would agree that when it comes to talent in basketball, MJ is the ultimate GOAT. And many people would speculate that the two championship 3-peat winning streaks of the Chicago Bulls was only possible because of MJ’s sublime athletic talent. But anyone who actually played the game alongside Michael Jordan will tell you that it wasn’t his talent that pushed them to play harder and better than any other NBA team year after year. It was the way Michael created a culture of accountability and discipline, it was his ability to inspire the best out of everyone on his team, by always showing up and always giving his all at every practice and every game that led the Chicago Bulls as a team, to so many championship titles. Michael Jordan will tell you himself that he couldn’t have done it alone. But he did set the bar for their team culture like no one has before or since.
The closest we’ve ever gotten to seeing basketball greatest that could rival Michael Jordan was Kobe Bryant. And there are many people who would argue that Kobe was actually better than Michael. But Kobe never liked hearing fans say, “You would beat Michael one-on-one.” In his own words, he said of MJ, “What you get from me is from him. I wouldn’t have five championships without him, because he guided me so much and gave me such great advice.”
The real secret behind Michael Jordan’s kind of success is that he wasn’t just a great basketball player. He was a great leader who set the bar high for a winning company culture.
At first, it may start with just you, and perhaps it’ll take a little time to become financially able to hire your dream team. During this time, you can start to lay a strong foundation for your future brand culture in the following ways:
Create Your Brand’s Values and Ethics and Start Living By Them
What your brand stands for, and what your brand will never stand for—these guiding principles are eventually going to be the beacon of light that lets your ideal individuals know that your brand is the way home.
Having a general idea in your head about how you want your people to feel about your brand isn’t enough. You need to get those values and ethics down on paper, and keep them somewhere you can see them and read them every single day. The better you become at living into those guiding principles, the more authentic and impactful your brand is going to be for other people.
But just putting your brand’s values and ethics down on paper—even if they are masterfully written, isn’t enough to make them real for your ideal audience. And it doesn’t work to hand them over to your team in an employee handbook and expect them to make it real just cause you’re paying them. A LOT of businesses operate like this, and in 2021, it isn’t good for business at all! Perhaps you’ve worked for a company like this because MANY people have—and while on one hand, it’s a shame that so many people get stuck working for inauthentic companies, it’s also an AMAZING opportunity in 2021 for you to do better! Your values and ethics are part of your brand’s promise, and to be able to keep that promise to your customers, your brand must be keeping that same promise to your employees.
Living into your brand’s values and ethics means that every decision, every reaction, and every interaction that you have every day is being intentionally filtered through these values and ethics. This is how you inspire your team to authentically believe in the integrity of your brand’s message, and it’s how you help them live into their greater future through the promise of your brand.
Start Getting to Know Your Ideal Audience
No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, it is NEVER too early to start getting to know your customers. Even if your products or services don’t even exist yet, your customers do! And they are out there leaving reviews for your competitors, voicing their opinions on world issues, and having the conversations that you need to hear in order to build a brand that is perfect for THEM.
As human beings, when we feel heard, we feel loved. And when we love something, we fill stadiums with our collective voices to celebrate that love. We line up around the block the night before just to get closer to the brands we love, or to be one of the first people to own the latest innovation released by our favorite brands.
And as human beings, when we don’t feel heard—we get angry. We feel alone. We build resentments, and in some circumstances, we even come together as a community in protest to MAKE our voices heard.
Listening is not only a branding master skill—it’s a make you or break you branding must-have. Every dollar your brand earns is going to be a reflection of how well your brand is listening, so even if you don’t have a brand yet— you can start making an investment in your brand’s future by getting to know your Ideal Audience better than the other guys. The brand that knows them best will be the one who wins brand loyalty, and always remember that brand loyalty is your business plan.
Don’t wait until you feel like you “officially” have a business to start turning your focus toward your customers. The moment you start focusing on your customers is the moment you are officially in business.
Community-Oriented Acts of Service
Acts of service within your community that are aligned with your brand’s values and ethics, telegraph consistency and authenticity to your future customers. Community-oriented acts of service also create social media content that has real emotional value that isn’t trying to sell anyone anything. And for today’s ultra-discerning consumers who are constantly being bombarded with over 5,000 ads a day—True emotional value in a brand’s content is like a breath of fresh air.
A brand that is acting in service to the people is also creating brand awareness. Building yourself a positive-impact brand in this way overcomes a lot of obstacles to buy because people WANT to feel good about their spending choices, and when your brand is contributing to the betterment of humanity then so is every person who supports your brand by affiliation. It’s a wonderful win-win-win that leaves people feeling proud of themselves for buying from your brand.
When it comes to branding in 2021– and it doesn’t matter if we are talking about a company brand, or a personal brand— Who your brand really is in the eyes of the world will not be based on what you tell people about your brand. It won’t be based on what you tell your employees that you want other people to think about your brand. How the world experiences your brand is going to be entirely based on how your brand makes people feel about themselves.
Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast…”
To which Samuel Dwengel wisely replied, “Culture may eat Strategy for breakfast, but Leadership Talent makes sure there is food on the table.”
And he’s talking about you! One of the most profound and important roles that an entrepreneur is called to fulfill, is the role of a Leader. You have everything you need to start building a successful brand right now, with nothing standing in your way, because no one else has the power to determine what kind of leader you become.