Want a Lasting Brand? Listen to Miles Davis.

Sometimes, you can learn a lot about branding from people who don’t appear to have anything to do with it.

Take legendary Jazz innovator Miles Davis. Described by Rolling Stone as “the most revered jazz trumpeter of all time, not to mention one of the most important musicians of the 20th century,” Davis re-imagined and re-invented Jazz music. In the parlance of branding, he disrupted the marketplace by being committed to authenticity.

How? By adhering to a credo that resonates to this day: “Man, it takes you a long time to sound like yourself,” said Davis.

So, how can your brand discover and communicate its sense of authenticity? If you embrace the orthodoxy of the branding industry, you need to follow a proven process.

Discovering Your Brand Authenticity is a Journey, Not a Process

I have to admit, I bristle at the idea that our agency would ever employ a mechanical or industrial process to manufacture something that can then be replicated, over and over again. So we don’t.

Every business is different, so we engage our clients in a journey of exploration and discovery informed less by process and more by perspective – which is that brands are communities. And we deliver our insights, strategies and go-forward recommendations through a collaborative effort that engages the client, and the key segments of their brand community, internally and externally.

What drives our approach is a need to understand the loyalty of the people in your brand community, and what motivates them to become movers in that community who will spontaneously enlist others to join.

People are only motivated to advocate for something if it reflects their sense of importance or value. Brands are about values and promises that impact real people because they are defined and delivered by real people. To get to the heart of that, we have candid conversations with those who are at the core of the community to learn the visceral, human scale values that define the brand.

That begins with an energetic and challenging “brand breakthrough experience” in a half-day intensive workshop that explores and defines the core values of your brand in ways that you have likely never considered.

We take the findings of that session and explore how well those core values are active throughout the brand community including employees, customers, partners, vendors, sponsors, even competitors and sanctioning bodies.

Authentic Storytelling Moves People to Actions

All of these discoveries inform the most critical aspect of sharing your brand with the world: storytelling. Successful branding is about stories and conversations, and smart clients are almost always looking to improve the conversations surrounding their brands. That’s why a critical part of our deliverables, in the Explore and Discover stage of our working relationship, is presenting the brand narrative.

This includes authentic customer personas, brand story arcs and brand story boards that are engaging, even compelling, because they are inspired by the vision and ambitions of the brand.

Together, these elements act in the same way a script works for a motion picture or sheet music works for a song. In doing so, we take the discussion of the brand beyond academics and science (process) into the realm of immersive, multi-media storytelling that more deeply affects and moves people to action inside the brand community.

Science in Service to the Brand

This is not to say science and academic discipline are not foundational to our approach. We often use third party market and customer research to develop strategic insights that are practical and achievable. And we also bring the disciplines of critical thinking to the effort to ensure we makes no assumptions.

But both of these are used in service to telling the story of the brand and to enhancing the brand community’s health and well-being. They do not define the brand, but only validate what is already evident about the brand and the business … which is often hidden in plain sight.

So no, we don’t offer a process – we pursue a collaborative, energetic and fulfilling experience of exploration and discovery that enlists the brand community and, through that enlistment, creates a sense of community before we even launch a new brand or update an existing one.

And we work with clients to create an organic, living brand community whose motivations are so durable, the business becomes as much a movement as a monetary enterprise – one that more easily delivers on its promises and makes a positive contribution to the planet. That is authentic!

Ready for Authenticity?

So, if you merely want to replicate the attributes and story of another brand, invest in a process. It’s simple, relatively quick and will last just long enough for people to discover you’re good, just not the real deal. Then you can engage the process and do it all over again. It will be like playing cover tunes without making the effort to write your own songs or, at least offering a fresh take on the original.

But if you want to create a brand that represents your ambition to disrupt, to re-define and, most importantly, to win lasting market loyalty, you’ll embrace a more flexible, more inclusive, and eminently more insightful approach.

That investment may take a little longer, as Mr. Miles so aptly stated – but it will ensure your brand is always in tune, always in the groove and always garnering standing ovations at every performance.


Wayne S. Roberts

The Globe and Mail calls Wayne S. Roberts "an ad industry provocateur." Maybe its because he's never seen the point of playing by the ad game rules that place awards above results, while offering spec work instead of real value to win accounts. Throughout his career, Wayne has maintained a defiantly independent streak characterized by his insistence that agencies must be honest, direct and passionately invested in their clients' success. His pioneering work in espousing the brand community perspective has been a touchstone of his belief that branding is more than just logos, websites and ad campaigns; it is the fundamental way human beings connect with each other to create communities and launch movements that have changed our world.

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