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Brand Consciousness — How to create and sustain meaningful brands that connect with people

3 Lessons for building a Compelling, Relatable and Coherent Brand Story -

Selby Cary and Mario Alcantara Monteiro

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Key Takeaway — “Understanding and defining your brand DNA is fundamental for the long-term growth and sustainability of your organisation.”

Societies are formed and shaped by stories — over time, they develop their own consciousness and evolve as people do. Brands are built on stories — they are a collection of people, ideas and beliefs. They are more than just symbols — they are promises, behaviours and intentions. Like living beings, they are influenced by their environment and change as we do. However, preserving the essence or DNA of a brand becomes challenging as it grows!

Even historically successful legacy brands, such as traditional high-street banks, can lose track of cultural shifts and fall behind the curve. Challenger banks, such as Monzo, have achieved almost overnight success (in banking terms) because their products are more relatable to younger users. Their brands have become a symbol of flexibility, forward-thinking and accessibility — as such, customers have engaged with and continue to feel connected to their brand.

“People come for the product or the problem, but they will stay for the brand” The best brands focus on solving problems for their customers and staying relevant (i.e. Blockbuster vs. Netflix). Over time, a brand must transition from user acquisition to user retention by building and maintaining trust. Eventually, your brand ecosystem becomes more important than the individual features you offer.

People build relationships with brands and feel attached to them — treating brands like their friends. This blog will help you understand the steps needed to connect with your customers, build a compelling story and establish your brand consciousness. Get to the Point — What are the lessons?

  1. Brand building starts from within

  2. Keep your brand human

  3. Sustain your brand essence as you grow

Lesson #1 — Brand building starts from within

Building a brand is inherently a process of organisational introspection. It starts from within and expands into the outside world — becoming its own entity over time. Through introspection, strategic thinking and social connection, you can turn your brand into something truly powerful.

Whether you are a company, city, government or individual — you have a brand. The question is, what story do you want to tell?

Strong brands have the capacity to stand the test of time. So, how do they do it? Simply put, they have strong foundations based on clear principles, a defined narrative and a purpose. Big visions and emotional stories can have a lasting impact on your customer’s attitudes toward your brand. After all, establishing a relationship is 10x more valuable than a single sale.

As the world changes, well-established brands don’t change everything about themselves— they adapt to culturally relevant norms but retain their core vision. Think about some of the most famous household names; Nike, Apple or even Redbull — have they changed their DNA throughout the years? They may have slightly different graphics or campaign messages but their core purpose or intention is still coherent and resonates with their audience.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of blindly following market trends to stay relevant, without retaining your core identity. If left unchecked, significant brand pivots will lead to total collapse. Changing your brand to suit trends without truthful or genuine principles, such as greenwashing, soon becomes apparent and your customer will react negatively. Despite a new logo or trendy, socially relevant slogan — your real brand will shine through. Practical Advice — Introspective Questions to ask yourself

  • What is your brand purpose? Why does it exist? What’s the intention behind your product/service?

  • Imagine your brand as a person — What would they say? How would they behave? What sort of relationship would they build with others?

  • What is your brand vision? Do you have a compelling story? Why should people care about it?

Lesson #2 — Keep your brand human

All successful brands are tied to culture and emotion. Whether you are Ikea or Marvel — you need to connect with the social or cultural spectrum. Building culturally relevant brands that are socially active provides a way to stay connected with your audience and evolve as they do. Especially as big shifts in thinking occur, such as sustainable consumption, your customers want to know where you stand.

“It’s not what you say but what you do that matters to consumers”

Customers need to understand your intentions before they invest in your brand; What’s driving you? What’s the real purpose behind your actions? A genuine motivation or large problem statement can become a major part of your brand resilience. Using data-based decision making to design marketing efforts is only part of the picture. It’s always important to keep the “human element” in mind and perceive the brand as a chance to develop a valuable relationship with your community.

The billion-dollar question is — How do we build a more compelling brand that actually engages with people — not just numbers? How can we turn any brand into a human brand?

Practice Advice — Becoming a human brand

  1. Align everything you do with your core vision and brand foundations — No post or advert should leave your marketing department if it is not genuine and true to your essence or DNA.

  2. Implement social practices or techniques across the company — It is not what you say but what you do that matters to consumers. Be mindful of the consequences your brand (and its efforts) have on people. For example, no matter how much ‘green-washing’ a petroleum producer does, it cannot make up for an avoidable Oil Spill and the subsequent damage to the environment.

  3. Include your community in your research and development — Listening to your customers and their perceptions of your brand will give you insights into their feelings, far beyond the data. Becoming more relatable in your approach starts with understanding the human perspective. Apply social design principles and take your core audience into the process of brand and product building.

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Lesson #3 — Sustain your brand essence as you grow

As your company grows, your core foundations will be eroded by time and the insatiable lust for expansion — pushing commercial agendas ahead of the brand. Before you realise it, cracks begin to show all over your business — from marketing messages to product development. Soon, everyone is asking the same question; Why are we doing this?

Your internal team culture stems from this very question and touches every aspect of your organisation. Defining a company vision helps, but it must become part of your values and decision-making process.

How do you achieve this in practice?

  1. Continually revisit and revise your vision, especially as the mainstream culture develops, but don’t lose track of your foundations. You can feel the difference in values in the way a company acts in a crisis, how they treat their employees or deal with global events.

  2. Keeping your core story consistent as you scale your marketing efforts helps to alleviate any confusion or expectations from consumers. No matter your size, people still need to understand who you are and, at every stage, connect with their core values. For example, if your brand is associated with environmental disasters or employee harassment, consumers may choose another similarly priced product despite their previous preference.

“Consumers are not looking for more options, they want to have fewer options but get them more efficiently” — Scott Galloway

At the end of the day, your brand essence is a set of ideas or beliefs that inspire people to follow them. You may not see the roots of the tree but you can enjoy the fruit. However, without a well-nurtured seed, there can be no tree. The same can be said for brands — successful companies reduce their offering and focus on their core value — never forgetting their roots!

Life is all about choices, especially as a consumer; What should I buy? Who should I follow? How should I behave? Well placed brand messaging can impact your personal choices and, inevitably, what you end up choosing to buy, indirectly impacts societal trends.

Everything has a story — we use them to make sense of the world, inform our decisions and define our personal identity. The power of mainstream media has provided us with the ability to tell the story in the way we want. They use labels and associations to make complex topics more relatable and easy to understand.

“Products are made in a factory but brands are created in the mind” — Walter Landor As brands, we are constantly sending signals to consumers about who we are and what we stand for. It’s a balancing act between simplicity, relevance and adaptability to the time period. To be successful, brands have to be conscious of every action and its impact on the world — just like you and me. After all, brands are only as good as you remember them being.

About the Authors

#ScaleupLessons is written by serial entrepreneurs, engineers and technologists to share knowledge about scaling startups across a range of industries. This blog was written by:

Mario Alcantara Monteiro — is a creative and design director at social innovation consultancy TRSFRM. Mario is also a fellow and Judge at the Royal Society of Arts, awarded and nominated by the Royal Institute of British Architects, Dieline by Adobe and the German Design Council. Mario’s portfolio includes brand development for sustainable start-ups and global brands such as Ford Motor Company, as well as local governments in the global south.

Selby Cary — is a serial entrepreneur, inventor and engineer with a passion for data-driven and automated systems. Previously, Selby co-founded ZIVA Robotics, an award-winning deep tech startup based in Edinburgh, before joining to accelerate affordable at-home digital healthcare.


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