As you gain clarity around your brand, ask yourself this question: “Who can I show up every day and fight for?”
(I'm sure I was supposed to use "whom," but I'm feeling grammar agnostic today.)
Authentic, compelling brands—real brands—are built one day at a time. You do that by knowing your brand’s core values and operating out of them.
Brands are built by real people for real people—not a vague notion of a target audience or theoretical customer but real people.
The problem with real people is that they often make it difficult to serve them.
I’m not talking about trolls. Trolls’ lack of subtlety makes them easy to spot and (with practice) easy to diffuse or ignore altogether.
I’m talking about real people whom you actually want as customers. They resonate with your mission. Maybe they’re willing to pay a little more to not wreck the environment. Maybe they appreciate what you’re trying to do with the cleverness in your copy. That they are paying attention at all suggests that you are telling the right story and making the right strategic investments in marketing and brand experience.
Then, one of them cops an attitude; you get a rude email. Someone who spent $100 with you expects—no demands!—that you clean up a $250 mess. (Add some zeroes to exacerbate the situation.)
One day, a fanboy, who did, in fact, receive and use the product, asks for a refund (or, worse, disputes the credit card charge, the bozo).
And the very next day, an ex-fangirl blasts you on social media for your supposedly shoddy packaging when the true culprit was the 3PL, USPS, weather, or a nosy neighborhood dog. Did the first nine flawless deliveries count for nothing? Aaaargh!
Allow me to state the obvious: People are people, which is to say they are mercurial, unfair, oblivious, self-centered, spiteful, uncivil, hypocritical, loyal, kind, patient, generous, caring, creative, and glorious.
What you get, whom you get, can change with the day. We all have Jekyll and Hyde in us, and if we are honest, we have all been somebody else’s bad customer.
So you must show up every day and remember whom you can fight for: not everyone, you cannot please everyone, but a specific group of flawed, fallible, lovely folks.
As steward of your brand, it’s up to you to know what you stand for and to love your customers—yes, I dropped the “l” word—even when they’re acting like petulant children.
The best ones will wince later at their bad behavior, their rather stinky and undeniable humanity. They will also be humbled by your forbearance, your warm yet not heated response to their blunderings and blatherings.
These people’s loyalty deepens after you have suffered with them through their weakness. You can build a real brand and a really profitable company attracting, serving, and forgiving people like that.
As for the incessantly indignant, if you refuse to fight, they will move on and churn up controversy elsewhere. Thankfully, such misery mongers represent only a tiny slice of humanity. Most teeth-grinding moments are caused by decent people having a bad day.
You build your brand by serving the people through their bad behavior. Fight for their prospering. Then, stop fighting as soon as the tussle is about being right. Real brands aren’t right. They are consistent.