The US celebrates its 241st birthday today. That’s 240 years of stories. I’ve been pondering how the story of a country is similar to and different from the story of a brand.

1. Founding Fathers (and Mothers and Children)

Just like a country, a brand begins with one person or a small group of people who are united by a common goal. On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed to state that the United States of America was no longer under British rule. But even before that, men and women were shaping the colonies that would eventually become the USA.

A brand always starts small, unifies around a common goal, and then grows outward. Your brand’s story is about more than just you; it’s also about everyone who adopts your brand as their own.

A brand always starts small, unifies around a common goal, and then grows outward - Design It Please

It would’ve been a mistake for the Founding Fathers to think the new USA was all about and for them, and it would be a mistake for your brand, too. That’s why it’s so important for you to be as in-tune with your brand’s user personas as you can be. Make sure that when you’re writing a blog post or e-newsletter, that you are writing to your users. Make sure that when you’re creating a product or redesigning your website, that you have your users in mind. What do they need to accomplish? With what are they struggling, and how does your product/service help?

Without founders, nothing would start, but without users, everything stops. Ask for honest feedback, and allow your business to grow past yourself.

2. Missions, Visions, and Manifestos

The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It then continues to describe, in various levels of detail, the mission and vision of the brand new United States of America. It is this document, this manifesto, that shaped and still shapes my country. Similarly, your brand’s mission, vision, manifesto, and/or core values should create the backbone of your company.

Start with your “why.”

Why is your company around? Why did you start it? What is your purpose? What inspires you? If you haven’t read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, order it now.

Zappos is my favorite example of a company who invested in developing their mission and core values and building their company around them. Every company decision should be in line with your mission and core values.

Lululemon has a wonderful manifesto that should inspire you in your own business.

Lululemon manifesto

Take a moment to dream about what your company could accomplish if you adopted the practice of focusing on your “why.” Go ahead, find a notebook, and jot some ideas down.

3. Crafted or Crap?

When I say, “The United States of America,” what three words come to mind?

What three words come to mind when I say, “Croatia”?

What about Australia, Indonesia, or Argentina?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you had different words for each country, because each country has a different story. A brand’s story, like a country’s, can be a well-crafted, thoughtful reflection on the mission, vision, and user personas like Dollar Shave Club.

Dollar Shave Club brand voice

Or it can look like this.

bad user experience

Focus on the big picture first:

  • What is the goal of your product/service, and who will use it?
  • How will your product/service scale in the future?

Focus on your copy:

  • What is your brand’s story? What is its “why”?
  • Are your messages consistent?
  • Is your written “voice” one to which your users will respond? Fun? Playful? Corporate? Scientific?

Focus on user interface:

  • Does your visual design match your written voice?
  • Have you made it clear why your user should trust you?
  • Is it clear what the user should do?
  • Does everything work, technically?

Don’t rush the development of your brand, strategically, visually, and content-wise. It’s the difference between craft and crap.

4. Other Perspectives

The story of the USA can be told from numerous perspectives: the founding fathers, the founding mothers, the Native Americans, the British, and others. Some of these perspectives are positive and some are negative, but all of them make up the collective history of the US.

The same holds true for your brand. Your perspective will be different from your users’ perspectives. The goal is to make sure you understand your users’ perspectives. If they’re loving something, you need to know it. If they’re struggling with something, you need to know that, too.

The goal is to make sure you understand your users' experience - Design It Please

Engagement with your users is one of the hardest things to accomplish, but you do it by building an authentic community. Your users need to know you want to hear from them, and that you’ll listen and respond when they do.

I highly recommend subscribing to the Community.is newsletter to learn how to put people at the center of your work.

Born on the Fourth of July

The next time you celebrate your country’s existence with whatever customs you may have, take a look at it from a branding perspective. What is your country’s brand? What would you change about your country’s brand? Perhaps, you’d have everyone tell a joke instead of shaking hands as a greeting, because you value laughter and know it can bring people together.

Now, think about your brand. What needs to change in order to focus more on your why, your users, and your voice?

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As always, Design It Please is here if you’re ready to make your website and branding work for you.

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Nick Torontali Matt Haggerty Søren Astrup Jørgensen