By Emily Soccorsy and Justin Foster

A brand is an organic, living thing. It is both a practice and a discipline.

And yet there is also a baseline, or minimum, level of organic environmental excellence to create for your brand to grow and thrive.

Without this brand primordial soup, you may inadvertently stunt the growth of your brand and reduce its vibrancy and reach.

Most people begin working on their brand by focusing on the most external element. The first question we typically get around branding is: By branding, you mean logo, right? Not quite. Yes, you need a level of visual appeal and digital presence. But those are baseline requirements for any organization.

To reach a level of excellence as a brand, leaders need to look within first. As achievers, leaders are well served to go on the inward journey required to create clarity and uncover their core beliefs — both personally and professionally. Yes, both are relevant and both matter immensely in regards to what they are building.

This inward journey may seem counterintuitive in a business environment relentlessly obsessed with the external output. But it actually creates a sustainable, rich and healthy foundation all other cultural health, business development, and brand growth will rise from.

That’s why our first branding MLE is to articulate your core beliefs and standards.

Once you have cultivated and understood the soil of soul in which you are growing, which we help clients do during a Root Session, it’s time to take a slightly larger look at the environment around you.

The world is a tidal wave pulverizing you with demands for your attention, action, and prioritization. It is a crushing environment for all humans armed with ancient brains slowly evolving to filter out much of the noise and somehow find harmony for our lives. In this space, most of the demands, requests, and shouts present in similar shrill tones, menacing memes, and dark, descriptive language.

A business and its leaders must not only be different but also must understand, with microscopically clear emotional intelligence, why their experience is different.

Once you understand that, and have named it, the task is to share that differentiation, consistently and clearly, in the marketplace.

That’s why the second branding MLE is to create obvious differentiation in the marketplace.

To create a minimum level of excellence with differentiation requires leaders to go beyond standard campaign pablum to strategically and intentionally owning a conversation in the marketplace. This takes courage and insight. It takes a willingness to be bold. And it means honestly answering the question “what makes us truly different?” For a starting point of differentiation look at the human factors. Your culture, your customer experience, your social voice. The humans in and around your brand are way more interesting than your offerings.

Differentiation will inform what you share with the market, with your ideal audience, but it is far from the most important content you create.

Since the beginning of time, humans have gathered to hear and be swept away by stories. Stories are always engaging to us. They are ways we come open-hearted and open-minded to learn without realizing that’s what we are doing. They are how we understand the soulful underpinnings of another person’s perspective, of an organization’s true and real organizing principles. They are where trust begins.

As a modern brand, you must share your message and story in a way that invites and inspires, which is the third MLE.

Avoid the Old World approach to story, one centered around igniting fear, uncertainty and doubt, catastrophe and chaos, leading to manipulation and coercion.

Focus instead on stories of failing and overcoming, desperation and hope, tales featuring everyday heroes, novel ideas with merit. Share stories that illustrate your unique set of beliefs and standards and how they are lived out.

Tell the world why you are here, why you are doing this and what mountain you are headed out to climb.

Tell these stories in a modern way: in an engaging narrative, in visuals, in video retelling. Imagine sitting around a fire to share a little bit about what you do — where would you begin the story of your business if you were presenting your story that way?

A client of ours, Stream, a concierge logistics company that has three times been named to the Inc list of fastest growing companies, practices all three of these MLEs on a regular basis. They first did the work to articulate the beliefs in a Root Session and they now share their standards in artful renderings on the walls of their office, in their hiring practices, in daily recognition, and in meetings. They tell stories during staff meetings of how they are embodying those standards. In daily sales conversations, they share with their audience the key differences they bring to all they do, emphasizing what it means to be a concierge logistics provider in an industry that has neglected accountability and personal service for years.

Another client, Terri Broussard Williams, is beginning a movement maker tribe. She has begun her work toward turning moments into movements by sharing her story and the stories of other women who are making change happen in the world. She embodies her beliefs in the work she takes on, in the volunteer work she invests herself fully into and in the beautiful and inspiring content and products she is creating.

Finally, our client Intend2Lead organized their entire brand, business model and coaching practice around the mission and message uncovered in their Root Session. In a space (accounting) full of institutional thinking and sameness, they boldly use words like “love” and “truth.” In essence, their entire brand presence is a mirror of their own character, excellence and value.

Wherever you are with your brand, take a breath. Be there. You may accept you have a couple MLEs firmly in place. You may acknowledge there is work to do on others.

Above all, avoid getting lost in the tidal wave of demands and their lure to focus instead on tactics that are perhaps easier to discuss, to sell, to do.

True navigation and true excellence come when you can identify true north.

Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.

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