I didn't finger-paint

When I was just a little tyke I became somewhat notorious for saying what I didn’t do. It all began when I was queried by my father at the dinner table one evening about what I had done that day in pre-K. I am told that without hesitation I exclaimed that “I didn’t finger-paint!”, and promptly burst into tears. I’m can’t quite recall now what it was about finger-painting that had caused me such childhood stress, and anyone who knew me in art school will certainly attest that whatever it was I got over it – in spades, but I digress. No matter the cause, it was apparently the start of a habit, which to my parents’ dismay continued well into adulthood, of answering questions of the “what did you do today?” variety with an initial summary of what I didn’t do. Parental frustration aside, it turns out to have been good practice for a brand strategist.

To know what you didn’t do, to choose what you won’t do, to pick the line you will not cross, are all actions that help us define who we are, what we’re interested in, where we set our priorities. The same process can help develop the meaning behind your brand. Understanding what your brand isn’t, what you don’t want it to be, can be enormously useful in learning to articulate just exactly what you DO want it to mean.

The first, obvious place to explore is your competition. Seek out the edges of your difference: the territory where your competition does not compare – by knowing what they aren’t you gain access to who you are, but you can go further still. Consider Nike: Certainly they are not Adidas, nor are they Converse, and exploring these and their other competitors can do much to illuminate the brand ethos and that drives product development, but to understand the potency of the brand, and its ability to build cult-like loyalty it is helpful to explore other things that Nike is not: Nike is not about apathy.  It’s not about being a couch-potato.  The words “Just do it” aren’t just a slogan, they are a challenge, a call to action that imply that the non-Nike is perhaps indecisive, less bold, or even lazy. Or how about Whole Foods? Their brand promise is expressed as much by what they do not carry in their stores as by what they do.

So in conclusion, next time you are at the dinner table (or maybe in the boardroom) try asking, “What didn’t you do today?” Throw in a “Why not?” and you might find that you have a revealing conversation.

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