What if you only needed four answers to create a brand strategy? Would you believe that nailing these four answers provides the type of brand leadership that’s the envy of business experts around the world? Nike didn’t start as a famous swoosh. It took years to build recognition and emotional connection. Brand Strategy guides the long-term relationship of your business with your customers to build exactly this type of public recognition and emotional connection. Even if a little raw, these four answers illuminates direction and guidance for your brand and sets a brand foundation that too many businesses skip.

The questions below are written first person. Imagine yourself being and answering as your company. Think about your outward persona; how do you sound and react to market conditions and competitors? Are you small, scrappy, and full of teeth? Chipper and straight-to-the-point? Do you pivot with each new insight? Do you play the long game, masterfully manipulating a chess board? Take a few moments to feel that perspective inside yourself — then answer honestly.

Who am I?
Why am I doing this?
Who is my audience — and by extension, my community?
What value am I offering the world?

Let’s dig deeper and see how the answers affect your brand:

First, figure out your perspective

Who are you?
How do you see the world?
Do you accept you place or challenge the status quo?
Do you work with the world as it is or do you rage against the system?

Existential questions don’t belong locked in Philosophy; they’re fundamental to knowing yourself and choosing a direction for life. You’ve probably noticed that global competition has affected tons of industries, turning markets into commodities. (Which can still be profitable if you find the right markets.) Being a brand takes energy and effort. A brand is not just another thing. Brands require intention to stand out and be THE thing in their market. Defining what makes you different is the challenge of your first answer. Luckily, there are hundreds of ways to answer it, and plenty of them will work.

Defining your brand is a soul-searching journey. Plumb the collective consciousness of your company, employees, products, customers, and the myriads of intersection points across your digital and physical world. Defining your brand means listening to what people say. It means accepting truth. It means choosing to change or doubling down on your values and beliefs.

Imagine your brand is a newly crowned king. Does the king read Sun Tsu’s Art of War? Does he study Machiavelli? Is he inspired by Neitze? Does he speak with the tongue of the Buddha?

Answering this question is tough. Figuring it out defines your brand’s intention on the scale of your company, and plenty of businesses can’t handle that pressure.

Define your why

Why do you do what you do?
What is your motivation?
What drives your passion?
Why are you here?

This may be a short section, but your answers will take a ton of thought.

Let’s be honest, you could be working any career in the world right now. Luck, chance, life, and fortune can smile or spit on all of us from time to time, but weathering the storms and riding the gales is all about your personal fortitude. Grit, courage and resolve keep us on a singular path.

If you’re that gritty — why?

What keeps you moving forward?

What’s your deep motivation?

Part of my joy working with start-ups and entrepreneurs is exploring their businesses and helping them figure out how to express themselves through their brand.

Understand your community

If the first rule was “know thyself” you had to know we’d get to “know thy customer.”

Stop trying to sell to “everybody.”

Imagine a woman walking down the street. Let’s pretend this woman is your business.

She greets every person she meets, is cordial in a practiced sort of way, and always ends a conversation talking about her job and the products she sells. She often hands over a business card and moves on with a smile.

She sounds like a great salesperson, right?

What if the product she sold was a miniature nuclear generator? Is she a good salesperson, or simply wasting time talking to a ton of people who don’t need, and will never buy, her generators.

I mean, that sounds like a serious specialty item to me. Her time may be better spent elsewhere.

How might her sales increase if she started her pitch with people already interested? Her customers wouldn’t be everybody; they would be those interested in the novelty and power of a generator which happened to create nuclear power. Sure shortens her sales list doesn’t it?

That’s what branding tries to do, create a foundation that talks to the correct community so that your sales and marketing is more efficient.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to determine who’s already interested in a product like yours so you stop wasting time and energy on people who may never buy your product.

When you figure out who you want to sell to, when you know who they are, what they dream about, and what frustrates them in life — then you’re prepared to help them solve their problem. Because then, you truly understand them.

Last — clarify your message

What are you selling?
What is your service?
What is your value?
What is the thing most needed by your customers?
And how is it any different from your competitors?

It’s getting harder than ever to reach customers. Branding uses psychological techniques that draw customers in with stories and emotional connection. That’s great if your competition is two or three deep, but as soon as you start a business you’ve opened Pandora’s box of competition across the world.

You need straight-forward communication to cut through the clutter.

For some reason, when we start to talk about our business we explain everything. All the little details, the whozits and whatsits. The stages, processes, and everything about that we can do, might do, and could do.

And that’s why we need stop.

The truth is, few people have time to pay attention. Don’t take it personally, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world. Give short answers. If your answers go over five seconds you’ve lost attention.

Your message needs to be straightforward and speak directly to the value you provide and the benefits of your product.

Finding that language and creating a clear message is where strategists and copywriters excel.

At Think Tank Creative, the methods we use to figure out this stuff is fun, repeatable and standardized. Our process works with individuals and groups. We take everyone’s feelings, ideas, dreams, and concepts and help translate them into words. We create clarity from groups and focus with individuals.

Regardless of your corporate structure, find the answers to these questions. Align your team and decision-making with your answers. The power of your brand relies on the clarity of your answers and sharing your vision with your company and the world.

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Brands create communities, friendships, ideals, meaning, plans and dreams that they share with the world.

Businesses sell stuff.