What It Means To Build A Legendary Brand

I am by no means a seasoned marketer.

I've never built a billion dollar business, nor orchestrated an IPO roadshow campaign. I have not led a major brand overhaul or released multiple product lines. No one has ever invited me to speak about marketing on their podcast or at their conferences.

But none of that makes me under-qualified to speak at length about my experiences with legendary marketing, lastings brands, and world-changing products.

Before I was ever a marketer, I was a consumer. And a legendary consumer I have always been.

When I encounter a brand that makes me feel like a different version – an aspirational version – of myself, I latch onto it. I promote it. I tell everyone I know about it. I preach its gospel from the mountain tops.

Brands that do this so-so occasionally convince me to part with a few dollars. But the ones that do it in a legendary way become part of my own personal brand story arc. That story arc makes up the fabric of who I say I am.

My Logo-Bar Identity

Like a NASCAR driver, my personal brand bears a tapestry of logos, slogans, and points of view that help define and describe who I am as a person. Powerful brand's logos offer symbolism for explaining my identity to others in ways words often cannot.

The most effective brands deliver more than products into the world. They shape the backdrop of many stories of my life. In many cases, these brands affect nostalgia of former, better days. In other cases, they lay a path of possibility for who I'd like to become.

But here's a secret I've learned as a consumer that lays the foundation of my core belief a marketer:

The best brands don't sell products. They reveal a version of ourselves who we aspire to be.

Brands That Describe Me

So many brands inspire me. But the ones I really love act as a proxy for one aspect of my personality or another. Every brand that achieves some aspect of this does so because of the story I associate with the brand – and what that story means to my identity.

Consider some brand examples and the stories that surround them for me:

Amazon

What many people don't know about Jeff Bezos is that prior to selling books on the internet, he worked as a successful quant on Wall Street in at a well-respected firm. When Jeff decided to leave, people laughed at him. They told him all the reasons it wouldn't work. Even after he proved them wrong, when set his targets on other industries, experts still scoffed. They told Jeff to stay in his lane. Incumbents tried to destroy his company. Regulators attempted to interfere. And analysts underrated stock. Still, Amazon persisted, kept innovating, and continued beating prices. When some punk asshole tried to blackmail Bezos, he rose above it. Through every trial, Jeff Bezos proves he remains committed to the customer and to building something lasting. Amazon provides the de facto example of how I think business should be done.

Apple

Steve Jobs was not always the legendary innovator or product and design genius many revere him as. Long before the first iPhone or app, many found Steve to be a disagreeable asshole. But Steve did not care – he saw something different, something that would change everything. Steve believed every encounter with the brand that became Apple deserved to be special and human. He did not believe in following the mainstream. He believed in creating a new way of doing things, and in giving access to world-class technological experiences to a class of people the incumbents disregarded. Steve believed in bring revolutionary ideas and change to the world by empowering the individual. While everyone else focused on serving the business class, Steve brought personal computing – and free, democratized information access – to the masses. His legacy empowers BILLIONS of people to this day.

Budweiser

I drank my first beer at age 13 (If you're reading this, sorry, mom). Alcohol was not allowed in my house growing up, so sneaking beers served as an act of rebellion at that time in my life. When my brother would leave his ice chest in his truck bed after trips to the lake during summers, I used to pilfer a few beers and share them with my friends. He and his friends drank Budweiser and Bud Light. The first drink out of every Bud Light takes me back to a specific time and place in my life of skirting rules and seeking thrills. Of being too big for my britches and wishing to be as cool as one of my biggest, earliest role models: my older brother. No craft beer can recreate the era of my life and sentimental, freedom-seeking experiences that are owned by Budweiser.

Levi's

We didn't have money growing up. Designer jeans were, as my mother called them, 'a want, not a need.' My dad wore jeans. But not just any jeans. Dad wore Levi's. I remember curiously perusing through stacks of various-colored denim in my Dad's closet as a kid. I marveled at the dark blues and the light, frayed almost-white fabric. I realized in time that my Dad viewed jeans as an investment. As a contractor, these were essentially part of his uniform. And as someone whose job requires trust, my Dad has always looked the part: jeans, a belt, a collared shirt tucked in, and work boots. When I got older, Mom outfitted me with Levi's. I wore the hell out of them until years later when I could afford to buy designer jeans. And buy designer jeans I did. But here's what I found, I've rarely found a pair of designer jeans that 'fit' me right. And I'm not just talking about the way the cuff breaks at the heel or the breathing room in the crotch. The jeans didn't fit me because they felt impractical, overpriced, like a waste of money, and rarely lasted a justifiable amount of time considering the cost. As a brand, Levi's has always dominated my denim market share –  both as a provider of a reliable, comfortable option, and a brand whose identity represents values of practicality and reliability that equal my own.

(PS – your boy here likes to rock those 501s and 505s)

Nike

Before we wore "Just Do It" emblazoned on shirts, or shoes ever had shox, Phil Knight labored for decades to bring his vision for a new brand of shoes to life. What he achieved likely outpaced his wildest dreams. Nike has since become a powerhouse brand, both provocative and empowering. It's a brand for athletes, for dreamers, for those committed to never give up. And it's the first brand of basketball shoes I remember putting on my feet when I took the hardwood for the very first time. Nike is a reflection to the years I spent waking up at 5 am to get a two-hour workout in before school. It's the thousands of suicides, dribbling and shooting drills busting my ass to earn a spot on the Varsity team. It's the first jersey with my number on it. It's the sound of the swishing net when I made a winning shot, and the sound of the buzzer when we came up short. Today, it's the comfortable brand I turn to leisure and workout wear – because when I wear Nike it reminds me of a hard-working, focused, relentless version of myself I still want to be.

What It Means For Marketers

Most marketers obsess over the latest tools. They scurry around like coveys of quail chasing "best practices" and Gartner magic quadrants. Seasoned- and new- marketers alike burn cash and demo products like schizophrenic maniacs trying to discover the latest growth-hack silver bullet to magically lift their business into the marketing stratosphere.

But what most marketers completely miss is how what they create makes people feel.

From content, to product, to company, most marketer overlook the experience of their customers at each interaction with their brands. And when this happens, their businesses fail to create lasting relationships with their customers.

As legendary CMO and godfather of category design Christopher Lochhead puts it:

"The most exciting companies create. They give us new ways of living, thinking, or doing business, many times solving a problem we didn't know we had – or a problem we didn't pay attention to because we never thought there was another way."

The marketers (and companies) who succeed at this don't just capture a big share of the market, they create a lasting legacy customers latch on to. Those experiences go on to shape more than their customers' opinions of the brand. The most legendary brands give their customers a way to make a powerful statement of identity to their peers and the world at large.

And it doesn't take a marketer to recognize that is a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Imagine yourself at the bottom of a set of stairs. This is you at the beginning of your career.

Your ideal career scenario stands at the top of the staircase.

For me, it’s the freedom to create a life on my own terms and a reputation strong enough to unlock the opportunities I aspire for.

The stairs represent the challenges and steps you must take to get there.

Each step gets you closer to your goal. Each step unlocks a little more of what you’re after.

The idea of the “company man” – where you work the duration of your professional life at one corporation – has long timed out. Today, the average tenure has dropped significantly – roughly 4.2 years.

The cost of information has dropped significantly, too. Meaning, it’s much easier to discover new opportunities, for companies to learn about you, or for you to start your own business – even if that’s as a freelance service provider.

Leverage

This means you have more leverage today as an individual than your parents or grandparents had.

You’re not beholden to one organization. The more skills you have and the stronger the reputation you have at signaling those skills, the more leverage you have.

Your journey isn’t limited to climbing one corporate ladder. It also means you’re not limited to climbing steps one at a time.

In the world we live in, focus on doing good work and the reputation you build will open opportunities for you.

Many of the best opportunities aren’t things you apply for – but the types of things that allow you to skips steps and get closer to your end goals.

Don’t worry about whether you’re staying at a company too long or moving around too quickly. Instead focus on

  • Adding value where you’re at however long you’re there.
  • Learning and engaging in meaningful work.
  • Refining your option set – by removing or avoiding the kinds of work you hate.
  • Documenting your work and learning – by building a digital portfolio or body of work.
  • Creating lasting relationships with people who push you to be better.

Your career is a discovery process. Go out and do what you need to do to discover and build a career and life that brings you fulfillment.

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*This post was originally published on Quora in response to the question Is staying at one organization for a long time good or bad for one's career? Why? It's received over 110,000 views in the past month.

The Ugly Truth About Burnout

The lights were off. It’s how I liked to work.

A faint glow from two 27” monitors and a MacBook Pro reflected off my glasses. Beneath my hoodie, the steady mind-numbing pulse of screamo bass outpaced the tap-tap-tapping from my keyboard.

I forgot how long I’d been there. I’d woken up around 4:30 am and I’d be there well until the evening hours.

Half a dozen years into my career, this was a typical day.

At least, until the day I had my first major health scare…

I stacked 80–100 hour work weeks regularly. No one made me. There was no formal “work hours” policy. Success was about results. But in the breakneck pace of a hyper growth company, there is never a shortage of problems or projects to get lost in.

That kind of environment is addicting, dangerous even. There’s an almost pornographic appeal to putting in long hours. Even when you tell yourself you’re having fun – which I was – eventually your faculties erode. The warning voice of conscience “you’re overdoing it” fades the longer you allow workaholism to prevail.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And probably it shouldn’t be. But it’s a picture of what life had become for me.

I ate like sh*t. Burgers. Pizza. Tacos. Fast food.

I rarely exercised anymore. Unless switching from standing to sitting or pacing on calls counts.

Not to mention the excessive intake – coffee to kickstart the day and alcohol to shut the mind off most nights.

Health took a back seat to work – both mental and physical health.

Then one day it went too far.

Not unlike any day, I rose early and slammed several coffees before anyone else made it to the office. But I remember it was a particularly stressful day.

That’s what set it into motion, I told myself: the stress.

It started as a small ache in my side. It slowly intensified through the morning. By 11 am, I was doubled over in pain, clutching my left side.

By 11:30, my entire chest felt tight and I was gasping to breath. Fearing the worst, I called for help.

I spent the rest of the day in the emergency room, doctors running tests. Fortunately, they determined it was not a heart issue. But it was clear my lifestyle had created the conditions for this scare.

Not even 30 years of age, my extremist workaholic lifestyle finally reared it’s ugly head…

When a doctor warns you that your work lifestyle is putting your life at risk, it’s sort of a wake up call that’s hard to ignore.

I felt the only real choice I had was to reevaluate everything.

Starting with my diet, exercise, and sleep routines – like cutting back from 12+ cups of coffee per day to 1–2 max, and prioritizing healthy eating. Then prioritizing regular exercise and 8 hours of sleep. These all made big impacts quick.

But they weren’t sustainable alone. I had to set boundaries and get mentally fit, too.

It was not easy.

I began weekly counseling and engaged with my boss. This was no way to live. I needed help and accountability.

Over the subsequent year, I experimented. I tried a number of different schedules and routines. I iterated often.

I fought a guilt trap – where working less made me feel paranoid, or like I was underperforming. It took consciously combatting this to overcome it.

The withdrawal from working aggressive hours also sent me into a minor state of depression. Because I had centered my life around my work, it was extremely difficult to begin finding meaning in other areas of my life again. But I made myself explore things outside of work. Eventually, this worked, too.

The countless experiments ultimately resulted in my removing a bunch of bad habits and replacing them with intentional decisions.

In time, I discovered how much power I had in deliberately designing my life – where I could find fulfillment in and out of work and everything else.

I don’t regret a single hour I put into the work I did – that ultimately pushed me to burnout. I truly loved my work. Instead, I just wish I’d have realized how important it is to have more than just work going.

The surest way to burnout is by not allowing room for any other meaningful activities in your life.

It happened to me. May you be wiser.

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*This post was originally published on Quora in response to the question What are some tips for avoiding burnout in a highly stressful career?

Cherish the Imperfections

Can you imagine how stale life would be if everything were perfect?

The first pancake off the skillet always cooks completely through and every kernel of popcorn in the bag all pops perfectly.

But what if all those subtle imperfections in the world around us disappeared?

Today I'm grateful for all the things in life that aren't perfect.

For the squeaky wheels. The kid screaming in the movie theatre. The gridlock traffic.

All these things form the beautiful tapestry that is the background of our lives. They grant us opportunities to improve both ourselves and the world around us. Opportunities to become a better version of ourselves – by achieving greatness or by learning humility.

Imperfections shape us, and in some way may always serves as a sentimental reminder of how far we've come, and how much further yet we have to go.

 

About Mitchell


Mitchell is a cowboy turned startup professional and Director of Marketing @ Crash. He’s a former champion meat grader. Author of Don’t Do Stuff You Hate. Narrator of Why Haven’t You Read This Book? And previously Chief of Staff at Ceterus – where he helped scale a team from 20 to 150 while quadrupling revenue.

He’s radical about creating a better future and helping others do the same. Unsolvable problems and conspiracies are his favorite conversation genres. The keys to his heart – fine Bordeaux and Hemingway novels.

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