Blog POST

How to Build Your Brand Identity in a Rapidly Changing Landscape

To compete in a crowded field, your brand needs to stand out. But how?

At this point in 2021, in the middle of a global pandemic that has touched every aspect of our society, it’s clear that so many aspects of our culture are rapidly changing. From the shifting political landscape coming out of the Trump era to the evolving moral values championed by movements in the US and beyond, these changes deeply impact how people consume and behave in the marketplace of ideas, products, and services. People all across the country are rethinking the way they make choices about what they purchase and what they don’t, who they support and who they avoid, and which causes they support compared to which ones they oppose to try and live in alignment within a new — and long overdue — cultural reset.

A period of upheaval like this one can understandably be a huge concern for any organization trying to keep pace with the times and meet the shifting needs of their audience or clientele. It can be extraordinarily difficult for folks to communicate what sets them apart among a crowded space of organizations competing for folks’ attention in the cacophony of social media, digital outlets, and a culture saturated with a 24/7 news cycle. But at Think Rubix, we believe that times of upheaval are also opportunities in disguise.

In the Storytelling Studio, we keep a finger on the pulse of how audiences move, and we work with our clients to help them find their unique voice — one that breaks through all the noise. To do that, we start with a deceptively simple question to all our clients: why does your organization exist?

Carl Heyerdahl via Unsplash

Having a clear answer to that question is as important as it is difficult, because it affects how you motivate people to move. Most organizations, whether they be businesses, nonprofits, or governments, typically come up with a few easy answers right away: you want to sell a particular product, you want to connect with a specific audience, or maybe you just want to generally make the world a better place. Those answers certainly aren’t wrong, but if you want to find a way to clearly and effectively communicate your unique brand identity, those answers are also incomplete.

Let’s say you’re the CEO of a startup trying to sell a tech platform to optimize the workflow for nonprofits and charities to do their work more efficiently. There are already thousands of different platforms that these organizations use, and you’re likely already aware of that. But you entered this space because you saw a gap that you believe your idea can fill, and the challenge is defining that space and convincing your ideal audience that your product is the one to fix it. That’s where we come in.

If your product is divorced from a broader mission or vision for the future, the simple reality is that it just won’t be able to connect with folks nowadays, because audiences are getting more savvy. With the power of a simple Google search at their fingertips, people can quickly and easily find any number of options for companies and organizations that can help them with their problem at hand, but audiences aren’t always just looking for the cheapest or fastest result — they increasingly want to engage with products and services that align with their personal values, whether that’s sustainability, political stances, diversity, or anything else that’s important to their lived experience. To choose you, they have to connect with your brand’s story in a way that helps them see themselves in whatever you’re offering. It has to be compelling, accessible, and eye-catching.

Balasz Ketvi via Unsplash

We believe that that story starts with the experience of the founders or organizational leaders. When you started this brand, what was the gap you saw in your market that your idea can fill? How did you envision your product or service changing the landscape your audience is working within? How did your personal values inform the design of your idea, from inception to launch? Before we can get to the story you want to tell to your audience, we need to know the one you’re living and find the congruence, because frankly, consumers are smart enough to smell BS and can tell when there’s a disparity between the message you’re sending out and the way you actually do business.

For example, when Georgia passed an omnibus voter suppression bill, SB202, last month, a ton of corporations operating in the state faced a deluge of demands to speak out against it. Many, like Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola, put out statements condemning the law in response to public pressure, but are facing questions about how those public messages actually align with their work. Delta, for instance, was quickly criticized for their PR effort to oppose the law when they have simultaneously donated to Governor Kemp and many Georgia Republican state legislators who wrote the bill through their company PAC. In today’s climate, you just can’t expect to lie to an audience that’s getting better about checking the receipts and walk away scot-free.

Being true to your story, whatever it may be, makes it far easier to distill the heart of your brand and the key pillars of it: the mission, values, intentions, and uniqueness. Telling those stories with purpose and conviction will differentiate you from the field.

Rupert Britton via Unsplash

Most of our clients don’t suffer from a lack of answers to that central question of why they exist; in fact, the biggest problem tends to be having too many answers and trying to narrow it down to just a few ideas that can be easily communicated to their ideal audience. When you’re a visionary leader that can (correctly) see the multitude of problems and possibilities out there, it’s hard to hone in on the one story that’s going to resonate.

Our client WePower faced this exact challenge. WePower is an organization comprised of Black and Latinx community leaders, changemakers, and entrepreneurs in East St. Louis, Missouri, building collective power to design new education and economic systems for the under-served and oft-ignored communities they represent. Their CEO, Charli Cooksey, came to us with an abundance of ideas about the brand and what they wanted to communicate to their base, but needed help narrowing them down to the key components.

In close collaboration with our client, we decided that WePower needed two key assets. First, they needed a brand upgrade, both to reflect the significance and shifting urgency of its work and to showcase their status as a key power player and voice for the communities of East St. Louis. Second, they needed a broad strategic plan to refine, organize, and prioritize their many goals and projects to serve their communities as effectively and equitably as possible during the pandemic and beyond.

We worked with WePower’s leadership and members to facilitate brand identity sessions with the input of all the communities represented, finding the “brand heart” in the collective power of the organization. We then refined their ideas into a series of strategy offerings, working with the client to choose and implement one that ultimately reflected the broad interests of the represented communities.

The result was a vibrant new brand that accurately reflected the power of the organization and their outstanding community spirit. Charli Cooksey raved about the much-needed brand update and how it showcased all the best elements of WePower in a clear, concise, and easily communicable way to the communities of East St. Louis.

Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Of course, not every brand comes to the table with a clear answer or even a set of broad answers. Sometimes, the challenge is building a brand from the ground up, but the process stays the same — the story is in your people, and our job is to help tease that out and design creative, engaging ways for you to tell it.

Interested in giving your brand the Think Rubix touch? Click here to schedule an exploratory call with our Storytelling Studio and see how we can help you break apart from the pack.