Knowing how much I love to meddle in other people's business—literally—my husband, Rafi, handed me a packet of papers and asked, "Could you help me brainstorm some of my branding stuff later?" I glanced at the question-striped sheets and the paragraphs of what amounted to Branding Your Business 101 and nodded. "You bet!"
So later, over the course of an hour-long drive to the in-laws, we worked through some questions meant to help uncover his business's "brand"—that marketing buzz word, which according to the papers means, "the practice of creating an identity and an experience that reflects the mission, culture, and personality of your organization."
But as is often the case in our lives as parents, two fighting kids and a crying baby derailed our productive and enlightening brainstorm. While we took a break, my thoughts wandered around this whole notion of branding. As I glanced over the sheets, I wondered—out loud—"If branding's so important for business success, what do you think good branding would do for our marriage?"
Amid the background of kids' crabbing and crying, my frustrated husband looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, "Who knows."
While that ended that conversation, my question stayed with me. After all, for years, I've read about the importance of a couple having a "mission statement" and working toward a shared dream or "vision." That's language right out of business school, so why not take it to the next level with branding? You might say (and I will) that this means that a marriage in the business of something is a marriage on the road to success. And whatever business a marriage is in, doggone it, it needs branding! Or so the marketing gurus say.
The whole point of a business having a mission and a vision is to rally the troops, right? To get everybody fired up about whatever their business is. In the best sense, these things unite workers (though maybe not in a Communist Manifesto sort of way) in their purpose and strengthen their relationship with and understanding of each other within the context of that purpose. But that's all internal. Branding pushes all that out the door. It takes the unified company to the streets—into the community it sets out to serve.
So what about that wouldn't work for marriage? Why wouldn't we want to know what "business" we're in, get each other fired up about that vision, rally around our mission, and start serving the world? Why wouldn't we, as a couple, want to create an "identity and an experience that reflects the mission, culture, and personality of …"—um, our marriages?
I wanted to! So I emailed a couple experts to see what this might look like. The first was Tim Ellens, president of Change Design Group in Darien, Illinois, and a friend from church who gave my husband the packet that got this all rolling. (I should credit him now, as well, for that definition of branding). The other was Dave Goetz, president of CZ Marketing in Wheaton, Illinois, and a good friend and former colleague who introduced me to the concept of branding.
I think both believed I was nuts to try to make a correlation between branding an organization and branding a marriage, but they shared their wisdom nevertheless. And from what they told me, I don't think I'm all that nuts. I've boiled their wisdom down into four tips for branding your business with (ahem) obvious marriage application.
Know your story
According to Tim Ellens, "branding is storytelling." He says you need to figure out, live, and communicate what you're all about—and do it well. Dave Goetz says it like this, "Branding is isolating what you're really good at—and then framing that in the language of your clients."
Marriage app: Duh. We're all good at something. God gave us individual gifts and "couple" gifts to be used for good in this world. Your marriage has purpose. If you don't already know what your gifts are, ask yourself what makes you guys unique? What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What brought you two together in the first place? What was that shared something that made you realize your spouse was "the one"? Once you've got that, live it and let others know your purpose so they can help you live it—or be blessed by it.
Know your position
Easy there, fellas. Not that kind of position. This means to know your place in this competitive world. "Most organizations are not leaders in the field, so they must specialize," Dave Goetz says. "You must understand who you are in relation to your competitors."
Marriage app: Leaders? Competitors? Stay with me: We're not out to prove who has the best marriage going, but once you figure out what you're good at, you need to survey the field a bit—so you don't end up frustrated. If it turns out you're good at modeling Christ's love through hospitality, but so are your best friends, the Great Gatsbys, and you just can't compete, don't! Although their fancy summer shindigs may be the things people in your church marvel at for weeks, perhaps God designed you guys for those intimate gatherings that bless people for a lifetime. And let's face it: when a couple is out there blessing others, they get blessed in return. No question about that.
Know how to deliver
Dave says the real question in branding is, "Do you deliver on your promise at every touchpoint?" Tim suggests that trusted brands offer a promise and "repeatedly deliver on it."
Marriage app: Simple, right? You're thinking, Marriage … promises … how are we delivering on the vows? You could take that approach—and you should certainly ask yourself that question! But let's get back to business. So you think you're good at opening up your home. Let's say you tell everybody to come on over and then forget to clear off the sofa and don't offer so much as a glass of water. You've got problems—delivery problems! To deliver simply means you do what you say you'll do—with a gracious, serving spirit. It's the core of your brand and if this isn't happening, well, see the next tip.
Know how you're known
At the end of the day, "your brand is not what your brand means to you," according to Dave. "Your brand is how your client experiences your service." Tim backs him up: "Ultimately, it is the perception of who you are in the minds of your audience."
Marriage app: So you guys think you're gifted hosts spreading God's welcoming love and embrace of grace but are actually known as the biggest jerks in town? Your problems are even bigger than we previously thought. But you're not without hope. Dave says, "If you don't like what people are saying, then you need to re-calibrate your brand." So go back to Tip #1. Maybe pray a bit this time. I'm sure you jerks—I mean, you two—are great at something!
Eventually Rafi and I had that conversation about what our family business really is—and what branding could do for us. It's been an interesting and fun exercise, and already we've noticed some positive changes as it's unified us in our purpose and in our relationship as we've challenged each other toward "delivery"—the toughest part!
Tim says, "Branding creates a relationship with the marketplace." I love that. Because no matter what "business" it turns out you're in or who your "marketplace" is—be it a particular community in need, your church family, or your actual family—serving together in a way only the two of you can creates a better relationship with each other! And anything that does that is good business.
Caryn Rivadeneira, former managing editor of Marriage Partnership, is a freelance author and editor. www.carynrivadeneira.com
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