Adam Schorr and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head discuss authentic brands

If you’re a friend of mine, then you know I make my living helping companies achieve their fullest potential by being truly distinctive.

Basically, I help clients build, manage, and grow brands. That said, I’m always reluctant to say I’m in the brand business, because the term “brand” has become almost meaningless these days.

People use it to mean anything from the very concrete like a logo or slogan to the very abstract like a positioning or brand strategy. And if I’m being really honest (and I am), I think the concept of “brand” has mostly outlived its usefulness. I think it conjures up some very outdated ways of thinking about business and society. But that’s a topic for another day.

I continue to use the term “brand” because it makes it easier for people to know what the hell I’m talking about. More importantly, I continue to work in this profession because I passionately believe that business can (and must) make a positive difference in the world. And that they can do that by building brands. There’s a pretty good chance you’re rolling your eyes now. Actually, I hope that some of you are.

But if you’ll give me another minute of your time, I’ll try to explain why I feel this way. Brands, the way I see it, are nothing more than a really clear idea about why your company or organization exists, and the commitment, creativity, and courage to make sure this raison d’etre runs through every single thing your company does — internally, and externally.

That’s it.

It’s really about purpose — another word that the business literati are actively turning into a meaningless buzzword (sigh).

If you’re running a business, this is probably the hardest thing you’ll do.

Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery. Not only does his company make my favorite beers of all time, he is one of the most brilliant brand leaders I’ve ever come across and one of the leading forces behind the growth of craft beer over the past 25 years.

We had a great discussion, which I’ve distilled into 3 rules for brands that you can read below. But if you know anything about Sam, you’ll know how brilliant, cool, and fascinating he is. So check out this video — I set up some concepts at the beginning and then Sam joins and we have a great chat over a beer, of course, via video conference.

If you’re short on time right now, read the highlights below.

Rule No. 3 — Don’t Try to Be All Things to All People. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “If you open a window and make love to the world…your story will get pneumonia.” He was talking about writing, but the same holds true for your brand.

Identify a group of people that you can amaze, deliver the best product and experience possible to them, and forget about the rest. If you focus on truly bringing out the authentic personality and character of your brand — what you believe, what you love, what you’d fight and die for, you’ll find like-minded individuals who will be naturally attracted to you and your offering. But if you waste your time trying to be all things to all people, you’ll end up diluting your offering till it’s bland.

Great brands are not built by trying to find the least common denominator. I like to say that people (or brands) who please everybody, amaze nobody. And you want to be amazing. You deserve it!

Rule No. 2 — Start from a Place of Love. Yeah, love. No business ever built a strong brand by having money-making at its core. Of course, a business needs to make money. That goes without saying. But there needs to be a reason your business exists beyond just making money. And that begins with love.

An idea that you love and want to get out into the world. A group of people you love so much that you want to make their lives better through your unique talent. A product you love so much that you feel compelled to share it with the world. If you don’t have any of that, you’ve got some soul searching to do. Because if you’re not in love with it then why should anyone else be?

But if you do have this love for something amazing, that’s where your brand needs to begin. That’s where this thing that everyone is talking about called “purpose” or “authenticity” has its roots. That purpose will run throughout your brand and put your company in a unique position to succeed — if you live it authentically.

Rule No. 1 — Be yourself! If you don’t do this, people will know. And that’s when brands fail. Bullshit just doesn’t sell anymore. (Well, it still does sometimes, but its days are numbered.)

This is Rule No.1 (and what I named my company) because if you don’t start here, if you don’t start by knowing yourself, knowing what you stand for, and being truly comfortable in your own skin, then you’ll end up just trying to copy others or do what you think you’re “supposed to” do. And if you do that, you’ll end up mediocre — at best.

The world doesn’t need you to be a passingly decent copy of something else. The world needs you to be the fullest, most brilliant version of yourself that you possibly can be. And guess what? You need that too. For your own sanity, fulfillment, and happiness.

Good luck building your brand! I’m wishing you much success and joy along the way.

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