Do You Really Know Your Audience?

By Branding, LeadershipNo Comments

Internal Family Systems model

One of the most common questions we get is some form of “who is my target audience?”

To answer that requires some unlearning …

Your ideal audience is not a “target”. They are the people looking for you.

Your ideal audience is not their demographic data.

Your ideal audience isn’t divided up into B2B or B2C.

So who are they? Who are these mysterious humans whose hands you are putting the future of your brand?

To answer this question requires some foundational understanding of the psychological concept of the Core Self. The concept of Core Self has Jungian roots that have evolved into what is often called “parts theory” or “internal family systems”. There is a growing understanding that there is a Core Self but it is surrounded by parts – commonly categorized into three types:

  • Exiles – the part assigned to disassociate the Core Self from intense trauma or pain.
  • Managers – the part that creates systems of security and safety.
  • Firefighters – the part that demands attention.

Each of these parts has a unique role in protecting the Core Self – especially for trauma survivors. Fueled by dopamine and/or serotonin, these parts construct a new reality made up of personalities, biases, preferences, narratives. Further, these parts are activated by inputs or prompts.

Like advertising.

Largely influenced by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, marketers have spent billions of dollars marketing to the illusory realities that people have manufactured in their minds. They use FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to manipulate the Exile parts. They use the promise of safety and security to coerce the Manager parts. They use urgency to coopt the Firefighter parts. Marketers do an excellent job of understanding these elements of their audiences.

And that’s the issue. Considering most of these parts were constructed as a response to trauma, to utilize them for your own gain is inhumane and cruel. It is the essence of gaslighting someone.

So how does an ethical marketer approach an audience?

By communicating with the audience’s Core Selves. 

The Core Self is identified by 8 traits:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Creativity
  3. Confidence
  4. Calm
  5. Compassionate
  6. Courage
  7. Clarity
  8. Connectedness

When you understand these areas, you understand your audience. And when you understand your audience, it will change the way you communicate with them.

You will use storytelling and mystery and positive tension to awaken curiosity.

You will co-create with them to make beautiful things together.

You will remind them of their worth and importance.

You will not use urgent, loud language.

You will see them as a whole human – not just a customer or an employee.

You will tell them the truth.

You will understand their vision for their future.

You will connect with them and an oxytocin-based bond of trust will be formed.

And you will not compromise any of these eight traits in yourself or your brand. You will integrate these traits into your behavior as a leader, your culture, your offerings, your human experiences.

You will be in a reciprocal relationship with all the humans that touch your brand. This will produce a force multiplier of ideation, improvement, expansion fueled by mutual love and respect.

This isn’t easy. There are no shortcuts. It’s why we call this deep work “Intrinsic Branding”. You have to go inward to who you are as a person or a brand. You have to know your mission, your standards, your vision. And then you must do the same with your audience. This kind of hard work requires patience, consistency, inquiry, listening. But when you do it, you create unbreakable bonds of love, trust and loyalty.

How to Marketing-Proof Yourself

By Branding, Leadership, LifeNo Comments


Although I’ve been in it for over 17 years, there are many things I dislike about branding and marketing. Chiefly, the tendency of brands to give in to the cheaper, faster approach to creating a behavior: manipulation.

Traditional branding and marketing is, at its core, a philosophy of manipulation. The founder of this philosophy is Edward Bernays. Although way less famous than his uncle, Sigmund Freud, Bernays is still considered the “Father of Spin”.

A quote from his blatantly-titled 1928 book, “Propaganda”:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of … in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

Chilling, right?

If you are paying attention, you can see the philosophy of manipulation played out dozens of times per day. The point of writing this piece is to not go Ralph Nader on the marketing industry. My point is that we must each marketing-proof ourselves in order to reduce (it likely can’t be fully eliminated) the influence of persuasion and manipulation. The baseline requirement for the philosophy of manipulation to have maximum influence is low consciousness. In Maslow’s terms, this is mostly the middle tier of acceptance and belonging – with just enough coercing of our primal fears and needs thrown in.

In short, to marketing-proof yourself you need to raise your consciousness. Here are a few don’ts and do’s on how to do that.

Don’t …

Chase dopamine. Any model that relies on eyeballs, relies on dopamine. This is especially true for anything that’s free – i.e. social media. As Tim O’Reilly said way back in 2010, “when it’s free, you are the product.” This is all about creating micro-addictions to dopamine.

Have body dysmorphia. In clinical terms, body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder. In practical terms, it is being so influenced by comparison to others that you begin to hate your body. Kudos to Halo Top ice cream for confronting this type of manipulation head-on.

Over-use binary goggles. Binary thinking can be a useful tool for decision making, but marketers encourage the overuse of this tool by creating false choices. This is the “gotta have it nowt” urgency you see in a lot of marketing.

Do …

Heal your emotional wounds. It is virtually impossible to be manipulated by a brand or a person if you have done the deep work of healing emotional trauma. Unhealed trauma creates the impulse to either venerate or vilify – or both. Marketers use this to be the “the rescuing prince” and/or to paint their competition as your enemy.

Master your ego. An unmastered ego will drive all decisions – all of which perpetuate its control over you. The higher your consciousness, the more you master your ego. This happens through a faith/spiritual practice, mindfulness practice, creative practice, volunteering or other forms of elevated consciousness. The more you master your ego, the less likely you are to let it be manipulated.

Be skeptical of formulas. One of our mantras at Root + River is “f*ck the formula”. This reflects a healthy distrust of singular solutions. Formulas are designed to create mass adoption. They often come in the form of “better” – better relationships, better career, better lifestyle.

The final one is a combo do and don’t …

Do be aware of your fears, biases and tendencies – and don’t let them be used to manipulate you. We all have our preferences, insecurities, doubts, quirks, dichotomies. These are what make us interesting – and human. But when we are not aware of them  – or we are aware of them but are not honest about them – we are inviting manipulation.

Some practical tips for bringing this to your awareness in your daily life …

When you decide to click on something, pause and ask yourself why it drew you in. Hint: it’s not always being manipulated. Sometimes you are just curious! Or have a real need.

When being pitched a product or service, ask yourself “What would this give me that I don’t already have?”

Notice when you feel an elevated negative emotion about something (usually a news story). What bias is being triggered to create this negative emotion in you? And how does the info source benefit from your negative emotion?

One of our more audacious goals at Root + River is to seize back branding and marketing from the manipulators and gaslighters. To have branding and marketing be used as tools for positive change, inspiration, personal growth. To accomplish this, we need clients that are enlightened leaders that want to attract higher consciousness customers. If this idea moves your soul (and offends your ego), reach out and let’s see how we can work together.

Recent Podcast Appearances

By BrandingNo Comments

I love being on podcasts. It combines two things I love: interesting people and talking!  I especially love being on the podcasts hosted by my friends. Each of these four hosts are wonderful, soulful and brilliant. I highly recommend following them on social as well as subscribing to their podcast!

Career Blindspot by Juan Kingsbury
Juan and I discuss a wide range of topics including staying creative in a crisis.

MVP Business with Steph Silver

Steph and I nerd out over branding, marketing, messaging and more.


Shift Awake with Jacqueline Jasionowski

JJ and I discuss how to uncover your soul’s message to the world.


On the Path with Naomi Seifter

Naomi (the founder of Picnik) and I talk about how to discover what you’re here to do and returning to your true self.




The Mystery of Business

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipNo Comments

An accurate picture of the future.

Much of the doctrine of modern business is based on establishing a predictable level of certainty. After all, predictability is comforting – to leaders, employees and shareholders. Removal of uncertainty, therefore, a constant task. This is why much time and energy is spent at the altar of planning. Plans make the unknown future more predictable, right?

It is in this pursuit of predictability that systems and processes and models and formulas are developed and adhered to. Predicability is at the root of the reliance on data. Predictability is the reason for the question “what’s the ROI?” Within these systems and processes is an emphasis on productivity – getting the maximum out of all resources.

The enemy of predictability, by default, is the unknown. The unforeseen. The unexpected. Billions are spent on consultants and programs to battle the unknown. Yet, very few predict when a new competitor will emerge. Even fewer predict globally altering events like terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

This worship of predictability has largely removed the role of mystery in business. Ironically, mystery has a way better track record than predicability. Our greatest industries and enterprises and inventions did not come from the safe confines of predictability. They came from vision, creativity, risk, intuition. They came from the embracing of the unknown; of harnessing it like the wind, not controlling it.

Of course, I am not saying give up all systems and processes. They are useful, important tools. I am saying make room for mystery. When done in the proper order, systems serve mystery. They make it real and tangible.

Consider these areas of allowing mystery into your business …

Incorporate the power of intuition into decision making.

Let iteration replace perfection as the baseline of performance.

Embrace love, not power, as the primary intention and action towards who your business is serving.

Trust the timing. Short-cuts, unethical behavior, the attitude of lack are all indicators of not trusting the timing.

Paraphrasing Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, let your customers tell you how profitable you will be. And let the market tell you what they need.

Take 20% of the time you spent on planning and redirect it to investing in the culture of the business.

If you want some predictability, here are a few things that are 99% predictable:

  • Shitty leadership is expensive – and often fatal. When the culture of a business becomes toxic, its inevitable end is death.
  • Shoddy products and services will be rejected by the marketplace. Which, in turn, will increase your ad spend.
  • If your people operate in fear, are over-taxed and over-systemized, innovation will suffer and new competition will emerge to replace you.

On the positive side, there is one thing you have the most control over: your brand. As a leader, you decide the language, the purpose, the experience of the brand. You establish the standards. You decide the category you want to own. You have a tremendous influence on your brand’s reputation. Your behavior is a direct contributor to word-of-mouth. How you treat yourself and others is directly reflected in the culture. But here’s the paradox: in order to embrace that which you have the most control over, you must make room for mystery.

Because business is ultimately about humanity, I believe that business is art mixed with science. And all real art and science make room for mystery. Will you?

A Paucity of Profundity

By BrandingNo Comments

The immediacy of our access to knowledge has been a tremendous opportunity to expand our vocabulary. Yet this proliferation of words (and communication platforms) has made us lazy with our language. We use cliches, colloquialisms, jargon, buzz words. We explain rather than express. We cut-and-paste the things we hear and read.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in branding and marketing language. Language is the currency of ideas. And branding and marketing is the spreading of ideas. But when we branders and marketers use lazy language, we devalue the very currency we’ve been tasked to invest. 

The cost of this devaluation is the loss of attention. The human brain is a fine-tuned sorting and categorizing machine. Thousands of times per day, it is putting things in two buckets. Bucket #1 is Sameness. It says “I’ve heard that before.” Often so much so that even the subconscious mind is bored. Bucket #2 is Different. This piques curiosity. It makes the mind pay attention. It says “This is new. What is this?” 

Language has a tremendous impact on which bucket our brain puts stuff in. When we are intentional with our words, it carves new grooves in the brain of the receiver. When we are lazy with our words, it’s just white noise.  

My great friend, Alan Prushan, taught me the meaning and power of ontology; which is the study of being. When applied to language, ontology creates new definitions for being. This goes beyond earworms and slogans to a place where you can own the definition of something in someone’s mind. 

Back to branding and marketing …

One of the first things a leader must do is put their brand on an elimination diet. Listen to the words you use, audit your website, social feed, collateral. Look for words that encourage the mind to put your words into the Sameness bucket. This list of useless words is enormous. But here are a few:










A second tool is what we call “Ad Libs.” A lot of poorly crafted marketing language reads like a filled-out Mad Libs template. Case in point is this Roam soap placard that was a product placement in a recent AirBnB stay. This particular one reads like Millennial Ad Libs – a common practice with brands trying to attract this enormous market. 


Now let’s talk about the efficacy of powerful words … 

Remember the “Seinfeld” scene where Elaine was struggling to write catalog copy for J. Peterman’s Himalayan walking shoes? Then it hit her and this copy sprang forth …

“Ohhh, I’m exhausted. I’ve been on this street a thousand times. It’s never looked so strange. The faces…so cold. In the distance, a child is crying. Fatherless…a bastard child, perhaps. My back aches…my heart aches…but my feet (stops to look at her feet)…my feet are resilient! (a big smile grows in her face, as she thinks…) Thank God I took off my heels, and put on my… HIMALAYAN WALKING SHOES! (lifting her arms up in the air, as she says…) Yes! ” – Elaine

That language is powerful because it comes from experience. It’s real. It’s funny. It’s a story.

Once you’ve completed the elimination diet and the Ad Libs scan, now you can get to work on being intentional with your language. Here are few tips:

  • Speak from the soul. If you are a copywriter working in a cliche factory … I mean, agency, this may be difficult. But if you are a small business owner writing your own copy or if you are a freelancer writing for someone, you can absolutely do this. The soul uses simple, compact, emotional language. 
  • Be direct. Speak to your point, not around it. Be declarative. Use words that inspire the imagination like “will”, “create”, “become”. 
  • Be descriptive but brief. I love long-form content as a story. This makes the marketing language teaser copy, but story doesn’t work if you over-explain everything upfront. 
  • Ask for what you want. Click funnel language encourages lazy marketing because it drops the reader into a saturation machine. Just ask for what you want the reader to do.

Here’s my ask to you …

Scan your current language (written or verbal) and let me know the words you eliminated. 


“What Do I Talk About?”

By Branding, LeadershipNo Comments

I’m feeling practical and actionable this morning. Thus, a practical, actionable post! 

One of the most common questions I get from leaders is “What do I talk about?” This applies to writing content, giving presentations and even 1:1/small group engagement. 

The tendency is to talk about our expertise. Or our career path. Or our industry. ZZZZZZZZ. Unless you are an ice cream taster for Ben and Jerry’s, none of those are very interesting.

Keep in mind that all leadership includes thought-leadership. What is your mission? What are your ideas? What do you want to teach to others? What is your point of view as a leader? These are much better areas to draw from when creating spoken or written content. 

Your mission, your ideas, your views, your knowledge is the root system of thought-leadership. But there needs to be fruit. There needs to be consistent, original output. And for that, we often need some prompts. 

Thought-leadership is the harmonious balance between philosophy, methodology and personality. Each of these areas contains a deep well from which to draw out original content. Here are a few prompts to get you started …


  • Mission
  • Message
  • Beliefs
  • Standards


  • IP
  • Process
  • Methodology
  • Systems
  • Tools


  • Stories from your personal life
  • Leadership observations
  • Lessons from history
  • Books you’ve read
  • Podcasts listened to

These areas are also the basis for developing more immersive, longer-form content. Want to craft a workshop? Practice writing/speaking about your methodology. Want to launch your own podcast? Practice telling stories and sharing ideas. Then there’s the ultimate output – a book! Thinking, creating, structuring around these areas (and practicing them regularly) will become an excellent foundation for a book – or books!

Look at the masters of thought-leadership. They didn’t promote their way to that status. They practiced their way to that status. And when you break it down, these three areas are very apparent in their output. 

A Category of One

By Branding, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Expertise used to determine reputation. Your expertise became your personal brand. If consistently executed, you might have even become a known SME (subject matter expert). 

But what do you when expertise is a commodity? Thanks to the proliferation of information and the lower barrier to entry, it is virtually impossible to be the best expert in any field. 

Thought-leadership became the next level after SME. Thought-leadership is about getting attention and income for who you are not just what you know. So many SMEs decided to brand themselves. They wrote books, launched podcasts, created on-line courses and became thought-leaders.

When there were a few thought-leaders, they could use promotion and publicity to become known. But you no longer can promote your way to thought-leadership. Sure, you need a marketing machine for amplifying your ideas and products. But there are too many thought-leaders and too much noise. 

This leaves one solution … 

Become a category of One.



Becoming a category of One transcends expertise and thought-leadership. It means becoming the queen or king of a space, field, idea. 

Brene Brown owns vulnerability.

Ellen DeGeneres owns kindness.

Tim Ferriss owns lifehacking.

James Clear owns habits.

Eckhart Tolle owns presence.

The biggest names of history were all categories of One: Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, Frida Kahlo, Elvis, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and so many more. 

None of them got to category status because of their publicists.

They became categories of One because of doing truly epic things. They were unconcerned about being experts or even thought-leaders. They felt called to do mighty things, transformative things. And they did them – often at the expense of their freedom or lives.

Whether living or dead, globally famous or locally famous, categories of One have three things figured out …

    • Think and behave like an artist.
      Expertise is left-brain, problem-solving acumen. Becoming a category is far more about accessing the right brain; your creative side. This means viewing your brand as an ever-evolving practice. It means making words (spoken or written) your art. It means choosing to create something you want without knowing how the market will respond. And it means disciplined consistency with creating output to share with the world. 
    • Know who you are and what you believe.
      Expertise and thought-leadership are primarily extrinsic traits driven by experience and intellect. Becoming a category of One comes from the soul; the inner world. To do that, you have to be brave enough to go inward, touch your wounds, accept your gifts. You have to know your intrinsic beliefs; the things you’ve always known to be true. You have to reconcile past negative experiences and failures. 
    • Continuously innovate.
      The best categories of One are constantly iterating. They bring a beginner’s mind to their craft. They behave more like disciples and less like prophets. They are insatiably curious. They consume a shit ton of content. They sample, try, fail, learn. They are collaborative yet individualistic. They know the trends but are obsessive about originality.

“But Justin, I don’t want to be a category of one.”

Ok. Fine. 

But inside of you is a mission. You have been been given specific gifts. You’ve walked through dark valleys. You are alive at this time and in this place.

Do you really think all of that was to stay small and safely known? 


The Commoditization of Coaching

By Branding, CoachingNo Comments


20 years ago, “hiring a coach” is something that usually only happened in sports or fitness. Businesses hired consultants. Individuals hired experts depending on need.

Now everyone has a coach. And, increasingly, everyone IS a coach. 

The good news is that the category of “Coaching” has been created. If you say you’re a coach, most people have a general sense of what that means. The bad news is that coaching has become a commodity.

Way back in 2011, I wrote my first book “Oatmeal v Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World”. In it, I described something I coined called the “Commodity Curve”. Similar to Geoffrey Moore’s “Technology Adoption Lifecycle”, innovation follows a curve that starts off as exclusivity (something new, different, unique – like coaching 15-20 years ago). It then naturally shifts into mass commoditization; what I call “oatmeal” in the book. 

Coaching has followed a very similar curve. When there were fewer coaches, there was less understanding of coaching and its ROI. As coaching became more of the accepted norm, it started to be about efficiency, lowest dollar value, distribution models, marketing funnels. It also started to be about being safe and credible. All of which further commoditized coaching. 

One of the main catalysts for the commoditization of coaching is in the distribution model. If you are a coach, you can sign on with a larger coaching firm and stay plenty busy doing corporate coaching. You can make a nice living, but your value is capped by the coaching firm and established by the end-user. If you are a solo coach or part of a small practice, you can increase your reach by offering an online course. I have no real issue with turning your coaching offering into an online course (unless it sucks). But it’s important to realize that doing so requires a very clear audience type and that it doesn’t decrease your value of being in the room for clients that can afford you. 

Funnel marketing is also causal to commoditization. Again, it’s not the tool that’s the problem. It’s the intent. When you create a commodity, you have to amp up the marketing volume. That’s a given. But too often, this means crossing the line into manipulation, saturation and persuasion. You can still use funnel marketing to promote coaching but it follows the rules of branding. One rule is the Golden Rule of Marketing: don’t market unto others the way you wouldn’t want to be marketed to. 

The top of the Commodity Curve is Bacon. These are coaches and coaching brands that can surf the top of the wave between exclusivity and mass appeal. These coaches know how to brand themselves and have invested in their brand. They are original thinkers, consistent creators of useful content, adept at speaking and have well-oiled marketing engines. 

To reach the top of the Commodity Curve and stay there requires innovation. Of truly creating epic shit that no one else is doing. You aren’t likely to offer a new kind of coaching. But you can totally offer a new kind of brand experience. Some examples:

  • Elevate your client profile. Specifically, say who you work with. Not the title, but the psychographic profile of your ideal client. Talk about them from a soul-level, not a role-level. Talk about their unspoken needs, their passions, their beliefs. This invokes the age-old branding maxim:  when you narrow your focus, you broaden your appeal.

  • Elevate your language. This is a complete purging of cliches, industry lingo, social buzzwords, colloquialisms. Any lazy language that commoditized brands use. When you elevate your language, you break pattern recognition. Which is an essential element in branding.

  • Elevate your experience. This one is based on this question: “How can I give my clients a consistently delightful experience?” I recommend mapping out your entire client experience from initial contact to right now and find 5 – 10 ways you can consistently delight them. Remember, this could be different for each client – and that’s ok.  Hint: it will likely be around their Love Language.

Finally, there are some common denominators amongst the coaches at the top of the Commodity Curve:

  1. They rarely provide discounts.
  2. They don’t respond to trends, they set them.
  3. Their #1 source of new business is referrals from their clients.
  4. They have a large, vocal fan base.
  5. They are very involved in their communities.

They are respected and loved by the people they touch. And they are feared and copied by their competitors. 


Top 10 Texas-based “Bacon” Brands

By BrandingOne Comment


Almost 10 years ago, I released my first book: “Oatmeal v Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World”. In the book, I proclaimed that I discovered the ultimate branding metaphor: BACON. This hubris turned out to be quite true. While my examples have changed and my life looks much different now, the principles of this little book have held up well.

A Bacon Brand has scores of at least 8 out of 10 in each of the following areas:

  • Function and beauty
  • Polished marketing
  • Language
  • Fun
  • Following
  • Innovative
  • Teaching
  • Listening and responsive
  • Consistent
  • Personalization

With the sale of Whataburger to a Chicago-based company, I began to ponder … who are the top 10 Texas-based Bacon Brands? By Texas-based, I mean owned and operated out of Texas. In addition, I added this qualifier: must have either multiple locations in Texas and/or national/global distribution. So these qualifiers eliminate brands like Whole Foods.

Here is how the Top 10 Bacon Brands came out …

  1. Southwest Airlines – They absolutely dominate their category and have reached legendary status as a brand.
  2. Yeti – Another category leader that has achieved global reach.
  3. H-E-B – Transforming into a tech company that is in the grocery business.
  4. Kendra Scott – Has done the near impossible: created a huge fashion brand not based in NY, California or Europe.
  5. Nutrabolt – Far more known by their Cellucor product line, they are the king of workout supplements.
  6. Alamo Draft House – They have figured out how to scale cool and culture.
  7. Shiner Beer – National distribution combined with dozens of mentions in Texas music.
  8. Torchy’s Tacos – “Damn Good Tacos” is their mantra. They are right.
  9. Howler Bros – My favorite Texas-based style brand. A newcomer going big places.
  10. Garrison Brothers – Texas’ first (legal) bourbon distillery. Have already reached the top tier of great American bourbons.

Who did I miss? What are your views on any and all of these brands?

Stoic Philosophy and Branding

By Branding, LeadershipNo Comments

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:

Know Yourself.

“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."
— Epictetus

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.