intro-img

Writings

  • Deliver the unexpected
    August 2014

    The human brain is both fascinatingly complex and incredibly predictable. When deconstructed to the…

  • Say something, for once.
    May 2014

    I’ve sat through the same FAA-mandated flight safety instructions countless times. How to fasten…

  • The Cause
    April 2014

    Of all of the frameworks and brand theory I’ve ever devised, this concept is…

See & Transform

Like people, companies have the ability to influence; to make us feel, provoke us to believe, cause us to buy, and compel us to join. They can be powerful, with all of the limitless potential the mind and body can muster. Or, like people, companies can fade and fall short.

At the epicenter of it all, is one indispensable reality:
The success of an organization is decided by other people.

Like it or not, how people perceive your company will directly alter its fate. It’s reputation. I call it brand.

The formula is simple. To thrive, an organization must have a crystal clear understanding of Self: Ethos. Personality. Purpose. It should be authentic, emotive, and run deeper than the product or service. Then, this story must be told brilliantly.
If any chemical in the formula is off, the reaction suffers.

That’s where I come in.

 
Brand-building tools, tips, and insights for marketers, executives and business owners. Sign up here:

Brand philosophy. In ‘real’ life.

So maybe this isn’t the real thing, but it’s better than lots of text. This video set describes how I think about and solve brand challenges. In a lecture given to a business capstone class at a university in Washington, I redefine what “branding” means to students tasked with fixing companies on the verge of extinction.

The science of Story

I’ve developed brand strategies and creative tools for dozens of companies, from my own grassroots startups to 150-year-old organizations with billion-dollar revenues. Large or small, across a variety of industries, my philosophy and approach is battle-tested and well proven: Elite brands know precisely who they are, they have a meaningful cause, and it’s from this position of clarity that their story is told. After all, buyers have alternatives… Brands that cause people to feel—that connect and captivate—win. Those that do not, that sputter through identity confusion, face unintended consequences. Here’s how I do it…

  • story-new-1

    Self

    The nucleus of my approach is the definition of Self. Few companies ever obtain it, yet this crucial understanding must underpin all communication behaviors. Brands, like people, must know exactly who they are and why they exist. It’s the heart and soul.

    • Self Workshop

     

  • story-new-2

    Status

    Next, I gain an in-depth understanding of your brand’s position in the market. “if you know yourself and your enemies, you can win a hundred battles. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always be in danger.” – Sun Tzu

    • Competitive Audit
    • Market Research
  • story-new-3

    Story

    The fusion of Self and Status yields your brand strategy, or Story. This is the foundation and the measure for all future creative behavior. It is this authentic and compelling story, featuring your brand as the main character, that will be brought to life next.

    • Brand Strategy
  • story-new-4

    Identity

    It’s time to create, and transform. Identity is about how your brand looks, and how it talks. The big-picture Story is brought to life holistically—think past the logo.
    I develop integrated Visual and Verbal systems to express the heart and soul of your company.

    • Identity Design
    • Copywriting
  • story-new-5

    Tools

    With your Self defined, Status uncovered, Story captured, and Identity refined, it’s time to start communicating. Campaigns and Products are the vessels that take your story to market—web, print, motion, and more. I’ve developed the gamut of creative tools.

    • Campaign Strategy
    • Web & Digital
    • Print & Tangible
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“His combination of abilities is unmatched in the industry. A rare talent.”

Scott Ochander Vice President, Manchester University

“Tyler is a brand wizard.
His creativity, astuteness, and authentic approach will breathe life into your organization.”

MATT KINCAID Ph.D. Principal, Blue Rudder

“A one-of-a-kind offering that displaces the big agency. Invest with confidence.”

JENN DEAN-HILL MSW Owner, One Kingdom

Services du jour

There are a number of ways I can feed your brand, from a full course package to à la carte services. Let’s talk about the right mix.

  • Self Workshop

    The foundation for it all, revealing strategic truths about your brand’s best Self.
    If we do just one thing together, make it this.

  • Competitive Audit

    I dissect your competition and discover trends, realities, and opportunities.
    Let’s find the available, intelligent brand position.

  • Market Research

    How do people really feel about your brand?
    I can find out.

  • Brand Strategy

    Who is your brand, why does it exist, and how should it position?
    My precise amalgam of objectivity and creativity will yield the answers.

  • Identity Design

    Bring your Strategy to life through purposeful brand identity design—the visual system.
    I design for the big-picture story, not just a logo.

  • Copywriting

    Your brand has a voice—a talk to match the walk—and that voice must support the master Story.
    I’ll craft on-brand language directly into communication tools.

  • Content Strategy

    Content is king; let’s structure yours for maximum impact, from campaigns to products.
    I’m most comfortable creating something from nothing.

  • Product Creation

    Your Story is ultimately told through brilliant products. I develop equity-generating, on-brand products.
    Web, print, motion and beyond. Your Story wants to be told.

  • All-Inclusive

    Ready for end-to-end brand transformation? I am. I’ll lead you through the entire process.

Self Workshop

WHAT

The core of my method is a half-day, in-person workshop to investigate and uncover your brand’s authenticity. I refer to it as discovering ‘Self.’ The workshop is fun, painless, and foundational—resulting in equity-generating realization.

WHY

Brands, like people, must know exactly who they are, and why they exist, if they are to be clear and compelling. And, business strategy must be aligned with brand strategy for an organization to operate most effectively. The Self Workshop will reveal deep insights about your brand’s heart and soul—yielded by you—to bring new energy and clarity. This deliverable serves as the cornerstone for all corporate communication.

WHO

Intended for executive- and thought-leaders within your organization. I want to hear from the people who know your company the best. I’ve delivered the workshop to as many as 20 people at one time, and as few as 3, while the sweet-spot tends to be 7-10. A mix of in-person and remote participation is possible, while in-person is preferred.

HOW

I keep it simple. It’s your team and me, a single room, with some posters and handouts, markers and pencils, even stickers! The real magic is in the extraction and philosophy.

Contact Me

Competitive Audit

WHAT

It's never comfortable to discuss our competition, let alone to pay really close attention to them. Yet, competitive investigation is vital to understanding your market landscape. This deliverable unpacks your top competitors in creative and communication terms, and informs your final brand position.

WHY

Business doesn't exist in a vacuum. Your environment is constantly changing, and an ostrich with its head in the dirt is a dead ostrich. By dissecting your competitive set, I will uncover trends in the market, and gain valuable insight into available whitespace for your brand. Authentic + Different = Smart.

WHO

After some brief discussion and source material gathering, I'll conduct the audit and produce the final deliverable with very little participation from you. This means you can get back to work while I devise strategic solutions for your business.

HOW

I use my own data-harvesting and mapping-methods to reveal big-picture trends and opportunities for brand positioning.

Contact Me

Market Research

WHAT

I conduct targeted survey and focus group research to supplement the Competitive Audit, and pulse specifics of the brand externally and/or internally. How do people feel about you? Where do you stack up against the competition? What do staff really think? Sometimes the best way to answer difficult questions, is to ask.

WHY

An objective model is possible in the creative space; It's just not common practice because few creatives are comfortable with such an approach. I love quantitive data, and I'm committed to gathering as much of it as possible. This eliminates the guessing game, and subjective opinion. Let's get to the truth with a research-driven baseline.

WHO

Both internal and external audiences can be engaged through my research methods. I'm able to conduct research within the organization to test internal beliefs and perceptions. Or, I can launch targeted survey campaigns to hear directly from your buyers or specific demographic sets.

HOW

Surveys, focus groups, interviews, large format meetings. The objective determines the approach.

Contact Me

Brand Strategy

WHAT

Your brand strategy is a deliverable that defines who your company is, why it exists, and where it should be positioned in the market for maximum impact. It's derived from combined insights gained through the Self Workshop, Competitive Audit, and Market Research, but can also be produced from the Self Workshop alone if necessary.

WHY

Brand strategy is as important as business strategy. These days, it's common sense for a company to write a Mission and Vision statement—even though most employees couldn't recite either one. A brand strategy supports business strategy by defining the personality and motivation of the organization, which guides all corporate communication, even internal behaviors and expectations.

WHO

I work closely with communications staff and executive leadership throughout the brand transformation effort. Once a brand strategy is delivered, it should be espoused and adopted by the entire organization, and endure indefinitely.

HOW

My proprietary philosophy and methodology puts the client at the center. I don't tell you who your brand is, you tell me. I help you to frame it in new and original ways.

Contact Me

Identity Design

WHAT

The Visual platform. Brands are primarily experienced visually and verbally, just like people. I create a system of original visual assets to ensure that the identity supports the master Story. In addition to an equity-generating facelift, you get a “brand Bible” to gauge what’s “on-brand” and "off-brand."

WHY

Pretty shapes and colors are irrelevant if they don’t drive the story and create the right mood. Good storytelling is delivered through a formula of Visual, Verbal, and Content. The wrong visual identity sends a confusing emotional message. Look the part.

WHO

You're at the helm of the process. I'll be advising, guiding, and listening the whole way. I realize that visual change can be scary, but my phased and intentional process will make it as painless, and exciting as possible!

HOW

Using objective strategy as the authority, I design at the macro-level. It's not all about a logo. Rather, winning identity is a holistic effort that expresses the right mood and conveys your authentic story. My objective is singular—to transform your brand to be the envy of your market.

Contact Me

Copywriting

WHAT

The Verbal platform. Organizations tends to focus on the visual, and neglect the essential role of messaging. Yet, we use language more than optics in our day-to-day decision-making. I write on-brand language platforms—generally web-specific—to ensure that your message strategy supports your Story.

WHY

There are thousands of ways to skin corporate messaging. Like people, brands have personalities that create perception and elicit feelings. Copywriting is the yin to the visual yang, and if done right, will create positive and accurate perception, and drive desired consumer behavior.

HOW

You're the subject-matter-expert. I'll conduct a series of interviews and digest source material to clearly understand the technicals of your offer. Then, I'll translate these details into provocative, on-brand language, geared toward the web to kill two birds with one proverbial stone.

Contact Me

Content Strategy

WHAT

Content strategy is the process of organizing varied content in the most compelling and influential way. Using the human metaphor, content strategy is the art of the conversation. It's about order, priority, and emphasis. This can be applied to a range of products from political campaigns to websites.

WHY

The most brilliant brand package in the world will lack impact if the content strategy is flawed. But when your Story is unfolded artfully through intelligent products, the brand transformation chain is humming.

WHO

You determine the communication needs, I'll bring them to life.

HOW

As always, with me, your foundational brand strategy drives my recommendations. I've created content for nearly every brand tool under the sun, from gym floors, to airplane skins, to websites and signage.

Contact Me

Product Creation

WHAT

Products are the vessels that take your brand to market. The list of possible products your brand can utilize is virtually endless, but what's singular is your brand strategy. Regardless of the medium, I'll ensure that your new brand is communicating at full throttle.

WHY

Until your brand is out getting noticed, it's a Rolls Royce in a garage collecting dust. [Yes, I fancy myself a maker of Rolls-Royce-caliber brands!] There are a few predominant tools that your brand much have in today's marketplace, namely web and digital products.

WHO

You determine the communication needs, I'll bring them to life.

HOW

As always, with me, your foundational brand strategy drives my recommendations. I've designed and directed products for brands of all shapes, sizes, and budgets, including collegiate uniforms, all-format advertising, fleet, mobile apps, print collateral, heavy-duty websites, and plenty more.

Contact Me

All-Inclusive

WHAT

This is end-to-end brand transformation—the entire spectrum of services delivered to completely revitalize your organization; the full potency of brand alchemy at work.

WHY

When conducted in succession, my comprehensive methodology will deliver more, in a less time, for less investment, than the big-agency vendors you're likely to meet.

WHO

To succeed, I'll need buy-in and support from your executive leadership. There must be the recognition of a challenge, and the desire to change, for transformation to take shape. My project point-of-contact is generally director-level communications and marketing—who will ultimately be responsible for owning and furthering the work we'll partner to create.

HOW

To see how it's done, simply revisit this list of Services :) For a high-level summary: 1. Define your authentic personality and motivation. 2. Reveal your best position. 3. Design your new identity. 4. Create the tools that deliver the Story.
5. Start sharing.

Contact Me

Clientele?

I don’t kiss and tell… And even if I did, I can’t.

Most of my work results in sensitive outcomes that I simply can’t publicize. Or, I’m under contract and my discretion is a competitive advantage. In any case, I will afford the same respect to your organization. Plus, this “James Bond” approach adds to the suspense! Let’s sit down together and I can share my expertise and case studies in a private setting.

So that I’m not completely skirting the topic, here are some of the markets I’ve done work within:

  • Academia (five universities)
  • Engineering/Architecture
  • Telecommunications
  • Healthcare (three hospitals)
  • International D&D
  • Banking
  • Science and Technology
  • Environmental Research
  • National Laboratories
  • Software
  • Counseling/Psychology
  • Food Retail
  • Startups (three co-founded)
  • Fashion/Apparel
  • Commercial Construction
 

Dossier

(detailed information about a person)

The finer-points of my personal and professional profile, in the form of a timeline so it’s potentially more “interesting”…

  • BORN 9.5lbs bald and chubby
  • endless art projects replicated van gogh’s starry night in preschool
  • ambidextrous & slightly ocd teachers said i was too “precise”
  • kicked out of elementary art contest accused of cheating—so i stopped designing
  • given adobe photoshop 2.5 game-changer
  • designed first paid logo in 5th grade still in use today!
  • designed corporate identity for middle school still in use today!
  • watched ‘er’ and decided to be a surgeon enrolled at pepperdine university in biology
  • got married and graduated! lucky me + BA ADVERTISING
  • founded FIRST company in stores across the country
  • lead designer at malibu’s largest agency brand focus and passion was clear
  • communications at 936m national laboratory instrumental in its brand identity redesign
  • mentored in strategy by global marketer rebranded 2 more institutions
  • back to the agency world creative director
  • began pioneering new branding platform honed and refined brand strategy method
  • founded second company frozen yogurt—hardest project of my life
  • had my third daughter! completely outnumbered
  • many happy agency clients and brands philosophy takes full shape
  • sold 2nd company and founded another goodbye retail, hello ecommerce
  • demand for my approach grows move to private consulting
  • i love what i do that’s my story

The mistake

It was 1489 in Milan, Italy, when a veritable genius and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived, made a mistake.

Ironically, while exploring the anatomy of the human skull and its hemispheres, Leonardo da Vinci made an uncharacteristic blunder with his ink and quill pen.
An unsightly splatter was strewn between his depiction of the very anatomy that made him so brilliant.

I chose this mistake to represent my own brand.

Like so many, I marvel at Da Vinci’s mind. This iconic polymath possessed a blend of talents that remains unrivaled today. Leonardo’s ability to balance his insatiable creative curiosity, with an equal measure of objective science and investigation, is what inspires me the most.

Right-brain | left-brain. The imaginative, and the pragmatic. My focus is to continually marry these two modes of thinking, and harness the benefits of both for remarkable results.

I love what this mistake represents.

The genius isn’t in the perfection of the product, but the pursuit. Perfection isn’t the opportunity. Discovering and fearlessly experimenting, with the courage to get your hands dirty and investigate the unknown; that’s where real ingenuity occurs.
True insight.

A mistake? Nah. A byproduct of a feverishly inventive mind digging in, discovering, and revealing. I want to be marked by this behavior. I’ve termed it brand alchemytransforming a common substance into something of great value.

I’ll take Da Vinci’s error and don it proudly.

 

The pen is mightier

Deliver the unexpected

The human brain is both fascinatingly complex and incredibly predictable.

When deconstructed to the most common denominator, the role of almost every facet of human behavior is focused on influencing the brain somehow. Whether you’re a CEO, politician, humanitarian, marketer, entertainer, author, entrepreneur, therapist, or anything in between, you’re a persuasive communicator that must reach people to succeed.

So, do you want to know what 99.9% of us are doing wrong? The same thing as everybody else.

Here’s what I mean… Our brains are hard-wired with Cognitive Biases: predictable behaviors and tendencies that all of our brains prescribe to. For the purposes of this post, Predictability is the deadly sin. I’ll share a couple critical Biases that will improve your ability to influence, and help you avoid the curse of predictability.

Mere Exposure Effect: In short, we express undue dissatisfaction with things we’re overly familiar with. People get bored quickly. We grow sick of monotony. Our daily lives are filled with constant repetition and exposure to the familiar. Our brains are desperate for something new and exciting! It’s why Michael Jackson and Lady GaGa can send the masses into a frenzy—good, bad, or indifferent. Yet, most leaders and organizations are delivering the same daily dose of the expected. Why? Because it’s safe, and easy.

Distinction Bias: This describes the tendency to view two options as more dissimilar than they truly are when evaluating them simultaneously. People like to compare things and focus on differences. We’re programmed to key in on what’s irregular, and even amplify dissimilarity! Contrast this reality with the Mere Exposure Effect, and you have a potent recipe for influencing the human brain. Furthermore, when you deliver that original thing, people will tend to focus on it intently (The Focusing Effect).

The equation for persuasive communication is this: First and foremost, be authentic. Whether a person or organization, you must be yourself—it’s the only thing that’s achievable longterm. Within that space of authenticity, devise ways to express yourself differently! Deliver core truths with originality. Turn heads. Be provocative. Earn the attention you seek. Our brains require it.

Say something, for once.

I’ve sat through the same FAA-mandated flight safety instructions countless times. How to fasten our seatbelts? Please… We tune out. Scarcely does a passenger offer courtesy eye contact to the flight attendants during this drab and borderline embarrassing routine.

This afternoon flight was different. We all listened intently. I dare say that some 100 souls on the aircraft were engaged. Why?

The gentleman starts in, “Hey, get off your cell phones and listen up—we’re trying to save your lives, people! … God help us, but if we crash in water your seat-bottom will be your new best friend. Grab it, file neatly out of the plane like pheasants, and doggy paddle to shore. I’ll be right behind you.”

It was brilliant. The crowd cheered, and the mood on the plane changed entirely.

What a masterful display of brand communication. In a moment, the oldest script in the book was worth listening to. We paid attention, and we even felt something. I often tell my clients to be bold, get a little uncomfortable, and say something authentically different…

Don’t be afraid to provoke and captivate. In this hyper-consumer-advertising-blitzed culture we’re exposed to some 20,000 promotional messages every single day. We barely have the bandwidth to pay attention. Your only chance as an organization is to deliver something worth listening to. Be gutsy. Break your self-imposed, super-safe mold that bows to status quo.

What are you afraid of? That people will actually pay attention? That somebody won’t like you? Life is too short and business is too fierce for that.

Say something, for once.

The Cause

Of all of the frameworks and brand theory I’ve ever devised, this concept is fast-becoming my favorite. Perhaps even the most potent. I’ve often said that if I had to, I could develop a brand on three simple words alone.

I call it, “Cause.”

Elite brands—those companies that somehow move us into action—have a reason for being that transcends the product. Because, of course, everybody has a product… Not everybody has a reason for being that’s bigger than what they sell. Or, bigger than profit. This concept of “higher calling” or “deeper motivation” for organizations gnawed at me for days over one particular Holiday. I remember a 6-hour drive into the mountains of Montana fixated on this topic. What were the global leaders doing that the masses were not? What was the magic spice in a Disney, a Coca-Cola, or an Apple? It’s Cause. A deeper reason for existence. These companies operate from a nucleus that surpasses the thing they actually want us to buy.

But, can it be packaged into a simple and applicable formula? (the strategist in me requires this…)

CHECK IT OUT…
1. Apple exists to challenge preconceived ideas.
2. Disney exists to inspire childlike wonder.
3. Coca-Cola exists to spread classic happiness.

EXERCISE
Sum up why your organization exists in 3 words, without mentioning: Product, People, or Profit.

Deliver the unexpected

The human brain is both fascinatingly complex and incredibly predictable.

When deconstructed to the most common denominator, the role of almost every facet of human behavior is focused on influencing the brain somehow. Whether you’re a CEO, politician, humanitarian, marketer, entertainer, author, entrepreneur, therapist, or anything in between, you’re a persuasive communicator that must reach people to succeed.

So, do you want to know what 99.9% of us are doing wrong? The same thing as everybody else.

Here’s what I mean… Our brains are hard-wired with Cognitive Biases: predictable behaviors and tendencies that all of our brains prescribe to. For the purposes of this post, Predictability is the deadly sin. I’ll share a couple critical Biases that will improve your ability to influence, and help you avoid the curse of predictability.

Mere Exposure Effect: In short, we express undue dissatisfaction with things we’re overly familiar with. People get bored quickly. We grow sick of monotony. Our daily lives are filled with constant repetition and exposure to the familiar. Our brains are desperate for something new and exciting! It’s why Michael Jackson and Lady GaGa can send the masses into a frenzy—good, bad, or indifferent. Yet, most leaders and organizations are delivering the same daily dose of the expected. Why? Because it’s safe, and easy.

Distinction Bias: This describes the tendency to view two options as more dissimilar than they truly are when evaluating them simultaneously. People like to compare things and focus on differences. We’re programmed to key in on what’s irregular, and even amplify dissimilarity! Contrast this reality with the Mere Exposure Effect, and you have a potent recipe for influencing the human brain. Furthermore, when you deliver that original thing, people will tend to focus on it intently (The Focusing Effect).

The equation for persuasive communication is this: First and foremost, be authentic. Whether a person or organization, you must be yourself—it’s the only thing that’s achievable longterm. Within that space of authenticity, devise ways to express yourself differently! Deliver core truths with originality. Turn heads. Be provocative. Earn the attention you seek. Our brains require it.

Say something, for once.

I’ve sat through the same FAA-mandated flight safety instructions countless times. How to fasten our seatbelts? Please… We tune out. Scarcely does a passenger offer courtesy eye contact to the flight attendants during this drab and borderline embarrassing routine.

This afternoon flight was different. We all listened intently. I dare say that some 100 souls on the aircraft were engaged. Why?

The gentleman starts in, “Hey, get off your cell phones and listen up—we’re trying to save your lives, people! … God help us, but if we crash in water your seat-bottom will be your new best friend. Grab it, file neatly out of the plane like pheasants, and doggy paddle to shore. I’ll be right behind you.”

It was brilliant. The crowd cheered, and the mood on the plane changed entirely.

What a masterful display of brand communication. In a moment, the oldest script in the book was worth listening to. We paid attention, and we even felt something. I often tell my clients to be bold, get a little uncomfortable, and say something authentically different…

Don’t be afraid to provoke and captivate. In this hyper-consumer-advertising-blitzed culture we’re exposed to some 20,000 promotional messages every single day. We barely have the bandwidth to pay attention. Your only chance as an organization is to deliver something worth listening to. Be gutsy. Break your self-imposed, super-safe mold that bows to status quo.

What are you afraid of? That people will actually pay attention? That somebody won’t like you? Life is too short and business is too fierce for that.

Say something, for once.

The Cause

Of all of the frameworks and brand theory I’ve ever devised, this concept is fast-becoming my favorite. Perhaps even the most potent. I’ve often said that if I had to, I could develop a brand on three simple words alone.

I call it, “Cause.”

Elite brands—those companies that somehow move us into action—have a reason for being that transcends the product. Because, of course, everybody has a product… Not everybody has a reason for being that’s bigger than what they sell. Or, bigger than profit. This concept of “higher calling” or “deeper motivation” for organizations gnawed at me for days over one particular Holiday. I remember a 6-hour drive into the mountains of Montana fixated on this topic. What were the global leaders doing that the masses were not? What was the magic spice in a Disney, a Coca-Cola, or an Apple? It’s Cause. A deeper reason for existence. These companies operate from a nucleus that surpasses the thing they actually want us to buy.

But, can it be packaged into a simple and applicable formula? (the strategist in me requires this…)

CHECK IT OUT…
1. Apple exists to challenge preconceived ideas.
2. Disney exists to inspire childlike wonder.
3. Coca-Cola exists to spread classic happiness.

EXERCISE
Sum up why your organization exists in 3 words, without mentioning: Product, People, or Profit.

Modes of Attraction

I spent the better part of a year—mostly over long plane rides—investigating the way the most influential figures in history have attracted other people. As I unpacked and categorized this list, which grew to over 200 of the most diverse names I could imagine, the results were fascinating. I determined that I could assign any iconic figure of great influence, whether past or present, into 12 Modes of Attraction. In other words, this long list of divergent personalities used a limited range of strategies (intentionally or otherwise) to attract a following.

Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs, Andy Warhol, MLK, Dennis Rodman, Gandhi… Humans respond to a core set of attitudes and behaviors that they want to adopt.

How about you? Is your tendancy to be Enjoyed using humor and charm, Sought using intrigue and elusiveness, or perhaps Respected using power and authority?

My methodology is focused on uncovering Who an organization is, Why it exists, and How it attracts. If a company can unearth these fundamental insights about their authentic Self, and function accordingly, they will be perceived clearly, and attract a loyal following. That’s a priceless reality.

Know thyself

Gnothi Seauton, an ancient Greek maxim urging the importance of self-discovery. It’s translated, “know thyself.” I’ll never forget one pivotal ‘ah-ha’ moment in my career when this insight suddenly struck me: All of the work we’re doing is geared toward making the brand human. A human brand? What does that even mean?

Let me frame it this way… Take you for example. You know who you are, right? The distinctive qualities and behavior patterns that make you, you. I’ll bet if I asked dozens of people who know you, to describe you, I would discover a great deal of consensus about what makes you tick. This is a very good thing. It’s reputation. Accordingly, you dress a certain way, carry yourself in a particular manner, talk with a distinct diction and cadence, communicate with unique undertones and qualities… Furthermore, you have established some sense of your purpose on this earth. The things that move you, the ideas you stand for, your motivation for existence. Some of this personality-set is nature, and some is nurture. You are being you—because, to behave any other way would be confusing. After all, it would be a shame if you gave people “the wrong idea.” Right?

Your corporate brand, and its stakeholders, deserve the exact same degree of clarity.

Authenticity vs. Availability

There are more than a couple schools of thought when it comes to brand positioning. This concept refers to how an organization structures its communication platform to influence perception in the market. High-level brand positioning is one of my favorite aspects of brand development, because it’s the nucleus—strategy and creativity come face-to-face. It focuses on why and how and less on what.

The two primary strategies for brand positioning can essentially be boiled down to:

1. Be what’s available.
2. Be what’s authentic.

The “availability” camp seeks to determine what the competitive set isn’t being/doing/saying, and constructing the brand to fulfill these open qualities. On the other hand, the “authenticity” approach defines what’s unique and natural to the corporate personality, then communicating these qualities.

If I had to pick one, I’m going for Authenticity. The old adage “just be yourself” rings true. I find that most of the time organizations simply haven’t—or don’t know how to—establish their authentic brand personality in the first place. It’s not as easy as it sounds, after all. Thus, it’s impossible to know what you’re doing wrong, if you haven’t determined what’s right. Discover an authentic position, and a multitude of solutions will follow.

I go for a two-pronged approach that leads with establishing Authenticity first, and then informing it with Availability as a secondary factor.

Beneath the surface

Ah, the surface. It’s where communication inevitably starts, and usually stays. It’s easy, comfortable, safe, and probably only mildly interesting.

The surface is where you start with the person crammed in next to you on an airplane. “Hi, I’m Tyler. And you are?” Then, of course, the time-honored classic, “What do you do?”

This is the cheap stuff—not even penny for your thoughts caliber. Now, imagine if you decided to go beneath on that same flight, turn to your seat-mate and muster up the courage to ask, “Why are you here?” Sure to be met with a chuckle and, “Excuse me?” To which you press, “No, really. Like, why do you exist? What really moves you?” If the person bites, fasten your seatbelt, put your tray tables and seat-backs in their upright positions, and get ready for a truly authentic conversation.

Blake Mycoskie isn’t moved by canvas shoes. The Tom’s founder is driven to end suffering for millions of kids walking barefoot. He’s motivated to restore sight in third-world countries. The canvas shoes are merely the vessel for what’s beneath. Don’t bother asking Blake what he does, ask him why he exists. He’d appreciate that.

Brands are built by, operated by, purchased by, and sustained by people. Yes, we are complex creatures, to be sure. Yet, there are some universal qualities you can count on with the human race. We want to feel. Really feel. We want to be loved. We want to hear and experience something original in a day full of stop lights and white noise.

Your brand doesn’t need to sit on the surface. It should go beneath and really say something.

Zest of orange

A couple weeks back while on my way to a presentation, my client and I stopped at a gas station to hydrate. He opted for Diet Dew, while I was determined to make a refined beverage choice in this 500 sq ft gas station. I spotted a winner—an orange-mango all-natural vitamin water, the brand of which I was not familiar.

As we made our way back to the car, and I had my first sip, my face took on a quizzical look. My client noticed.

“This is just water…” I said, “Plain water. There’s no orange or mango in this! I mean this is the most subtly flavored water of all time.”

I gestured my client over for support, and the scene must have been interesting as two men in suits stood repeatedly sniffing the opening of a water bottle.

“Oh no, it’s there!” He noted, “It’s very subtle but I caught a whiff. Perhaps it’s scented?”

I took another drink, this time savoring it like a fine wine… “Oh yes! Orange-mango. It’s almost like a zest of orange.” I exclaimed.

Satisfied, we made our way to a day’s worth of meetings. As the evening drew to a close, we sat around a table reflecting on our progress… Water in-hand, I began tapping the bottle cap on the table in front of me to the tune of One Direction’s Story of my Life. Just then, I noticed the orange powder contained in the bottle cap… The contents of which were supposed to be emptied in the water that morning.

Laughing to tears as we recalled our prior certainty, we spent the next half-hour justifying how we ever smelled that zest of orange in the first place—my strawberry Carmex? Fumes from the powder wafting through the plastic?

We consumers think we’re quite discerning. Coke-Pepsi. Crest-Colgate. Yet, double-blind studies show us that we rarely know the difference. We’d like to believe that our strong preferences are buried in our personal fiber, yet it’s that tricky gray matter convincing us. Brand is perception.

Who before what

During his reinstatement as CEO of Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs reportedly stated, “We have to get back to who we are…”

What a fascinating assertion in the face of monumental corporate decline, which included an all-time-low $12.75 share price. (The computer giant opened at $24.62 some 13 years earlier.)

“Who” Apple is? Not “what” Apple sells? Not “where” Apple needs to go?

Who.

This prolific innovator paid attention to concepts that few leaders have the insight to consider. Apple lost track of its heart and soul, and consumers felt it. Jobs had spent a career mercilessly nurturing and protecting that inner fiber. Not a logo, or a name, or any one product. Apple was an inspiring personality, with a meaningful cause.

Jobs restored the “who” to Apple, and we flocked back.

Get over your logo

I’ve been itching to pen this post.

I’m speaking to designers and executives alike. It’s time we get past the logo.

For far too long our impractical fixation with these tiny identity assets has endured. It’s a result of many variables, born from the people who make logos, and the clients who cling to them. Now, any strategist or creative worth their salt will agree, “Brand is not logo.” Yet somehow, the logo still finds itself on the main-stage of brand transformation efforts. Consequently, it’s the single hardest thing to attempt to adjust.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good logo redesign; I’ve been creating them since I was 9-years-old. There are disastrous logos the world around that need a good cleansing. Yet, brand is not logo. Brand is reputation. It’s a gut feeling generated by a macro story that’s so much bigger than any one item.

I’ll say it in virtually any venue I speak at, “I can take a bad logo, and still tell the right story.”

Let’s think bigger than the logo and solve the root problem.

Thalamus

Why does your company exist?

I challenge you to succinctly answer this question without referencing these three elements: People, Profit, Product.

Saying you exist for “people” is a common crutch that seeks profundity without taking the time to dig deeper. Citing “profit” is both obvious and tragic, and it’s also a result not a belief. And your “product” is a what variable not a why variable—we all sell something.

Okay, so this exercise isn’t easy. I’ve found that the vast majority of organizations struggle with this question. Yet the answer is transformative.

At the core of this equation is a nodule in the middle of your head called the Thalamus. In greek it means the “inner room.” And this 2-inch processor is where all of our cognitive computation begins. Sitting at the top of our brain stem, this most advanced structure is the catalyst for human thinking.

Guess what? The Thalamus is driven by emotion. It’s an instinct processor. It feels. In fact, it has no capacity for language, saving the more “neanderthal” functions like facts, figures, and analytics, for the Cerebral Cortex. When you say it, “My heart tells me…” you mean, “My Thalamus tells me.”

We make the biggest decisions of our lives using this tiny bit of gray matter—spouse, faith, job, and really important purchases. The best brands in the world appeal to the Thalamus, which endeavors to solve “why” not “what.”

Let’s connect.

Ready when you are.

I enjoy relationships, air travel (seriously), and hearing about the unique challenges brands face. I also like espresso and burritos. If you combine relationships, air travel, espresso, burritos, and brand challenges, I’m in heaven. You get the picture.

If you think I may be able to help your organization, a chat is a good place to start. No pressure or strings attached.

Don’t hesitate to reach out in any of the following ways: