In recent years, Stoicism has gone from obscure philosophy to leadership mainstream. While not the only author and thinker to tout the efficacy of Stoicism, Ryan Holiday has been the primary catalyst for the re-emergence of what’s often referred to as “Western Buddhism”. Thanks to “The Daily Stoic” and other resources, I’ve reached some level of amateur subject-matter expertise on the ideas and concepts of Stoicism.
While co-facilitating a Root Session last week, I was struck by the alignment between Stoicism and an effective brand strategy. In particular, these four areas:
“These are the characteristics of the rational soul: self-awareness, self-examination, and self-determination. It reaps its own harvest.. It succeeds in its own purpose . . .” — Marcus Aurelius
We call our work “intrinsic branding” because it places supremacy and importance over being who you truly are and not what you’re pretending to be. This is partially because the pursuit of a pristine image is folly. And partially because many poor branding decisions can be traced back to an identity crisis. If you don’t know who you truly are, the market will not help you figure that out. By being deeply rooted in your mission, beliefs and standards (the truth of your brand), you will grow and bloom. In more contemporary terms, this is Emotional Intelligence – a sense of self- and others-awareness. There is a direct correlation between a leader’s EQ and their business and personal brands.
Make Them React to You.
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius
Working backward from how you’d like to be perceived by others is a dated branding model. It puts you in a reactive, defensive posture and into the unwinnable war of explaining yourself, manipulating perception and spin control. Instead, just be you. Paraphrasing John Eldredge from “Wild at Heart”, let the world feel the weight of your brand. Organizing your brand around your mission instead of your business model naturally produces confidence and conviction. It gives you the deep root system to withstand market fickleness, stupid public policy decisions and both known and unknown competitors.
Don’t Create Unnecessary Suffering.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” - Seneca
Being in business is hard. It requires constant vigilance, agility and courage. I have noticed two areas where entrepreneurs and business leaders take this suffering and make it worse: 1) lack of self-care. When you are depleted, you naturally retract to short-sightedness and scarcity. When you are tired, hungry, over-stimulated and under-nourished, your mind thinks your body is under attack. So it starts to shut down the strategic mind and the responsive parts of the brain. This inevitably leads to poor behavior and decisions that hurt your brand. 2) using marketing as a cover. Marketing is an amplifier of reality. It draws attention to your brand and triggers the fishbowl effect of transparency. When you use marketing as a cover for a toxic culture, shoddy product or bad leadership behavior (or all three!), you are actually drawing attention to your brand and showing the cognitive dissonance of being detached from reality.
Be Wary of Your Biases.
"Anything or anyone capable of angering you becomes your master."
My friend Bryce Hoffman provides some excellent resources in this area – in both his book “Red Teaming” and his consulting practice. The essence of red team thinking is very similar to Stoic philosophy: don’t trust your initial reactions (thoughts and feelings) to anything. Our biases are deeply ingrained into our social programming and produce blind spots, illusions and false data. All three of these can be brand and business killers. I’ve noticed several consistent brand biases over my years as a brand coach. Here are two of the most common: 1) “We don’t have competition.”While I somewhat admire the confidence, it’s simply not true. You may not have competitors that do exactly what you do, but you are always competing for attention. 2) “We don’t need branding.” This typically means you think you don’t need advertising. That may be true. But every brand (personal or organizational) needs branding – which is the practice of consistently sharing your mission and message and creating compelling experiences and stories.
We often say that it’s really not old vs new. It’s old vs ancient. The crumbling of institutions, the social media age and the ubiquitous access to immediate information have given re-birth to ancient principles and concepts. And from our perspective, this more contemplative, mindful and intentional approach to branding is exactly what modern brands need.