There are more than 30 million small businesses in the United States alone. Not to mention, that number doesn’t even include those running a startup or launching a side hustle. From product-focused businesses selling everything from soap to tires, to service-oriented businesses providing skills like consulting and graphic design, entrepreneurship is happening everywhere.
According to The Economist, we’re seeing a “once-in-a-generation surge” in entrepreneurship. This once-in-a-lifetime surge means that business, particularly e-commerce, is becoming increasingly saturated with new brands. It’s never been easier to launch a brand on Etsy, Shopify, Squarespace, Instagram, or even TikTok, so it’s important to ensure you have the skills and know-how to set your brand apart from the crowd. No matter the type of business you have, the key to success is building a compelling brand identity that's authentic and unique, resonates with your audience, and keeps people coming back for more.
First, let’s get into the basics. How do you build a concrete, tangible, and lasting brand identity? How does a brand become a brand? And where does that brand show up? In my book, How to Build a Goddamn Empire, I explore the nuts and bolts of building and scaling both consumer-facing (“DTC” or direct-to-consumer) brands and business-facing (“B2B” or business-to-business) brands. Spoiler alert: It starts with understanding the What, Why, and How behind your brand. Let’s dive in.
You can’t tell a story without a plot, and you can’t build a plot without a character. Ideally, the main character. The What, Why, and How of your business defines who that main character is, and what their motivations are. These attributes are what give your brand soul, color, and help spark feelings and emotions in your target customer. Let’s break it down:
The ‘What’ is your brand’s purpose. As a statement, it succinctly and clearly addresses what your brand does and who it’s for.
The ‘Why’ is what your brand aims to accomplish or promote to your audience. It’s your mission that tells the importance of what you offer or provide.
The ‘How’ is the method you'll use to ensure your audiences feel engaged with your brand and mission. The ‘how’ will determine your brand’s communication style as well as your visual identity.
See what I mean? The What, Why, and How framework takes your business – what you do and what you offer – and gives it focus, identity and that extra umph. Need a few concrete examples to sink your teeth into? I got you.
In studying brand marketing campaigns, packaging, social media personas, and even color choices, I’ve learned to spot the What, Why, and Hows within a given industry. I use Outdoor Voices, Nike, and Lululemon as references in my book to show how similar brands bring completely different personalities and perspectives to the fitness and athleticwear space.
Let’s look at Outdoor Voices. If you bop around the website and read or watch interviews with founder Ty Haney, you can deduce the following:
The What: Outdoor Voices is an activewear brand that sells fashionable, technical apparel to men and women.
The Why: Outdoor Voices is ‘on a mission to Get the World Moving, because they believe Doing Things—moving your body and having fun with friends—is the surest way to a happy and healthy life.
The How: Outdoor Voices wants its customers to feel inspired and supported when they shop the brand online, engage on social, visit their stores, and make a purchase
Outdoor Voices’ brand identity purposefully stands in stark contrast to that of two mass-market category leaders: Nike and Lululemon. If we look at these two brands, we see two distinctly contrasting brand identities. Nike is often associated with extreme athletes, intense exercise, and reaching peak performance. Through these associations, we can gather that Nike is for goal-oriented, self-identifying ‘fitness people’ or athletes because of their brand and marketing choices.
On the other hand, Lululemon feels like a brand targeted more exclusively to people who practice yoga, seek self-improvement both physically and mentally, and are comfortable investing in high-quality garments. You can gather this through the motivational quotes and phrases scattered across their in-store branding, the types of models they cast in their product and editorial photography, and their premium price points. While each brand sells athleticwear, they differentiate themselves by establishing unique identities through clearly defined brand principles of What, Why, and How.
Nailing down your overall brand identity will help shape and cultivate your creative branding, partnerships, media placements, brand messaging, personality, and even product. While you can read branding guides, check out business books and study other brands until you pass out, always remember that the What, Why, and How of your brand must be determined by you.