What is a Brand Identity?
Have you ever seen Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares?
Every one of those nightmares is caused by a contradiction in the owner’s value system. The coolest thing that Ramsay tries to do in each episode is to help the owner untangle those contradictions and rediscover their passions.
But when you start with the right foundation, you can avoid the reefs and barriers that face all businesses at some point along their road. This is where a Brand Identity comes in. So hang on tight for a technical and philosophical article about the very roots of identity itself.
The Law of Identity
There is a “Law of Identity,” who knew…
Yes! The beginning of all identity is an act of philosophy. “All work is an act of Philosophy.” — Ayn Rand Whether it is your personal identity or your businesses’ identity, you are doing something deep and as fundamental as the cosmos themselves. Boom.
The “Law of Identity” was defined by Ayn Rand as the cornerstone of Objectivist Philosophy. Everything, everything, begins with this simple dualism:
“Whatever the degree of your knowledge, these two—existence and consciousness—are axioms you cannot escape, these two are the irreducible primaries implied in any action you undertake, in any part of your knowledge and in its sum, from the first ray of light you perceive at the start of your life to the widest erudition you might acquire at its end. Whether you know the shape of a pebble or the structure of a solar system, the axioms remain the same: that it exists and that you know it.
“To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers [Aristotle], has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself… [In other words], Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.
“Whatever you chose to consider, be it an object, an attribute, or an action, the Law of Identity remains the same… A thing is itself… A is A.— “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand. pp 1016
Okay, so that is some pretty heavy stuff.
But if you want your Brand Identity—the visual identity of your business—to last, then you have to delve this deep.
An Entity of a Specific Nature Made of Specific Attributes
Your business is an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Therefore, your first task in the organization of your Brand is the conscious identification of this nature and these attributes.
This is where our task splits into three parts:
- The identification of your goods and services. Your “What.”
- The identification of your primary audience / customer base. Your “Who.”
- The identification of your values and epistemology. Your “Why.”
Those first two tasks are one of economic analysis.
In my experience, most business owners have them fairly well identified and defined for themselves (if not formally). But, ironically, most people completely skip the third.
Why Skip The “Why”?
Why do we skip the “why”? All sorts of reasons, I think.
First and foremost of which is that we’ve all heard those lame corporate value statements that are just lip service. Generally speaking, they are the lamest part of the whole deal, right?
You know the ones I am talking about:
They usually occupy the first page of the Employee Handbook. “We value innovation and self-starters and people and blah, blah, blah.” It just seems like someone was being paid by the word.
The second reason is more subtle.
A lot of people understand that they have a “why I am doing this” on some level or another. But unless I am quite mistaken, there is a high percentage chance this is the first time you’ve ever heard anything about Ayn Rand and her Law of Identity: meaning, we don’t teach this kind of thing in schools.
We are not taught that “all work is an act of philosophy.” This most fundamental identification of your Business’ “why” is the most vital thing you can do if you want your business identity to be anything more than corporate goop.
To navigate the waters ahead, you need a clearly visible North Star. This is where you find it.
The third reason, if it’s not reason 2.5, is that telling people to identify your “epistemology” is flat-out intimidating. What on earth is epistemology? (It is the way knowledge is structured.) You might say that this long and technical article is about this studio’s ‘brand identity epistemology.’
This is a process of Non-Contradictory Value Identification.
In a more tangible sense, when you do this step correctly, it makes a lot of things easier down the road, such as identifying key-words for your SEO strategy. Here, you can start to see how things come together organically.
How to Identify Your “Why”
This is an act of Philosophy, logic, and thought. To quote Rand again, “All thinking is a process of identification and integration… [and] Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.”
That sounds scarier than the actual process of “Identifying your Why” is. In practice it’s lively and fun.
Most business owners and decision makers have passion for their work. They already have some idea of “what” they are doing, “who” their audience is, and how their business goes about fulfilling their customer’s needs whether though goods or services. They just never take the time to sit down and specifically identify their values.
If you are a fan of Plato and Socrates (Rand wasn’t) you can use the Socratic Method. That is, you start asking yourself questions, writing things down, and see what pops out! (And it definitely helps to have someone else asking the questions so you don’t cut corners. Thanks Socrates!)
When you actually start writing out the answers to probing questions like, “why do I do this?” , “why do I love it?” and “what makes me different?”, and other questions like that, you’ll find that patterns emerge and key-words and phrases start to pop out.
Identify Patterns, Eliminate Contradictions
This language becomes the “tone” and “voice” of your company. Examine your responses closely. Because, you see, it is in this act of philosophical identification that any contradictions in your Value System will become clear!
“Contradictions cannot exist,” Rand again. That is, if there is a contradiction in your values, that contradiction will sooner or later destroy your business!
For example, maybe you discover that “You’re just in it for the money,” or “You’re just in it for the likes on Instagram.” Those values won’t carry you through the hard part of starting and maintaining a business. They are flimsy, with no substance, no root, no staying power.
If you want to see the results, go find you an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.
Humans use the Archetypes in all sorts of ways. From Plato, to Rand, to Jung, to modern websites. The Archetypes are the “intangible and eternal ideas.”
(Yeah, you thought “epistemology” was tough.)
Anyway, your goal here, to identify your Comany’s Why, or identify your values, might also be seen as a goal of identifying your company’s archetypes.
These archetypes—these primal ideas—are the values you are looking for. When you find them, they “ring true.” That pattern idea around which all of those other non-contradictory ideas were circling around. Write it down. This is that certain something that can carry you through the hard parts.
When you go through the work of really and truly identifying your Why in the first place. If you test it logically from every angle. If you delve as deep as you can go, you will create a sound work of Philosophy that will endear as long as anything as Aristotle, Emerson, or Rand ever committed to paper.
You will have something you can return to through every tough time to find nourishment and strength. You’ll find that you have an identification of Values with roots in the very core of your being, and that your resolve will become unshakable.
In our next article, Part 2, we’re going to look at the first time these value statements manifest as sketches and Content Strategy!