My husband hates marketing. He (like thousands of other people, I suspect) thinks that it’s all hype and BS, cynically calculated to manipulate you into acting, vs. an honest communication of value.

I beg to differ—in part. Even though I think he’s probably accurate for big swaths of our commercial-riddled society (think Ginzu knives or Sham-wow), many of my clients are branding and marketing folks who are honestly trying to figure out how to let people know, in a compelling way, that they have something great to offer.

So let’s assume for the moment that you have something that’s important to you—an idea, or yourself—that you’re trying to market in a non-creepy way. To start us off, here’s my favorite definition of brand—I heard this years ago (I can’t remember where) and it’s become central to the way I think about the concept of branding:

A brand is the promise of an experience.

Let me add a disclaimer here—I’m definitely not a branding expert, personal or otherwise. (There are lots of experts in this realm, by the way—one of my favorites is Dan Schwabel. Check out his Personal Branding blog.) I’m just a very interested amateur. And I’m in the process, with my business partner Jeff, of further clarifying our Proteus company brand, while at the same time trying to understand what I personally have to offer people—my ‘Erika Andersen‘ brand, if you will. So I’m learning a lot: here’s some of what I’ve learned that I thought might be helpful to you:

1) Be Distinctive. In a great article about how to diagnose poor business results, Jay Goltz offers this advice: “Lots of companies still use this line: ‘We will exceed your expectations.’…It was a good line when someone first thought of it. Now, it is old... You need to exceed people’s expectations by coming up with your own line.. .[I]t should say something about your company that means something to potential customers.” I agree. Saying “I’m the best web designer in Michigan,” or “I design world-class web sites,” isn’t going to capture anyone’s attention. What is it—specifically—that you are better at doing than anyone else? Maybe it’s “I design sites with simple, fast navigation, that are drop-dead easy for clients to manage themselves.”

2) Be aspirational but accurate. This is where most marketing gets a bad name. If your web sites don’t have simple, fast navigation, and aren’t easy to self-managedon’t say that they are. It’s OK to promise what you are when you’re at your best….but then, be your best. People will cut you a little slack, but not much; if you say, for instance, that you’re uniquely good at managing complex projects to completion on time and on budget, and your projects are late and over-budgetIt doesn’t matter how often or how well you say it. Our Proteus brand is leader readiness—we help leaders get ready and stay ready for their future. And we do that. We hold ourselves accountable for doing it every day.

3) Focus on How as Well as What. Any experience consists of both ‘what’: the specific events and results, and ‘how’: the feeling it gives you. When you think about your brand, an important part of the experience—often the most important part—is how you promise people will feel when they deal with you. Some people call these ‘brand attributes’; what does the brand ‘feel’ like. For instance, our Proteus brand attributes are ‘illuminating, strengthening, and trustworthy.’ When clients interact with us, we want them always to feel clearer and stronger than before, and deeply trusting of us and the relationship. How do you want clients to feel in dealing with you? Again—make sure this is aspirational and accurate: what does it feel like to interact with you when you’re at your best?

Hope this is helpful. I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered on your own brand journey…