Even if you’re in the used car business, your business isn’t a used car and should never be sold like one. Your business should be seen as sacred and an expression of something truly great. 

No one would argue that sales and marketing are important elements of business. But they are still just elements. Branding, on the other hand, is the communication of who you are. It’s your story. It’s the humanization of your organization. 

Most humans don’t want to be on your pitching agenda. They don't like tactics like false scarcity and "limited time only" claims that are arbitrarily pulled out of the sky. They deserve -- and want -- dignity. That desire is core to the human experience.

Branding is establishing and maintaining a personalized connection with your fellow humans in the global marketplace. Even if your endeavors are highly localized. Because increasingly, any given locality is made up of numerous cultural expressions. Despite changing trends, technology, and cultural differences, humanness remains to be the one thing we all have in common. So as businesses, we have to ask: How does our story connect way down deep into the most primal aspects of human existence?

I know this sounds all very deep and philosophical. But actually it’s pretty basic.

Okay, so my headline is hyperbole. And while I hope “Stop Marketing” got your attention, we all know that you shouldn’t stop marketing. But “Start Branding” means that branding should redefine how you market. Not only should branding take priority over marketing, it should inform all of your marketing efforts.

This is why branding is firmly founded in storytelling. Story is still king. Humans have been telling stories since the dawn of time and no technology will ever replace the power of story. It's how we connect. We may be on the brink of autonomous cars. But we'll be in those cars telling stories.

So let me share a story that illustrates what I’m talking about. Jessie Newburn is a friend and a super-smart woman who really understands the power of story. She posted this on her Facebook timeline yesterday:        

I witnessed today something I’d never seen ... and never knew existed. I’d popped into the Apple store, in an emergency when my ios update sent my phone into an unrecoverable tizzy. There was a huge crowd of people. OK, so it’s spring break. Kids, moms, dads are at the mall in throngs. But then one of the Apple employees at the back of the store shouted out for all to hear. She said that one of their employees who had been with them for two years was leaving today and moving on to other things in her life. She thanked her for her dedication and service, wished her well and then invited us all to “clap her out.”

YES, CLAP HER OUT. We clapped — colleagues and customers — for a couple/few minutes as she walked out, hugging various friends and colleagues as she left. Wow! Now, that’s some company culture. And while I was utterly pleased that The Geniuses hooked me up with a solution to my problem (and another non-Apple problem that had plagued my desktop for months), and while I was happy with their service and support, I must say I was equally happy to witness and be part of a job that’s more than a job, and a company that’s more than a company.

 

Did you catch the enormity of this? It didn't cost a penny. It had nothing to do with technology. It transcends culture and trends. Something as simple as clapping for a departing employee shows the human side of what could otherwise be thought of as a faceless company. Everyone in the store that day saw that Apple values the human experience.

No one would argue that Apple does marketing especially well. But Apple seems to have branding down too. And it flows all the way down to the sales floor. People may forget about the latest features on the new iPhone, but they likely won’t forget the way the company applauds their team members -- even as they make their way out the sales floor door. 

If you’re a small business owner or a solopreneur or simply thinking about a startup, remember this: While branding might render soft ROI, it also renders hard fortification for a business that will endure. It’s strategic and smart. It deserves your energy, thought, and a chunk of your budget.