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These days it’s pretty common to hear references made, in entrepreneurial circles, to a particular business brand’s personality, tone or voice. And while we know there is something there–energetically speaking–a feel or an aura around brands much as there is around individuals, it is often unclear where these personified traits come from and even more importantly, how they are made.
As a mompreneur or small business owner, you can be sure your business exudes voice and personality to clients and partners alike. Not sure what that personality is? See it but don’t like it? Or maybe just ready for a change? The good news is that business personas, like the people that create them, are malleable, dynamic and ever-changing.
Since the change of ownership at The Mogul Mom back in October 2013, we have been working feverishly at a TMM rebrand, set to launch around September 2014. As new owners, with a unique vision for the TMM community, we had to go back to the drawing board–waaay back, and begin at the beginning. This meant trudging through some pretty murky waters and exploring our own inner psychology, before emerging victorious with an authentic brand persona in hand. Here’s what we learned along the way about creating the right voice and personality for your business brand.
5 Steps to Create Your Authentic Brand Persona
1. Get to Know Your Team
The persona of your business brand is an extension of your individual persona and is similarly created. It is therefore crucially important that you understand how your individual persona is structured–the exact mechanism that shapes and motivates your choices and behaviors. There is a relatively recent and revolutionary paradigm, called Internal Family Systems (IFS) that presents the individual identity not as a singular, unified whole, but as a collection of corresponding parts.
Consider the following description of the human psyche, taken from the IFS Handbook entitled Self-Therapy:
In fact, human beings are not so simple and straightforward as we would like to think. We are complex systems of interacting “parts” with a variety of emotions and motivations. You can think of parts as little people inside you. Each has its own perspectives, beliefs, feelings, memories, and motivations. You may have heard of the “inner critic” and the “inner child,” the most famous of our parts. But these are simple concepts that only begin to touch on the richness and complexity of our inner life. Our inner family may include a lonely baby, a wise mentor, an angry child, a stern mother, a calm meditator, a happy animal, a closed-off protector, and so on.
We all have complex aggregations of parts at the core of our identities. These parts are all working for us (and often against one another) to determine our identity and how we will carry ourselves. It is important to identify that each and every one of these parts is trying to protect and serve your greater interests — they are driven by memories, principles, fears and motivations — that were formed by your experiences.
As tempting as it may be to isolate or “cut off” certain, more inconvenient, parts, I’m sorry to say it is not possible. Parts are much like needy children — ignore them or abuse them and they will not go away but grow only louder, until they are heard, accommodated, and assimilated into the whole of your person.
When contemplating the conscious creation of your brand personality, it is a good time to begin unearthing these parts, identify them, and friend them. How? you ask. It is not an easy nor straightforward process, but it is absolutely doable. Many of these parts have been trying to get your attention for years, to reveal something important to you about your own history or experience or motivations.
I find it very useful to begin by charting a map of your parts. Start with identifying powerful moods, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses that you encounter over and over in your experience of yourself. Assign each part a name and, to the best of your knowledge, what potential motivations, fears and beliefs this part may be housing. If you’re really committed to this process of exploration I suggest having a guide. My recommendation is the above-mentioned book Self-Therapy.
Just as you would never venture into an entrepreneurial endeavor with a team of unknown individuals, you cannot create your authentic brand persona without knowing the individual parts that compose your team. You are necessarily reliant on them for your vision, creativity, drive, perseverance and execution. By knowing who they are, how they’re motivated and what they need from you in order to feel safe and valued, you enlist the cooperation of the people responsible not only for your business persona, but for the success or demise of your endeavor.
I encourage you to take the leap, go inward, explore and make that map. I guarantee you will meet iterations of your self within that surpass your wildest imagination. All that is good and excellent in you is housed there, and the other parts–well, they have their reasons too, and the experience of negotiating peace with these parts and entering an assimilated state of cooperation will do more for your business than all of the entrepreneurship programs in the world, I promise.
2. The Executive, The Manager & The Muscle
Now, that you’ve begun the task of meeting your internal family, it’s important to start thinking specifically about how your team of parts interplay with respect to your entrepreneurial pursuits. I find it helpful to place each of your parts or “team members” into one of three categories: executive, managerial and muscle. Each category of player contributes a critical component of your overall entrepreneurial experience, but sometimes these parts don’t play well together.
Just as a good manager identifies potential team conflicts and diffuses them before they get going, as a good manager of your own internal family system, you must identify when some parts need space to work in uninterrupted solitude from other parts. The most important part of this negotiation is to assure each team member that she will have her turn at the forefront.
Your executive players are those responsible for envisioning your brand persona at the highest level. Another way to think of them is as your creative team. Their ideas are often visceral, evocative and nebulous. They are critical for putting you in touch with your inspiration and motivation–the “why” of your endeavor. Your creative team needs space and time to cast grand visions of possibility and to generate ideas that are true to your authentic self. Your job as manager is to create that time and space free from the criticisms of your inner manager, whose job it is to ask “How?,” and free from your inner muscle whose job it is to do. Once your executive players have had their time, it’s time to hand your project off to your inner management team.
It is the job of your management team to figure out the execution of the vision your executive team cast. This is the time to ask critical questions and to look hard at potential obstacles. Your management team will cast doubt, research solutions, and create systems for execution. It is important that you create an enclave for the management team to do their job without the inner muscle butting in with premature action or the executive team breathing down the necks of your managers with input on how the vision is executed. Remind yourself that each part of your business team needs the autonomy to handle their portion of the endeavor.
Finally, with a vision cast, critiqued and systematized, it’s time for the muscle to take over. Trust that your executive team and management team have done their jobs and give your inner muscle free reign and access to all of your inner resources in order to do the job of actually building the business persona you have so carefully constructed plans for.
The task of building a brand and a business that embodies that brand is a mammoth undertaking. By breaking it down into its component parts, delegating and protecting the autonomy of roles, you lessen the likelihood and severity of creative blockages, planning oversights and slow progress. Give each team its due and you will save yourself time and frustration.
3. Profile Your Entrepreneurial Avatar
Now that you’ve separated the threads that compose your entrepreneurial team for the purpose of understanding their contributions and roles, it’s time to bring them together and spend some time getting to know your brand’s unique “voice.” To this end, it may be helpful to think of your own entrepreneurial avatar, instead of your ideal customer. This should be a person that you understand and more importantly, that you really like; after all, she is you.
You don’t want to include your full self in this avatar, but rather a selection of the elements of yourself and your personality that come most powerfully to bear in your entrepreneurial efforts. I did this for myself in creating my recent re-brand of TMM. I tried to notice which parts of myself had been especially active during my time with TMM, where I was seeking solace and inspiration, which of my interests had gotten me particularly excited of late, and what issues I had been feeling especially “rigid” or “inflexible” on. Here’s a sampling of the list I came up with:
- Bright colors, especially oranges and greens
- Bird-watching in my back yard
- A yearning to connect deeply with other women
- A need for an all-encompassing organizational system
- A desire to reveal, share, to become vulnerable and transparent
- Expansiveness of self
- Creative collaborations (check out the film Muscle Shoals, streamable on Netflix)
- Music from Dixie Chicks
- A need to limit my social circles to similarly-minded and focused folks
- Generosity, Gratitude, Acceptance – a reframing of why I’m here
For The Mogul Mom, we also utilized Melissa Bolton’s Archetypal Branding Program and found it incredible helpful. Melissa is an absolute treasure trove of inspiration, and she has an intuitive ability to identify the strong and the positive in every persona.
4. Trust the Power of Tribe
This was one of the most important epiphanies for me during our re-branding process. I frequently struggled with bouts of fear that my vision for The Mogul Mom wouldn’t resonate with others. What if my ideas aren’t universal enough? What if they aren’t particular enough? How will I know that I’m reaching my tribe?
Lo and behold, Seth Godin has written a fantastic book, entitled Tribes, addressing these very questions. He very eloquently explains that the job of the entrepreneur is to create a very grounded and authentic vision of possibility and to put that authentic vision out there; the job of the entrepreneur is NOT to create a tribe. According to Godin, your tribe already exists and they are looking for you, and if you disseminate a vision that is congruent and authentic the tribe will come together organically.
No sooner had I finished Tribes, than I stumbled upon another read that espouses trust in the power of tribe. In The Pumpkin Plan, Michael Michalowicz, argues for a unique (and terrifying!) approach to growing a small business, taken (as you might have guessed) from the principles of giant pumpkin growing (who knew that was a thing?). Like Godin, Michalowicz posits that the job of the entrepreneur is to facilitate, not generate, the building of a tribe. By weeding out the clients within your customer base that aren’t authentically part of your tribe, you make space for the authentic tribe to grow (Yes, he does advocate for disposing of paying clients!). But before going crazy with those pruners, read the book! He has good ideas and the credentials to back them up.
5. Get Ready for Sh*t to Get Weird
Finally, it’s important that you be prepared for the impact of this process, not only on your business but in your personal life as well. Poking around in the inner recesses of yourself, creating freedom and autonomy for an inner business team that may have been on lockdown, and stoking your own powers of creativity will necessarily give rise to both internal and external recalibrating.
For me, this process led to some surprising outcomes. I found that certain parts of my creative self weren’t being engaged. This led to a decision to:
a) systematize my weekly business processes and hand them off to a VA
b) restructure my role at TMM so that I was doing less strategy and more of what I do best and most enjoy–networking and building partnerships and disseminating the TMM brand, and
c) dedicating new-found time and energy to my creative writing pursuits. My process also culminated in the building of really beautiful brand persona, that is both fresh and authentically me.
So, if you’ve been feeling the pull to recreate or recalibrate your business persona, my advice is to go for it–all the way. But get ready, because–in the words of comedienne Kathleen Madigan–“sh*t’s about to get weird.” But in the best possible way.
Have you successfully created a brand persona for your business? Tell us about it in the comments!
I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.
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