Branding lessons from the streets.

I recently visited the town of Nederland, CO for a music festival, and I was struck by how distinctive the brand of Nederland (a.k.a. “Ned”) really is.

Driving into town one can observe the high rate of dreadlocks per capita as well as super-casual, earthy, and slightly quirky vibe.

More on Ned in a minute :). But first, in order to explore the brand of Nederland, and another brand that was not so well branded, we first need to look at what a brand is, and why it matters.

What is a Brand?

Wikipedia says a brand is a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”

Your brand makes you distinct… cool.

The person who developed my visual brand (, the fabulous Claudia Sandman says a brand is a Promise you make to your customers or clients, through all of the touch points you have with them.

My friend, colleague, and branding expert, Re Perez says it’s the way your business is perceived, interpreted, remembered and talked about. I’m sure he has much more to say about it too, which is why I’m sponsoring his upcoming Brandshare event.

I love branding, and I happen to have spent years in brand marketing for some big global brands, and I can tell you just as these sources have different but related points of view, so do all of the high-level agency peeps around the world.

My brand of branding

For mission-driven entrepreneurs, I believe your brand is the clear alignment of what you are doing, what you are saying, and who you being. When your business is clearly focused around your Genius and your Mission, when you know who you are, what you stand for, and for who, aligning your brand becomes natural. If you don’t, watch out!

Next week’s article will be more about applying the tenets of branding to your entrepreneurial business, but for today let’s take a look at an example of when it all works, and when it doesn’t.

Welcome to Nederland, CO.

Before I say anything more about Ned, allow me to let the words and visuals speak for themselves:

What do you notice?

Consistent Tone of Voice

While we don’t see a logo for Nederland here, or a tagline, we can get a sense of the brand simply by observing the tone with which they communicate, right?

Down to earth, real, direct, a bit quirky, out of the box. You can see that the tone is not just a marketing campaign, but it is reflected in all parts of society in Ned – including the police/ security, the city itself, and various individual shop owners who have displayed these signs.

Nederland has a clear point of view and the “ideal clients” (or residents) have shown up.

The same is true for your brand!

Subtle Inconsistency

Let’s contrast the Nederland experience with something I observed while walking my dog the other day.

I was walking down what must have been one of the most run-down streets on the edge of my neighborhood, and something felt out of place that caught the corner of my eye. I glanced at the real estate sign, below, and then it all came into focus.

The sign says “Modern Real Estate,” yet I was placed on a very “not modern” street. In addition, the sign was in front of a very “not modern” home (if I were a better photographer you would see that the eaves are sort of falling apart). And the design of the sign itself, well, not modern. Now I am sure that the realtor himself is quite lovely, I don’t know, but this seems like a branding nightmare!

Here’s the thing, most people wouldn’t have stopped to notice this unless they’ve got branding on the brain. But their subconscious mind would process the inconsistency and it would plant a seed of doubt about the quality of the person who put it there. And we don’t even notice we’ve done it!

It’s like if you land on someone’s website and you don’t know them, but you see that the margins are messed up, it’s not easy to navigate, it uses really poor stock photos, and the blog hasn’t been updated in months, the fact that it says “Online Business Master Class” or something like that will completely not register, right?

Perhaps this would be a better option for a “modern” sign for real estate:

Now, branding is not about having modern sleek design. Branding is about having modern, sleek design if the name of your business is called “modern.” 🙂 It’s about consistency. It’s about alignment. There is nothing modern or sleek about Ned. But it has a solid brand going, and you know what you’ll get. It’s a promise. A perception. Something you can talk about because it just makes sense.

It distinguishes you from other sellers.

Your brand will appeal to your ideal client, and will turn away those who aren’t. (I’m clear I couldn’t live in Ned though I love visiting). But they won’t turn away because they don’t trust you. That’s a branding problem. It’s because they are clear who you are, they respect you even, but they know you’re not for them.

An exercise I give my Profit Acceleration Circle clients in our retreat when we talk about branding is this:

  • Take a big piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Label one side “my brand is” and the other, “my brand isn’t.”
  • Look through magazines and cut out images that represent what your brand is or isn’t, and collage them the appropriate side.
  • Take a look at your work. Are the two sides distinctly different? Do you know you resonate with one side and not the other? Great!
  • Ask yourself, what words, images, ideas, energy, vibe would the person who fits your brand like to see? Who would NOT like your brand?
  • Use this to inspire your own branding process. And it can also help you with your SALES. Yes, sales! You can take a look and know exactly who you DON’T want to work with, which makes you more excited about the people you DO!

More next week!


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