This evening I received a distressed call from a former client. He sits on the Board of a well-known technology company, and today their new international brand was unveiled to the Board of Directors and investors. He, among others in the room, sat in astonishment as a team of high powered strategists, linguists, graphic designers and “creative engineers” shared visual boards depicting the heart – and art – of this company’s brand.  The passion and energy was palpable.  The graphics were stunning. The marketability of the brand was missing.

Sometimes, in our quest to create something that stands apart and looks like none other, we end up creating something that has no relevance, meaning or emotional connection to the market place.

Branding is about setting a promise – a very clear, bold and authentic promise – of an expectation of an experience. It is the essence of a company, or a person, that gives audiences the opportunity to trust and hold accountable to that expectation. As an individual, our brand is reflected in our reputation, earned over time and through behavior, that we leverage to (hopefully) attract opportunities. For a company, a brand speaks a specific tone and language to a targeted audience that is both elegant and broad, and compels us to believe that the company has a heart and will meet our needs for a unique relationship and experience.

Throughout my professional career, I am often recruited to bring simplicity and elegance to brands that have become complex and where meaning is cluttered. Often times, marketing initiatives, visionary leaders and acquiescent marketing teams stretch and pull the brand in so many directions that it hardly resembles the pure and simple promise set forth by the founding partners. Bringing a company back to those organic and basic values, promises and goals is an exhilarating and empowering process.

Similarly, as individuals we hear about all the things we’re good at, we listen to the feedback in performance critiques and we begin to believe our own reviews. Then, when someone like me comes along and inquires, “What makes you unique and valuable?” the answer is hard to articulate.

As we turn the page on the calendar in a couple of weeks, maybe we can all reflect back to our core values, the compass by which we are guided, and the basic code by which we operate and live. Branding is simple. Life is elegant.  And, sometimes the hardest answer is the most simple one.