Branding is for Cows. Belonging is for People.

A brand without its people isn’t much. Your brand is the single most important asset to differentiate you consistently over time. It needs to be nurtured, evolved and invigorated by the people entrusted to keep it true and alive.

Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives, or dies a slow death. Think about culture like a nurturing habitat for success. Culture cannot be manufactured — it has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone, from the CEO down.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with CJ Casciotta — a brand expert, media maker, and the author of Get Weird: Discover the Surprising Secret to Making a Difference. Over the past 15 years, he has helped some of the biggest brands think differently and discover their unique identity, and we talked with him about his work and the benefits of getting weird.

“I was such a weird kid, always refusing to stay inside the lines. But like everyone, at some point, I got ‘the weird’ kicked out of me. It seemed like the second I became an adult and entered the workforce, the qualities that once made me a misfit were the qualities that made me successful. I wrote the book because grownups need to reconnect with that weird kid they once were…and kids need to keep being weird as they become grownups.” — CJ Casciotta

CJ shared five Uncommon Principles that all brands should consider to break free from the herd and make things that matter.

Cut the beef.
“Identity is more important than story. Focusing on people helps brands to operate out of their true selves. The closer a brand is to operating out of its true self — the parts of the brand’s soul that make it different — the closer it is to the difference it is designed to make.”

Rebrand your rebrand.
“After 15 years of working with c-level teams, I started noticing a pattern…no one was on the same page. Re-branding was a time-sucking chore versus something to get excited about. Everyone was trying to keep up with what other companies were doing. As a result, they kept churning out similar materials, but none of them were making a significant impact. As companies and brands get older, that notion seems to inevitably leak into our companies, our people, and what is communicated to the audience. It’s much easier to model what seems to be working for others instead of doing the hard work of finding (and owning) what a brand uniquely has to say. But it’s a trap! Apple never epitomized another computer company and Charity: Water never sought to resemble another non-profit. What made these movements so groundbreaking (and ultimately effective) was that they knew what problem they wanted to solve, discovered what the market was missing, and owned what made them uncommon amidst a sea of similar thinking.”

The cows go where green grass grows. And green grass grows where you water it.
“The act of articulating exactly why that unique thing the brand offers to the world is vital if we want to build a movement — something meaningful that gathers others, grows, and eventually creates long-term cultural change.” Strong cultures empower their people, they recognize their talents, and give them a very clear role with responsibilities they’re accountable for. It’s amazing how basic this is, but how absent the principle is in many businesses.

“Hacking the culture may seem like victory, and in many ways it is. But it should never be viewed as a finish line. In many ways it is just the beginning.

Have you ever read a mission statement on a website or poster and thought it sounded a bit pretentious and hard to relate to? That’s because most mission statements are written in windowless conference rooms miles and miles away from the people they are actually intended to reach. In addition, many mission statements don’t follow a process. They’re birthed out of guesswork and fruitless dialogue often called ‘brainstorming’. The result is cold and clinical. Any attempts to be unique, original or compelling accidentally backfire — ostracizing the very people they are trying to influence. Without knowing it, many mission statements accidentally come off as shameful and authoritarian, declaring to one and all — ‘we know better.’

When we choose belonging over branding however, we get out of our swivel chair and actually sit among the people we want to inspire. We stop talking at them and instead start listening to their stories. Once we engage in this practice, our mission statements begin to pale in comparison to the hopes, dreams and desires of those we long to reach. Instead, we’ll find the opportunity to create manifestos — collaborative invitations to belong and believe.”

Showing is more powerful than telling.
“Show ‘the weird’ with the world. The greatest movements accomplish this through well-designed manifestos and stories (e.g., ‘I Have a Dream’). These movements learn how to take their weirdness and translate it in a way that makes sense to others and invites them to be a part of it.”

Embrace your spots.
“Be who you were before the world told you not to. Every movement begins with an invitation to embrace something different — a unique point of view that stands in direct contrast to a bunch of other similar ones. On the one hand, this gives movements a unique advantage — a distinct identity — , on the other, it also gives them an undeniable vulnerability. Before movements are remembered for being extraordinary, they’re questioned for being weird. You can take any movement and filter it through that two-part narrative: Christianity, Democracy, Women’s Suffrage, Rock ’n’ Roll, The Civil Rights Movement, Punk, Disney, Apple, etc. Before any of them changed culture, they were met with varying amounts of skepticism and concern. This is because, while we’re wired for ‘weird,’ we feel safer with ‘same.’

Weirdness is a muscle that needs to be flexed. After a movement has successfully hacked into the very culture that once doubted it, it’s left with the often, scary task of taking a step back, looking inward and reimagining what’s possible. For weirdos to keep their movement sustainable they must always find the courage to roll up their sleeves, erase the whiteboard and go back to the beginning — away from the turning tides and trends that clamor for our attention.”

No matter who you are, whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 100 or in the third grade, CJ’s passionate about helping you discover and own your unique contribution to the world.

Featured on Brand Experience Magazine.

About the author: Krystle’s been a social butterfly before it was socially acceptable, getting in trouble for passing notes, sharing stories, and being the social bee of her elementary class. Say hello on LinkedIn (icon below) or learn more about Krystle.

A Connected Customer Experience Consultancy