A new year brings many new things—new adventures, new challenges, new opportunities. Twenty twenty-two is no different. Except that it’s completely different. New years are supposed to provide us with all of these things. We can usually turn to a new blank page and rewrite our story, strategy, or plan to help us accomplish the goals—new or otherwise—that we’re working toward. But this has gotten a lot harder recently.
While external factors (the market, competition, etc.) have always been present, the past two years (yep, we’ve been pandemic-ing for a month shy of two whole years!) have introduced new complex uncertainties that have interrupted everything from how we work to how we work out. If buying groceries like toilet paper has been complex, making plans has become like building a sandcastle in the middle of a hurricane.
However, when there’s a torrent of forces rocking just about everything we know, love, and trust, one thing we can count on is the solid foundation of the brand we’ve built.
(Reminder: In my work, I use a broad definition of brand. It’s really any noun—person, place, or thing—that needs something from someone else. As such, when talking about your brand here it could be your organizational brand, your personal brand, or anything in between.)
A new year can be a time of investing new energy and resources into your brand. But how do you do that—how do you plan—with so many unknowns?
I have five kids, one spouse, two dogs, and one cat. Keeping it simple isn’t a Kondo-esque choice for me. It’s an absolutely essential survival tactic. That said, in a world that is at times needlessly complex, simplicity can be your best friend. That’s why when it comes to brand building in the new year, I always start—even this year—with two simple questions.
Where Are You Now?
The first question to ask yourself about your brand is—where are you now?
While this question could seem too simple at first, it can easily lead you down a rabbit hole of internal meetings, focus groups, and market research. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not what we’re trying to do with this exercise. Our intention here is not to uncover every data point about your brand. Rather, we’re looking for a starting point.
When it comes to practicing simplicity, I’m a big fan of the rule of three. This communication principle asserts that things are easier to remember in sets of three. You can see this everywhere from fairytales (The Three Little Pigs) to founding documents (“life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness”).
To help keep your brand’s check-in simple, consider these three guideposts in answering where you are now:
- What’s your brand spark? What is the spark that lights your brand’s fire? Why do you exist as a brand? Limit yourself to one word. For example, your brand spark could be something like “service” or “helping.”
- What’s one thing most people (employees and customers alike) would say about your brand? It could be hard to keep this to one word but strive for simplicity. Find the common denominators. Would most agree that your work is grounded in research? That your people really care?
- Is your brand on the right track? A version of this question is a staple of political polling and can be a foreboding omen to incumbents if the answers point “off track.” For brands, once again, our goal is directional. This can be a simple—yes, no, or even a maybe or kind of. Normally, I’m not a fan of these squishy answers but they may be merited here.
Again, look at all of this through the lens of where your brand is at right now. Be realistic. Be truthful. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, the next question will help you find your way.
Where Do You Want to Be?
Okay, so if the first part of this exercise yielded some unexpected or even uncomfortable answers, this is your opportunity to do something about it.
To course correct, you have to consider what you’ve just learned from the first question and use this as a starting point in determining where you want to be. In planning for a new year, we can even make your answer time-bound—where do you want your brand to be in a year?
Once again, we can use our three guideposts except this time, we’re going to change the order and trade out one of the questions.
- What’s one thing most people would say about your brand a year from now? Start by envisioning your end result. What do the people who matter most—your employees, customers, and other stakeholders—say about your brand now? Consider how this is different from your current state.
- What changed to make this possible? (Here’s the new question.) Based on your answer to the previous question, what would you need to change or work on to prompt this response from your brand’s community? Again, this simple question could produce countless responses. That’s okay. Keep the big list but boil it down to—you guessed it—the three most important drivers of change. (If you need additional help editing these, try plotting your finalists on an effort-impact matrix and focusing on where you can have the most impact for the effort you put forth.)
- Is your brand on the right track now? Ideally, the answer will be yes. That’s what we’re working toward after all. Or, at the very least, hopefully, you’re on a better path. While this could seem pretty obvious it’s important to consider this as you plot your brand’s overall directionality.
By answering these two simple questions you have a wealth of info—a check-in on where your brand is now and a better idea of where you want to be.
And the best part? This is actionable information. Use this to plan your year. Maybe you’ll focus on one of your three key activities each quarter. Or maybe you’ll have smaller tactics that work toward these three big goals concurrently throughout your year. These are details. What matters most is that you start planning. And a new year is a great time to do just that.
Answer these two questions and you’ll be on your way. Happy New Year to you and your brand!