How do I better understand my brand and be more consistent?

The pressure of the ball point pen against my back tickled my spine.

All around me, I heard people chuckling as they asked one another, “Did I get you yet?”

I approached the person in front of me, slowly brought my pen up to their back and thought for a minute. “What word would I use to describe Frank,” I pondered. It came to me, and I scribbled the word “entertainer” down on the paper pinned to the back side of his shirt. Each of us repeated this until we scribbled on everyone in the room.

I was on a company retreat where each team member finally took a pause from the insane hustle of the workplace to just simply spend some time together. One of the best parts of that retreat was the activity I just described. Milling around the room with a pen in each of our hands and a piece of multi-colored construction paper pinned to our backs.

We were charged with coming up with one word to describe each coworker and anonymously writing it down on their paper, hidden from their sight.

Unpinning the sheet of construction paper from the back of my shirt and reading what people said about me wasn’t merely a feel-good exercise..

It was a self-branding turning point in my career.

I hadn’t ever bothered to find out what words came to other people’s mind when they thought of me. This silly little experience brought attention to the kinds of descriptors and emotions that would one day make up the same qualities I hoped to instill in my writing, coaching and educational career here at Steel Toe Images.

Had that exercise not taken place, I never would have realized first-hand the kind of impact that some informal market research can create.

I kept that piece of construction paper. Here it is:

Words written by fellow co-workers to describe me

Here’s the two-year-old, faded construction paper with my former coworker’s hand-written descriptions of me.

Research is important. When is the last time you did some?

As advertising ground-breaker David Ogilvy said, “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a hard time doing research. Not because the research itself is hard, but because the effort of asking people to take some time and give you feedback feels selfish.

It took me a long time to get over this, even after seeing the value and clarity a little research can bring.

If you asked some customers to give three words to describe your business, what would they say?

I bet you don’t know.

And the reason why you don’t know is because either you haven’t taken the time to strip some meaningful words out of emails and comment threads or you’ve never asked for feedback before.

Getting feedback can feel imposing and awkward.

But, it’s an essential part of marketing and branding. Ask some past customers this simple question:

What is it that you liked about working with me/us?”

Take a careful look at the words they use and pull out a few adjectives.

For example, maybe their response is: “Oh you’re so funny! You really knew how to make us comfortable and laugh!”

  • Out of that response, I’d pull these words about your brand’s personality: funny, comforting

Or perhaps you’ll get a response like this: “You really helped make the experience worry-free. Your communication before the shoot calmed our nerves and we trusted that you knew what to do.”

  • Out of that response, I’d pull these words about your brand’s personality: calming, trustworthy

Here’s how you’ll understand your brand better and gain more brand consistency.

After you’ve gathered 1-3 responses, use those words to remind yourself how people see you. These words are the words that describe your brand. It’s the verbal expression of your brand that your customers use to describe you. This can be quite empowering, especially on days when you feel like you’re not making headway. Those words should also dictate how you represent your brand on your website, on social media and when interacting with customers.

It’s important to take a branding “temperature gauge” every year or two to see if customers see your brand differently. Recently, I asked a reader to email me the answer to this question, “What about my blog and emails do you like?”

The three words I stripped out of her reply email were: personal, friendly and sometimes vulnerable

Going forward, if I’m writing, working one-on-one with a client or teaching a classroom of students, I’m remembering those three words and ensuring I don’t go astray. When I’m posting to social media, those three words often inspire the topics I post on and discuss. And the same goes for writing, speaking and working one-on-one with people.

That is how you better understand your brand, even as it evolves, and create brand consistency.

Have you ever felt like so-and-so’s marketing is so awesome and if only you could be more like them? Well guess what… their customers are probably saying different words about them than your customers say about you.

Understand what makes you awesomely you.

Own what makes you awesomely you.

Reply below and share your research.

If you’re daring enough to shoot off a couple of emails to customers or if, perhaps, you have emails at the ready that include some words that describe you, reply and share them below. What words are your customers using to describe you and your business?


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  1. says

    – Awesome
    – Easy-going
    – Prepared
    – A perfect gentleman
    – Invisible (ha — shooting candid stuff during an event)

    Most of my post-session surveys and my public reviews talk a lot about the shoot and how that client felt during the session. All great stuff, but there’s not much about me.

    • says

      The fact that you’re not getting much feedback about you might be a perfect compliment, especially if your goal at some shoots is blending in / not getting noticed. Perhaps the lack of comments suggests you’re achieving your goal beautifully.


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