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I’m going to be honest. I wrote this post for myself, not for you. Every time I tell someone I’m in branding, I get one of two responses. The first is emptiness. The look of them Googling the phrase in their brain only for their cognitive search engine to ask if they meant something else. Their next search term being, “Is branding a real job?” The second response is the misguided opposite. The look they get when the Google machine in their brains quickly returns the results for logos and social media campaigns. They want to know if you helped design the Apple logo and why did you decide to make it monochromatic? 

Such is the curse of the branding professional. We do branding for a living, and the marketer’s brand is still one of the most difficult to get. Whether you’re a brand manager, CMO, consultant, or you work on the agency side, you go through life with one of those jobs that people know exist, but no one knows why or what it does. Until now.

Here are a few of the best responses I’ve practiced when it comes to the question, “What do you do?”

The Metaphor 

I work in branding. It’s like being a couple’s therapist between my clients and their customers. I help them figure out what they like about each other and how they can strengthen their relationship. The customers get more of what they need from the brand, and the brand feels like they can rely on the customer to be there for a long time. Sometimes, I even recommend they break up – for the sake of each person in the relationship.

I’m a fan of this explanation because of my background in psychology. But its strength is in the metaphor – most people know about couples therapists even if they’ve never been to one themselves. They get the idea, they get it’s a bit abstract at times, and they get the goal of it.

The System

I work in branding. Think about when you buy a product. You’ve probably seen advertisements on YouTube, Television, or in your social media feed. Somewhere, a team of creatives made the logo and built those campaigns. Designers made the package. Experts even picked a name and set the price. A team at the manufacturer decided what benefits to include in this version.

But before all of that aligned to be this thing you love, they had to begin with the brand. The brand tells them what the product or company should stand for, its personality, and its values. Brand managers decide the kind of relationship it wants to have with its customers. Ideally, the brand guides all of the other marketing activity so that by the time you go to buy it, you feel good about the purchase, you feel like you know what it will do for you, and you feel confident it can do it.

This one attempts to break down most of the marketing continuum with some systems thinking related to branding. It helps demonstrate the abstract but critical role branding has in the process and touches on the most familiar elements. However, there is a chance this backfires and only creates more confusion. Flee during the chaos.

The Personal Story

“I work in branding. It can be hard to nail down precisely what I do because I touch almost every part of the business. Think about your favorite brand. Let’s say it’s Costco. (Note, check out this article about the most loved brands and pick one related to your Uncle’s generation). When you think about all the things you love about Costco, a few things probably come to mind. They have what you need at pretty reasonable prices. You feel good buying in bulk – especially when it’s items you know you’ll use, like paper towels. You got a deal you won’t get at the grocery store.

You love going on the weekend when they offer free samples. It didn’t even really matter what it was, but Jim with the hairnet was handing out little wedges of mango sausage or stir-fried vegetables. You may also have built a bit of a tradition stopping for a quick lunch after that trip picking up a slice of surprisingly good pizza or a hot dog and a drink for $1.50. “ONE FIFTY,” you exclaim! “You can’t beat that. Those are 1980 prices!” So one of your final experiences in the store is this sense of extreme value.

Do you know how good all of that felt? That’s what I do. I try to create more of those feelings in as many places as possible. Whether it’s the website, in the store, when they call you for something, I want to make sure it feels good. So when it comes to brands, I am constantly obsessing over how people think and feel.”

The Story is one of my favorites because it’s probably the most evocative example of branding I use. It’s also beneficial to relate it to them and talk through that example. Sometimes, I even have them tell me what they love about the brand and plug it into my story. Also, people often think I’m responsible for the brand they love, and for some reason, they love me more – but that’s something I need to unpack with my therapist.

The Whimper 

“I work in branding. Yeah. No. Yeah, ok, I help make logos and commercials. No, I didn’t make that one. No, not that one either.”

Sometimes, Uncle Joe doesn’t want to hear any of it. You can’t win them all.

Let me know how you explain what you do to your friends and family. If there’s one thing we professionals in branding need – it’s a better brand.