Robby Fowler Articles

Unbelievable Branding Lessons from an Atheist

Best Branding Lessons Learned from an Atheist
Branding is an enigma for too many personal brands and small-to-medium businesses (SMB).

To wake my clients up to the god-like power of branding, I use this statement a LOT. (Because it’s true. And attention-grabbing!)

Your brand is either building a bridge or burning a bridge with your audience.

Brands connect you with your customer
Brands connect you with your customer

The enigmatic nature of branding causes SMBs and personal brands to leave it to the “zealots”. Or they dismiss branding like some old religion. It’s too ‘out there.’ It’s not for me. I get it.

If you’re unsure, unsettled, or unconvinced of the miraculous power of your brand, keep reading!

A website has analytics. An ad campaign has a budget and sales reports to check the ROI. Social media gives you likes and comments. These all feel tangible.

But branding is more like the wind. You can loosely observe the effects, but you don’t grab a handful of “branding.” There’s not a branding report card every 6 weeks your parents have to sign.

The lack of “empirical data” leaves you feeling like branding is a step of “blind faith.” It’s too hard to understand. It’s impossible to pin down. And if it really mattered, you’d have evidence to prove it.

Like Paul in Athens, I’m Going to Call You to Believe in Branding

I’m here to prove two things in this article.
  1. Your brand does impact your business success.
  2. You may have missed the evidence right under your nose.

By the end of this article, I’m going to test your faith…or lack thereof.

Believe it or not, you can learn a simple, powerful branding lesson from an atheist.

Keep reading. By the end of this, you’ll be a believer.

How Your Branding Converts Customers or Causes Callous Rejection

I came across this story on a podcast called Part-Time Genius and saw an instant connection to branding. Here’s the story…

Atheist Shoes is a shoe company started through Kickstarter back in 2012. They describe themselves as “cadre of shoemakers & artists in Berlin, Germany, who make ridiculously comfortable, Bauhaus-inspired shoes.”

After a successful launch, they ran into a problem. Atheist products shipping to customers in the good old USA were getting lost (pun intended). This caused Atheist to scratch their heads. The shipping issue was unique to US-based customers. Naturally, their next step was to form a hypothesis and test it. Here’s a summary of their, albeit non-scientific, study:
    Atheist shipped 178 packages to 89 U.S. customers across 49 States2 different packages shipped to each customer1 package used Atheist-branded packaging tape on the boxThe other package used unbranded, neutral tapeAll packages shipped the same day from BerlinAtheist-branded packages took 3 days longer to arrive and 9 got lostNeutral packages arrived 3 days faster and only 1 was ‘lost but not found’
    Crazy story, right?

    Regardless of what you believe, you can believe me when I say, “Your brand either burns a bridge or builds a bridge.”

    The Shoemakers at Atheist Were In Disbelief…But You Shouldn’t Be

    The good folks at Atheist were in disbelief. Who was persecuting them and why?

    Like me, if you grew up In God We Trust-USA, especially in the South, you’re not shocked by this tale. None of us condone the depraved, intentional mishandling of mail on a moral or legal level. But there are greater mysteries in the universe than why packages branded as “Atheist” faced some opposition in the USA.

    My primary reason for sharing the tale is to help you grasp the power of branding. Here’s the branding proverb takeaway for you.

    Your brand is like the personality of your business
    Your brand is like the personality of your business

    People will either be drawn to it or not. Think of it in relational terms. When you meet someone new, you get a first impression. You get an initial vibe on a spectrum of “I want to hang out with them”…to…“not really my type.”

    Branding works the same way!

    In the story of Atheist Shoes, someone involved in delivering the Atheist-branded packages decided they didn’t like the brand. If the brand police brought a suspect in for questioning, here’s what the guilty party would say:
      I don’t love the packagingI don’t think it’s right to plaster it all over your box…just keep it to yourselfMy aunt and uncle are missionaries in FranceNow I didn’t loose the package on purpose, mind you…I would never do that…they were probably misplaced…it happens all the time to packages
      Now your brand may not be as controversial as Atheist Shoes. But your brand affects your customer the same way.

      Your brand involves your logo, colors, visual design, personal interaction with you or your employees, the words you use, your tone. It’s like all the things that go into someone’s personality. Your brand is the personality of your business and thus leaves an impression.

      Not A Believer Yet? Take My Simple Brand Test…

      No branding lesson from an atheist is complete without a test of faith. And I’ve got just the one for you right now.

      Take this Brand Test
      Take this Brand Test

      Try this. Imagine you’re at a conference featuring one of your heros (a business leader, marketer, industry expert, or sports hero of yours). Think of an expert you deeply respect, but don’t know super well. You get invited to dinner with said hero and a small group. As you’re leaving the hotel to head to dinner, you bump into your hero in the lobby. To your surprise, he or she asks you for a ride. “Absolutely!,” you say in disbelief. Together you make the nervous walk to your car, unlock it, and hop in. When your hero opens the passenger door, he or she first has to move one of these brands off your seat before sitting down. Which of the following brands would you NOT want on your hero to move off your seat?
        your pair of sleek Maui Jim sunglassesyour clean stainless steel Starbucks coffee cupyour thin gray North Face jacketyour crisp white Beats bluetooth headphonesyour half-eaten bag of Chester’s Famous Hot Fries chips
        See the power of branding? Some of those brands you might want on your seat for your hero to see. You want to be associated with them. They convey the kind of person you want to be. Some, perhaps, wouldn’t bother you. But one brand would flat out embarrass you, right? It’s NOT the first impression you want to make on your hero. You’d share the half-eaten Chester’s Famous Hot Fries débâcle at the company Christmas party for years to come.

        There’s your proof! The evidence is clear. The searing heat of Chester’s Famous Hot Fries is hell enough to convert even the most stubborn brand atheist.

        The miraculous power of branding affected the poor soles at Atheist Shoes. And the same is true for you and your brand.

        How Branding Builds on Identity

        If Branding were a teenager, she’d hang out with her besties named Identity and Aspiration. They’re inseparable.

        The alluring power of branding is this…

        The alluring power of branding is this: branding offers an aspirational identity
        The alluring power of branding is this: branding offers an aspirational identity

        Identity  is not like a pinch of salt added to a cake recipe, it’s flour. Identity is essential to being human.

        Identity shows up in the first Bible story. And every story since.

        First, God creates Adam & Eve and gives them their identity. (That’s why I said identity is a human need earlier.) God says, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness”. Adam and Eve bear the image of God. That is who they are—their identity.

        But the serpent casts doubt with his slippery questions to Eve. Did God really say…Surely you won't die…if you eat the fruit you will be like God.

        There it is. Don’t miss it! The serpent’s promise speaks to identity. If Eve eats the forbidden fruit, she will be like God.

        Fast forward to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and you see the exact same pattern. The same snake tempts Jesus, beginning each triad with the same phrase, “If you are the Son of God…”. Bam! Identity. Rinse and repeat.

        The lie is the same in both stories. Adam & Eve already have the very identity held out by the serpent. Adam & Eve are like God…they are made in His image. In the case of Jesus, the preceding story of Jesus’ baptism features God’s voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son…”. Jesus IS God’s loved Son. That is Jesus’ identity. There is no If (“If you are the Son of God…”).

        The void left by Adam & Eve’s original disobedience is what makes branding so powerful.

        Good branding helps your customer feel more like the kind of person they want to be.

        Famous Brands & The Identity They Promise

        Great branding examples from Nike, North Face, Johnson & Johnson
        Great branding examples from Nike, North Face, Johnson & Johnson

        Here are a few examples of brands helping their customers become better versions of who they want to be:
          Johnson & Johnson helps parents care for their newbornsLego helps little (and big) kids express creativityNorth Face helps explorers find their adventure and enjoy creationNike activates people who want to take charge of their health

          Repent & Believe in Your Branding Power

          Don’t be hard of heart. Change your mind about the power of your brand. You can use your brand to attract the kind of people you enjoy serving.

          Use your branding wisely. Steward it well. Use it for good. Build a bridge.