Great DTC branding is a spiritual exercise

I'm not the one to come up with that. That's original Gapingvoid aka Hugh MacLeod, in the Hughtrain, ca. 2004. But I've been revisiting a lot of brand literature lately as I'm hard at working becoming Europe's "VC for DTC Brands." Hugh's work, like Seth Godin's, is prescient. It's mind-blowing to me how it isn't evenly distributed yet. 

Here's the first secret from the branding work we're doing: features/benefits aren't even the start of the journey. They're a hygiene factor (maybe). Necessary to but far from sufficient. I'd wager I'll use a worse product any day if it's from a founder or a company that I can believe in. 

So here's secret number two: a great brand tells a story that restores your faith in the human experience, if only for brief moments. The bigger that belief, the longer it lasts, the deeper the faith, the more your brand will matter on our joint journey.

Which is why (secret three) I ask every founder I work with to start with purpose. And not the purpose of the company, but their own. What are you put here on earth to do? What does the universe ask of you?

To do X, you say? Why is that important to you? Go deeper until you can go no more. Until it's so real it hurts.

Here's the fourth secret: everyone's inner purpose is the same. It's evolutionary. It's what we are all here to do. Once you realize this, the fog lifts. The scales drop. Everything shifts into focus.

With that focus, you need to pursue your outer purpose. It's easy to lose the clarity. Make rituals to get back to you. It's why I encourage self-care so much. As founder you are the keeper of the vision. Keep it.

A company is just a collection of people having conversations. The quality of those conversations determines so much. What are they coming together over? What are they meant to achieve?

Now extend that outer purpose to your customer in a way that touches their soul, that appeals to our shared inner purpose. The future of brands is this interaction, this conversation. It's not something you buy, but something you participate in. Brands are places to come together over a conversation.

And now you understand how you slot into the universe (secret five). Brands are information - the molecules are secondary, says Hugh. Before you think about that Unique Selling Proposition, think about the Unique Being Proposition. That's where true differentiation lies. Not features/benefits but identity/ability. By being a customer, I can be more of an X that knows how to Y better. 

And that's the point you realize Brand is Culture. Brand is Ideology. Your customers are the Faithful who carry the Word into the world. 

The job is not to sell. The job is to let them Be who they are meant to be. That will blow their minds. To align them to the greater purpose of their lives and the universe.

You say you can't do that with a lipstick. I say you can do that with water. Marketing is just a tool. Just a way to start the conversation. But a great brand... a great brand is forever.

Much love,
Max