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branding strategies


31: Sell A Better Version Of People


People have a deep-seated desire to improve. It doesn't matter about what. It could be related to:

  • education
  • physical appearance
  • self-confidence
  • job performance

What great brands understand is that the things people buy are connected to this desire to improve. People buy things so that they can be better. Brands have to appeal to the people's sense of self. 

When you see advertisements for these brands, they don't make the actors talk all about the details of the products. They focus on the better version or future of the customers. The message that the customers receive is that by buying the product, they will be a better mother, employee, partner, daughter, member of the society.  

For example, the Moleskine brand is great at making people feel cultured. Their angle is that they enable people to soak up culture when they travel or commute, which will translate into great writings or works of art. It's just a notebook, but that notebook makes people feel like legitimate artists/thinkers. 


Is your product better than other people's?

Have you ever looked at a product and was appalled by the quality? It's not that it's really bad, but the price it's fetching is not proportionate to the quality. You're thinking that you could sell something so much better with higher value. 

This is how most businesses start. You see a problem with the current market and you try to seize the golden opportunity of solving that problem. You then become disillusioned when potential customers are still going to your competitors when your product is so much better. It doesn't feel fair. It feels like the customers are choosing wrongly.


No marketing, no customer

But here's the thing: a great product will not market itself. It's not the customers' fault for not choosing you. When your brand presence is on the internet, there's no such thing as "a great product should speak for itself". You have to do the marketing. What your competitors are doing better is making the customers feel good about buying their products. 

So for your great product to have the success it deserves, you have to connect your product to the customers' desire to improve. Make the connection and show it to them. This is your angle. Make sure it's really, really clear because they don't have time to ponder about your products. You have to hook them as soon as they click on your profile.  

Marketing is the art of persuasion. When you're trying to persuade someone, you don't talk about what's in it for you. You tell them how they will benefit. When they're persuaded, they will buy. That's how you do marketing.



26: Neutralizing The Cons Of Personal Branding.


I won't lie, it would make me happy if my own name is associated with 'success' and 'entrepreneurship'. The only thing is, I'm stuck in the realm between wanting fame and not being able to deal with the attention. Ha!

If you decide to go with personal branding, it means that you've judged that it's the best route for you and your business. Even if you can also apply business branding in the future, you will need to commit to personal branding for a few years.

Let's tackle the cons that I mentioned in the last email.


Con #1: Any attacks from ill-wishers will be personal and malicious.

With personal branding, you're going to be putting your face and name out there, which makes you extremely vulnerable.

There will be people who will adore you for who you are, and people who will despise you for who you are. They'll use whatever detail you make public against you, even if it's IRRELEVANT.

It can be pretty shocking to get your first 'hater', but remember this: Those haters are not in your target market anyway. They can't relate to you and they may never will.

They don't like your (personal) brand. So what? They don't know how hard you've been working for your own goals behind the scenes. They only see that you're 'lucky' and that you 'don't deserve your luck'.

Haters don't really know who you are because they're not seeing you in 3D. It's your brand image that they're attacking.

So you must be able to shrug off those attacks because even if the hate is personal to them, it's business to you.


Con #2 : You can only start selling products after you have a substantial number of followers.

You've been investing all this time and money into personal branding and you'd like to see some returns. You want to start selling.

But not all your followers will be customers. Likes for your photo doesn't guarantee sales. You don't want to spend time and money in developing a product, only to realize later that it's not the right time / thing.

What you can do is be consistent with your branding and constantly 'test' your ideas on your audience. You have access to people who are listening to you and are willing to interact with you. This is GOLD.

Ask for your followers' opinions. Listen to their responses. Have them confide in you about their problems. Find common patterns.

Once you spot a pattern, your product should be a natural answer to it. If they've been telling you that it's hard for them to get a nice pair of pants for work, then why not design one? Be the one to solve their problems.

If you've been branding yourself consistently, then what YOU want to sell will also be what YOUR FOLLOWERS want to buy. The stars will align.


Con #3: The pressure to keep up appearances or be 'perfect' online can be overwhelming.

If you're an introvert whose energy must be replenished by being alone, having to be 'on' all the time can feel like an exhausting nightmare. Even if you're not an introvert, public scrutiny can be intense.

You may start feeling the pressure to do the right thing for your brand image and things just doesn't become fun anymore.

Having to sneak around to do what you want? Doesn't sound very enticing. But what you can do is to keep in mind that you are cultivating a personal brand for business purposes.

Think of it as a job. You can switch your personal brand on and off like a light switch.

Establish boundaries from the start. Have a consistent schedule to develop and publish content, and then relax when you don't have to work.

When you're being strategic with your content, there's no need to be 'on' all the time.

Want to show stuff that doesn't fit with your brand image? Make another private account and invite friends and family. Let loose and be yourself.


The bottom line is this: Just because it's called personal branding, doesn't mean that you should make it 100% personal.

All business owners, even those that choose business branding, must be able to take a step back. Take a bird's eye view of everything. You are not your business.



25: Personal Branding vs. Business Branding.


You most likely belong to either one of these categories:

  1. You want your face and identity to be associated with your brand (or at least are comfortable with it)
  2. You don't want to be associated with your brand and prefer to remain behind the scenes.

I belong to the second category. I'm the type that sets every social media profile to 'private', and naturally that extends to how I behave in my own business.

It's important that you decide how you want to present your brand in the first few years. If you belong in the first category, then personal branding might be the route for you. If you're in the second category like me, it's likely that you will go for business branding. In fact, that's what I'm using for Narrativity Consultants.

No type of branding is better than the other. Both has its own pros and cons. What you choose is entirely up to you, your circumstances, and personal preferences. 

As for the work involved, all principles on branding that we've discussed so far apply to both types. Branding is still branding, regardless of the face of the brand.

Today we'll just look briefly at both types as well as their pros and cons.


Personal branding

Nowadays, you don't need to be featured in talk shows or magazines to have a large following. Personal branding is within anybody's reach, as long as they're committed to building that large following.

It requires you to consistently share details of your life. Everything you do online (where people can see) becomes part of your personal branding. When you share something, you use the pronoun 'I'.

And it's crucial that you are comfortable in front of the camera. You have to be the subject matter of the photos, because that is what (or who) people connect best to.


  • Once you have a large, loyal following, your products will almost always sell well because you've gained their trust.
  • It has a quicker start compared to business branding because people instinctively connect to other people better.
  • The work involved to keep up the branding fits more naturally in your day because it's about you.


  • Any attacks from ill-wishers will be personal and malicious.
  • You can only start selling products based on personal branding after you have a substantial following.
  • The pressure to keep up appearances or be 'perfect' online can be overwhelming.

Business branding

This type of branding requires you to establish a whole separate entity, complete with a new look and personality. You transact using the name of the business, rather than your own. You're using the pronoun 'we'.

Because no person is associated with the brand, you'll be relying on the visual identity, e.g. logo and illustrations, more heavily to get noticed. It's important that the visual identity is developed well from the very beginning because it can't be changed that easily.


  • You'll be able to start selling products early because it's expected for businesses to have products.
  • It's easier to scale the business because you can delegate tasks to other people.
  • When something goes wrong, people will be less inclined to blame you personally.


  • You have to work harder to gain customers' trust because it takes more for them to trust a 'faceless' personality.
  • The work involved requires more intention and planning compared to personal branding.
  • How well your product sells depends on how accurate your market research is, unlike personal branding which has its own market it could tap into.

Whatever type you choose to start with, you will NOT be stuck with it for life. A lot of people begin with personal branding, but the business brands they build end up being equally as good a few years down the road. Other people begin with business branding, but consequently become well-known personally after much success.

The purpose of choosing in the first place is to consolidate your resources into one thing, so that you can do it very well. The key to success is focus, not multitasking.

That doesn't mean you have to stick to one type of branding, through thick and thin. We can take steps to minimize or neutralize the cons for both personal and business branding, no matter which one you choose. That's why I said that no type is better than the other.

We'll discuss those steps in the next email. Keep an eye out for it!



23: You Don't Need Your Family's Approval.


You don't need your family's approval when you brand your business.

Or your friends'. There's no need for them to say 'yes' before you say 'yes'.

Every time you have to make a decision -- be it about branding, financing or anything else, really -- the decision is yours alone.

By asking for your family and friends' approval, you're essentially asking them to take responsibility for the decision.

But if the decision turns out to be wrong, the blame isn't exactly shared, is it? No one cares if it's your sister who told you to choose that course of action, because it's your business.

And they'd be right! Who is the most invested in making the business work? No one should care more about the business than the owner.


If it's your business, you have to call the shots.

And that is why as the owner, you should have the final say in everything. Ask for feedback from your friends and family, but you have to decide. You're the leader.

I get that it can be paralyzingly scary. There's pressure to get it right every time you make a decision.

I feel this pressure too, from choosing a newsletter topic to deciding what image to upload on Instagram to buying a software. I'm not always 'on point'.

But that's business for you. It's okay to not always be right. It may sound super corny, but you can learn from your mistakes because you made them yourself.


How do we learn from our mistakes? We retrace our steps and thought processes. We look for patterns and inconsistencies. Then we know what we should have done differently.

Imagine if you're always getting approval from Relative A, Friend B, Colleague C, Sister D. It'll be extremely difficult to determine how exactly they came to their conclusions.

And the decision often ends up becoming a Frankenstein's Monster, because it's the pieces of everyone's opinion sewn together. Your decisions become not streamlined and not consistent.

Remember, it's impossible to please everyone anyway. Don't let your brand become a jumbled mess of contradictions. Ask for feedback, but own your decisions.

You will always make mistakes, but you can choose not to repeat your mistakes. Trust me, you'll be excited with your own growth.



20: More Trust, More Sales. (Part 3)


In the last email, we talked about including your customers in your brand story. When they're part of the story, they're more inclined to believe it and see your brand as a natural component of their lifestyle.

Since I have a lot to share with you on the third point, I'll just jump into it!
You can increase trust in your brand by...

3. Working with other people to promote your product.

Are you familiar with the concept of social proof?

It's a concept that utilizes the power of other people to add another level of trustworthiness to your brand. When we look at other people doing something, it becomes proof that it's okay for us to do the same thing too.

In this context, when your customers see other people using your products, they think it's fine to use your product too.

Even if a brand has personality, it's still not considered a real person. There's still a lot of anxiety involved in trusting something that you can't put a face to.

But to counteract this, a lot of brands are already using social proof in various forms, which I think you're familiar with:

  1. User social proof (screenshots of WhatsApp conversations, reposts of photos)
  2. Expert social proof (getting an expert in the industry to vouch for the product)
  3. Celebrity social proof (brand endorsements, celebrity Instagram reviews)
  4. Friend social proof ("150 of your friends like this too.")
  5. Crowd social proof ("Join 100,000 other people just like you!)

It's interesting how there are so many categories right? All these forms of social proof been used to great effect.

The next time you're about to buy something over the Internet, try to find out if you feel okay or anxious about buying. If it's the former, it's very likely that you found some sort of social proof to ease your anxieties.

So how can you use this concept to your brand's advantage? The method that I'm recommending focus mainly on No. 1, 3, and 4. Let's look at it step by step.

Step 1: What exactly are you achieving by using social proof? 

You're essentially working with other people to promote your brand to your target market. The promotion should increase the trustworthiness of your brand, rather than just creating 'noise'.

Step 2: Who should you work with to use social proof?

The most obvious answer would be celebrities. The second most obvious answer would be influencers / bloggers / famous personalities. The third not-so-obvious answer? Normal people like you and me.

The first two groups of people have large followings, on social media or otherwise. It's logical to maximize our investment and efforts by prioritizing these people.
But normal people like you and me are prime candidates for social proof too, especially if we represent a target market. Why?

  1. For every celebrity and influencer, there are tens of thousands of normal people. So many people to work with and so many untapped potential.
  2. Since not all brands will invest in these people, they will feel special when you devote your attention to them.
  3. These people can accept the products for the products' sake, compared to the first two groups who would most likely be unimpressed (since they receive a lot of products from other brands too!).
  4. You'd be able to get more meaningful feedback and be able to work on your product until it's perfect.
  5. It's more likely that they would tell your friends about your products = word-of-mouth marketing.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't work with celebrities and influencers at all. But marketing is part of their income / business. To a young brand, paying these super influential people to promote your brand may be too expensive!

I mentioned that a condition to working with all three groups is that they must be able to attract your target market (AKA the perfect customers for your brand).

Why should they be able to this? Let's look at the reasoning:

  • Once you properly establish a relationship with your target market, they will buy without much fuss. Because the product is designed with them in mind.
  • On the contrary, no matter how much effort you throw to people OUTSIDE your target market, they will not buy. They're not feeling it.
  • If you insist on converting them into customers, they will set the terms. They will make the demands. This is where they will ask you to change the product / compromise on quality or price.
  • If you're feeling desperate at that moment, you will succumb. I've been there. Money makes a convincing argument. We've got to pay the bills after all.
  • And when you deal with people who just can't appreciate all the passion that goes into your product, it can be a huge downer. Don't do that to yourself.
It's better to please 10 people who care about your product than to bargain with 100 who don't.

Step 3: how do you get social proof? 

First and foremost, you have to introduce them to your product.

  • You can send them free samples. Mini versions of your actual products.
  • You can send them the actual products for free. Depending on the cost, you can reach a lot or a few. Either way, it'll still make an impression.
  • You can send them a coupon for the product / service. This lets them redeem it at a later date. To make it even more risk-free, include a coupon for a friend/family so they'll have someone to keep them company.
  • If you're about to launch your product for the first time, you can give them a special, introductory price. But make sure to never have it priced that low again! 

After they've used your product, personally ask them what they think about it.

THIS IS IMPORTANT Don't send an impersonal email. Use this opportunity to show that you care and that you're dedicated to improving the product.

Don't impose a condition for "good testimonials only" before sending them your product. This is the quickest way to get on the customer's bad side. In fact, don't force them to provide any testimonials at all! 

Just politely request them for a testimonial IF AND ONLY IF they're happy with your product and customer service. And here's the good part --> Explain to them that you're just starting out and value their opinion in order to make your products better.

If they're not happy, ask them on how you can improve their experience. There's so much potential to convert them into a returning customer at this point. 

The testimonial you request can be either/both of these two forms:

  • Ask for a word-only testimonial and ask for permission to use their name. You can then include the testimonial in graphics for your website and social media accounts.
  • Ask them to tag you with photos of your product and ask for their permission to repost the photos.

Working with other people is not just advantageous for your brand, it's also practically necessary. Ideally, your brand should have mutually-beneficial relationships with many other parties. A symbiosis of some sort. But you'll need to be intentional with it so that it won't just be another 'hack'.



19: 3 Tools I Use To Create My Brand SOPs.


I thought I'd change it up a bit by sharing with you my favourite tools from the Internet that help me create workflows for Narrativity & Co.

Why do you need SOPs?

It's important for businesses to have Standard Operating Procedures. These SOPs are workflows that are proven, repeatable and efficient. They ensure you get consistent results for the least amount of effort. The alternative is being frazzled, overwhelmed and all over the place when you carry out a task.

When you don't have a solid plan for key aspects of your biz, you run the risk of making mistakes and turning customers away. It's very bad branding. 

To scale up your business (more products, bigger premises, more employees), all the neat tricks that you've learned all this while should be written down. I'll show you an example of the workflow I use for article writing for NC. 

  1. Decide on a category: branding, design, content marketing and productivity.
  2. Brainstorm on a topic or choose one topic from my collection of article ideas.
  3. Choose one component of the article that I want to focus on: who, what, when, why, where and how.
  4. Brainstorm at least 3 headline ideas, with help from the Headline Analyzer (which will be explained below)
  5. Duplicate a blog outline that I have on my Evernote and save it with the chosen headline.
  6. Write down points into the blog outline in Evernote.
  7. Ask and answer the 5W1H questions for every point to make it clearer to the reader.
  8. Create a header on Adobe Illustrator using a header template that I've prepared from the beginning.
  9. Explain the big idea by elaborating further on each point.
  10. Plan and design article graphics with reference to the article on Adobe Illustrator.
  11. Upload the header, article and graphics on to the website.
  12. Make the necessary formatting to the article.
  13. Publish the article.
  14. Create a square version of the header for Instagram and the archives using a previously prepared template.
  15. Update the archives and Instagram page.
  16. Update NC Instagram  with the square photo with a Call to Action (CTA) of telling people to read the article on the website.
  17. Monitor site traffic using Google Analytics.

(Note: It's possible to have more SOPs for steps inside your SOP! I have more detailed workflows for brainstorming topics, writing down points and formatting the article. The SOP you see here can be described as a 'general' SOP)

This is the my SOP for blog-writing so far and it works! I never rule out the possibility of making more changes to this SOP because I would love to improve the quality while reducing the time it takes to prepare each blog post.

SOPs are no fun!

Does it stifle my creativity when I adhere to this SOP? NOPE. On the contrary, I find that when I am being consistent, it's easy for my brand voice and personality to shine through. The consistency creates a sense of familiarity for NC readers.

This SOP and others are born out of trial and error. Don't aim to create a perfect SOP right off the bat. You have to be flexible and adjust your process whenever something doesn't work. That way, your output will just keep getting better and better. 

That said, a quicker route to a good SOP is by studying existing tools on the market and adapting their features to your own circumstances. These tools are usually developed to streamline or handle certain steps of SOPs (and cost money).

Most times, I opt for the free versions and play around with them to get a sense of how they can save time or make the work easier. I then recreate the flow using other free apps or softwares.

my 3 tools for creating sops

Here's the three tools that I've found to be exceptionally helpful so far:

CoSchedule Plugin

CoSchedule is a WordPress plugin that handles the editorial calendar for blogging, social media scheduling, and workflow management. Everything you need to run a successful blog in one place. Usually utilized by marketing and editorial teams of big blogs and companies.

What I learned: How to break down writing a great article into small and manageable tasks.

CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer

Besides the plugin, they came up with a (free) nifty little tool that assesses your headline ideas and gives you a score out of 100. It'll also give you suggestions to make your headlines better, like reducing the word count or adding a positive-emotion word. (Choosing headlines is a very, very serious business for bloggers and content marketers)

What I learned: The components that make a headline (or title) truly clickworthy.


Calendly is a tool that helps you schedule events with other people. Face-to-face meetings, phone calls and more event types can be 'booked' by viewing your calendar and selecting a time and date. This means you don't have to communicate back and forth to see when both parties are free. The calendar will only show the other party your free times and dates, so they will just need to choose one and that'll be in both your calendars!

What I learned: An uncomplicated and streamlined way of liaising with clients.

There are other tools that I use to make the work easier, but these are the ones that have made the most impact. I hope they'll help you out as much as they do for me!

In the next email, we'll be picking up where we left off: More Trust, More Sales. (Part 3)



18: More Trust, More Sales. (Part 2)


We discussed about projecting trustworthiness to get customers to take a chance on you in the last email.

In summary, going through your social media profiles as if you're a total stranger and potential customer will help you see what needs to change. You have to impress both existing customers and potential customers. 

We have to remove any hesitation to buy on the their part. Remove the barrier that is standing between the customers and your amazing product. What's another way you can remove the customer's hesitation?

2. You should: include your customers in your narrative.

Have you ever talked with someone, and you don't feel good coming out of that conversation?

  • They didn't express any interest in you.
  • They kept talking about themselves and how good they are.
  • It felt more like a monologue than a dialogue.
  • They weren't properly listening to what you have to say.

This could be happening to any brand. How the brand tells its story (aka the narrative) must take into consideration how the listener feels.

But what usually happens is that there is no trust because there is no actual conversation between the brand and the customer. The brand only makes announcements and speeches on various marketing channels. (Properly written as they may be)

In Crafting A Compelling Brand Story, I mentioned that the brand story creates emotional glue between your brand and customers. They become loyal to you because of the brand story.

The brand story only becomes emotional glue when it's relatable.

The story has to be crafted in a way that allows customers to step into the brand's shoes, or are inspired to do so. If they think that the story is nice, but can't relate to it, then they won't buy.

Let's look at Adidas again. On its website, they listed these values as part of their brand:

  • Authentic
  • Passionate
  • Innovative
  • Inspirational
  • Committed
  • Honest

They successfully weaved these values into their their marketing strategies. Adidas' mission is to be the leading sports brand in the world, but if you look at its Youtube channel again, are there lots of videos about shoes or their other products?

NO! Eventhough they're selling those products, they constantly focus on the story as told by the various athletes they collaborate with. Because the story is telling customers that "this could be you". 

"You're a passionate and committed athlete too." 

And because a lot of people identify with these values, Adidas' products fit perfectly in their lives. They're inspired, they want to be a great athlete, so they take action. And Adidas' products are helping them take action.

That's what you should do. In your brand story, don't focus too much on your products. If you keep talking about your products and their 1001 benefits, it can get annoying pretty fast.

Focus instead on your brand values and how they relate to your customers. Sell them on your brand values first. Once they're in love with your brand, they will commit. And they will always buy. 

- Aina Ismail 



17: More Trust, More Sales.


In the Sale, Sale, Sale newsletter, we had a general look at scarcity and trust. In this email, we're going to probe deeper into how we can use trust to attract customers without lowering prices. 

Trust is the most important thing any business could hope to get from any transaction. Trusting customers come back to buy more products from you. It's far easier to sell to a returning customer than to convince a new one to buy. 

How do you get customers to trust you?

You have a loyal fanbase when you have a lot of these returning customers.
Building trust requires a dedicated effort in doing things like:

  • Forging personal connections with customers. You know most (or at least some of them) by name.
  • Delivering on your promises. Your products arrive on the customers' doorsteps in tip-top condition.
  • Being transparent about your mistakes. You straight up admit to your mistakes and make things right.
  • Providing consistent customer service. You do your best every single time, even when you're busy!

But those are trust earned when customers are already buying from you. How do you get POTENTIAL customers to say, "Hey, I'll try out this new brand!"?

Your brand has to look trustworthy.

Brands are judged by appearances. It's an undeniable fact and you should always keep in this mind.

It's natural to be attracted to beautiful things. It's equally natural to be repulsed or reluctant about less-than-attractive things. Which brings us to the first step in using trust to attract customers.

1. You shouldn't: Sacrifice professionalism to score likes.

In this day and age, the bar is set high for businesses. Your business is EXPECTED to look great. It's not a question of choice -- good design is professionalism. I talked about this in the 5 Important Design Facts You Need to Know For Your Business.

Just like you would wear your best clothes to a job interview, brands have to always look their best because they are continuously assessed by customers. Your brand's Instagram profile could be thoroughly vetted down to the very first photo.

So it's tempting to be fun and trendy when posting on social media. You want to build rapport with your followers, so it would be good to post stuff like this right?

 It's funny! And it's a sentiment the followers would appreciate. They'd like it that you're just the same as them.

No, you can't post stuff like this.

It doesn't matter that those kind of photos get you likes. It doesn't matter that your followers comment on those photos agreeing with the sentiment.

It just doesn't look professional. You're funny to your existing followers, but you don't look serious to potential ones.

Even if a photo or image is funny, it doesn't mean that it's right for your brand.

It's important to remember that one photo in your profile is not just a photo. You have to view it from the eyes of a stranger who just clicked on your profile. What will they see? What will be their overall impression?

Will they see photos that convey a brand image that appeals to them? Or will they see photos like the one above? It isn't visually attractive, and it won't add any lasting value to your brand.

If you don't look professional, you don't look trustworthy. If you don't look trustworthy, potential customers will walk away. Even if your products are amazing, they'll be scared to give you a try because you don't look like a legitimate brand. 

Your followers won't miss those funny photos. They don't have any value. Don't feed them valueless things.

If you find it difficult to post interesting things on your social media platforms, then you're better off not posting as frequently than to post things that don't look professional. Take a break from social media to create versatile and interesting content and then come back with quality.



16: Less Is More. (Part 2)


You and I have already looked at two things you shouldn't do in order to use "scarcity" as a strategy. 

  • You shouldn't spread yourself thin by doing everything your customers ask of you, product/service-wise. You don't want to just be someone "convenient", you want to be chosen because your products are excellent.
  • You shouldn't let customers dictate terms of sale and delivery. By being firm, customers believe you when you say something is in limited stocks. This creates urgency.

Ok, on to the third point!


3. You shouldn't: Dilute your brand power.

What is brand power? It's hard for me to sum it up nicely in a sentence, so I'll try to describe it with a few sentences. Brand power is the force that makes customers:

  • travel far and wide just to come to your store (or your booth) to buy your products.
  • genuinely engage with your social media accounts because they want to. (Not to ask "ada saiz tak?")
  • feel frustrated when they couldn't place an order because you're out of stock.

I'm trying to paint a picture of a brand that's much loved and thought of. It's not exactly something people need, but something people want. In the world of marketing, "want" is exactly what you should aim for. 

Brand power makes people beg for your products, not the other way round.

Ideally, brand power is something that all brands should have sole control of. It should be wielded and monitored only by the brand.

But sometimes, it seems strategic and convenient to share the brand power with other parties:

  • Agents
  • Retailers/stockists
  • Distributors

These parties can help a brand spread to other profitable locations and handle the nitty gritty details of getting products to customers.

Theoretically, this would be awesome for the brand. You'd be able to concentrate on product development, marketing, funding, and other equally important tasks that need attention.


The problem with selling through other parties

So what's the problem? These are the potential issues with giving away the power to other parties:

  1. Can't control customer's experience. The sales process, delivery, packaging, etc.
  2. Can't control pricing. Depending on your agreement, the other party may be able to raise and lower prices arbitrarily according to their own agenda.
  3. Can't control marketing. Are they portraying your brand personality correctly? Or are they intent on making money that they would do anything to make the sale?

I'm not saying these problems will come up every time, but the potential is there. And the worst thing about giving away brand power to other parties?

The customers don't come to you. 

Ideally, whenever customers want your product, they should come directly to you. No middle-men involved. Direct contact with the brand is what creates brand loyalty. You want to create a big and engaged audience for future products.

But young brands often turn to other parties to make the product more accessible to customers. They try to make the product more available. More available = more sales. Right?

It can be flattering to have a major retailer invite you to sell your products on their platform. But is it the best path for your brand's future?

Yes. But when you sell your products through other people, the brand power will be diluted. You can't make people travel all the way from Penang if they can get your product in their neighbourhood. It's hardly scarce.


How can you make sure that you use the scarcity strategy correctly?

The solution is investing the time and money in developing your own platform.

  • You can invest in an intuitive, easy-to-manage e-commerce site.
  • You can develop your own delivery system.
  • You can hire people to handle customer service.
  • You can hire people with qualifications to handle marketing, sales or other areas you want to delegate.

And the list goes on. These improvements concentrate on your brand strong and established, instead of focusing on expansion too early.

It actually isn't wrong to engage agents, retailers and distributors. They are key players in any expansion strategy. But don't be too hasty and flood the market with your product. 

Concentrate more on your platform. The fire will catch slower, but burn longer.



15: Less Is More.


In the last email, we talked about the impact of constantly throwing a "sale". We also looked into two methods that successful brands use to constantly be in demand, without having to lower prices.

  1. Scarcity. Not being too available for people. Makes them buy quickly in order not to "miss out".
  2. Trust. Reducing anxieties and issues related to buying so that customers don't change their mind about buying.

In today's email, we're going to dig deeper into how you can utilize scarcity when you do marketing.

Q: Why is it necessary to talk about marketing tactics if our main focus is on branding?

A: If a brand doesn't act like a premium brand, there's no point in creating a premium visual identity. Branding is as much about how the brand acts as it is about its appearance.

What is scarcity?

It's defined as the state of being scarce or in short supply. Undersupply as opposed to oversupply. In the context of marketing, your customers are unable to buy your products as much or as often as they would like. 

You intentionally limit their purchase to create an impression of being the best, high quality and being in demand. (As I mentioned in the last email, it's important to have a product that they want to buy a lot and often in the first place)


Why scarcity?

A smart brand intentionally uses scarcity to invoke: 

  1. Anticipation. They wait impatiently for the next time the product is available.
  2. Status. Not everybody can buy this.
  3. Pleasure and appreciation. They had to work harder for it, so they value it more.

That's how it works generally. But to implement this practically, it's easier to look at things you shouldn't do.

1. You shouldn't: Do everything the customer asks you to.

This applies more to service-based businesses, but can be relevant to product-based businesses too. Doing every single thing that is requested may seem like the best way to the customers' hearts, but it doesn't give you the respect and excellence required to be a premium brand.

Let's look at an example.

X is a baker. She originally set out only to bake cakes and brownies, but her regulars persuaded her to bake macarons, cookies and cupcakes for them. (Customers can be very persuasive) Soon enough, she finds herself unable to say NO to any kind of order.

Sure, she makes money. But what kind of reputation is she setting for her brand? What exactly will her regulars say about her to other people? "Order from X! She can bake anything!"

At first glance, that seems like a positive comment. But when you look at it closely, you'll see that it means that X is a quick fix. Although her baked goods may be delicious, they don't come to her because she's special. They order from her because she's always ready to bow to their needs.


In other words, she's letting her customers set the agenda instead of sticking to her own plan. It'll be very difficult to grow her business if she goes on like this. Look at any luxury brands and you'll see that they dictate what they sell, not the customers.

If you want to be extra nice to your customers by doing something they've specifically requested, have it be the exception rather than the norm.

Related article: How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet (In this one, I discussed the importance of doing one thing at a time and how you can use it to your brand's advantage)


2. You shouldn't: Torture yourself to make a sale.

Hey Aina, you've insisted on putting the customers first when we looked at the brand details. Why not go above and beyond for your customers now?

There's a difference between giving customers an exemplary service and letting them run the business. 

Boundaries are necessary for your sanity and for customers to fully appreciate that you also have other customers. It's professional and efficient.

It's important to have a proper system in place, for both sales and delivery.

  • Sales: The process of taking an order for a product/service from the customer.
  • Delivery: Getting the product/service to the customer. Many business owners handle this personally by going to the post office themselves. 

When you process orders personally, there will always be customers who don't want to follow the guidelines you've set. Maybe they don't order at respectable hours. Maybe they don't want to use the established payment options.

When it comes to deliveries, they may want the product/service sooner than possible. Maybe they want you to deliver at weird hours. I'm not saying this nastily; most times customers don't even realize that they're inconveniencing somebody.

If it's an emergency and you choose to process it for them, then it's awesome. But if it's normal for customers to demand for the product however they want it, consider this; If they can order anytime and any way they want, where's the urgency? 

Why would they rush to buy your product after you say "newly stocked" or "limited stocks"? They will disregard that because they know they're going to be entertained anyway.

They know that you're still going to play nice with them even if they follow your process. They're used to that kind of behaviour.

A premium brand sells at their own terms. They take customer experience and satisfaction into consideration, but they don't bend over backwards to cater to the customers' whims.

You owe it to your brand to not be a doormat.


Because the email is crazy long already, I'm going to talk about Point #3 (diluting your brand power) in the next email. Keep an eye out for it!



14: Sale Sale Sale


In the last email, we looked at charging according to the quality and skill that goes into your product. If we consistently charge at below market price, that kind of pricing will become part of our brand. If you're okay with it, there's no problem.

If it makes you feel bad, don't do it. 

So that's about setting appropriate prices for your products. It's easy for me to tell you to charge more. But it takes a lot of confidence for you to stick to that kind of pricing.

It takes a lot of guts to maintain your prices, especially when the products aren't selling. Or they're not selling fast enough.

This is the time where doubts start to creep in and you start to consider lowering prices. I don't blame you. The pressure can be overwhelming. #beentheredonethat


Enter the SALE.

Introductory price, promotion price, half price, special offer, one-time price, hot sale, best deal. So many terms for what is essentially, the lowering of prices. 

But there's no denying that that the SALE sign works. We all shop around for the best deals. We know first-hand how successful the sale strategy is.

But use the sale strategy too often and you'll be the sale brand. Customers will be too accustomed to paying the "sale price" that the full price won't even be an option anymore. It's an incredibly short-term strategy with long-term damage.

The sale strategy brings you short-term profits but leaves long-term damage.

So what's your alternative?

  • How do you get products to constantly be sold out?
  • How do some brands clear their stock in a matter of hours?

I'll explain briefly on two of the many methods that successful brands use to get customers coming to them without lowering prices.



1. Scarcity

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If your products are too available, how can you create that intense longing? People want and pine for things that they can't have, or things they can't have yet.

If you create a scarcity,  you're basically playing hard to get. Because there are less of your products in stock, people essentially have to compete with each other to buy.

Scarcity creates urgency. Urgency makes people take out their purses or wallets and buy NOW.

They don't want to miss out, because that will mean that they won't fit in. (Goes back to social approval in "Tapping Into Basic Desires to Find Your Angle.")

Of course, this is contingent on your products being excellent in the first place. 


2. Trust

People are getting used to buying stuff online, but they're not feeling 100% secure yet. This is especially if the brand they're purchasing from doesn't have an e-commerce site. Customers have to pay via cash deposit or bank transfer and hope for the best. 

This is also true for brick and mortar stores. Things like refunds and returns can affect the customers' decision.

You have to earn the customer's trust. This is non-negotiable. There's a lot of anxiety involved. But if you can reduce the anxiety and increase the trust, products will move faster.

I can't tell you how many times I ended up not buying from businesses online because they just look fishy.

Customers buy from brands or people that they trust. Or at least look trustworthy.

Examine the way a customer might view your brand. Are your marketing materials professional and dignified? Can a customer make a purchase easily? Is your service transparent and customer-oriented?

I know you're honest. You know you're honest. But if your customers don't know that, it'll be hard to convince them to buy.


Lowering prices is EASY. Anyone can do it. But these strategies I told you about? They kinda take considerable effort on your part. 

But while the first makes you money quickly, the latter keeps you in business longer. Don't be the brand that customers ask, "How low can you go?"

Be the kind of brand that's always in demand and trustworthy. It's possible if you take the time to create the right reputation. We'll focus more on those strategies in the coming email.



13: Don't Be Afraid To Charge More


If charging low prices for your products/services makes you feel bad, don't do it.

Don't feel like you have to lower prices when somebody complains or decides not to buy because you're too expensive for them. Charge what you are worth. Charge based on the quality of your ingredients/materials, and based on the skills you used to make those products.



This newsletter was prompted by the fact that there's a #macaronmurah hashtag on Instagram. I haven't eaten many macarons but I know for a fact that they're not considered a "cheap" type of dessert.

I'm not trying to be elitist. I don't think macarons should be expensive and eaten only by the rich and fabulous. What bugs me about the hashtag is that macarons aren't that easy to make. I wouldn't be able to get the shells round and perfect the first time around. 

It requires a certain skill to get them right, because they're apt to turn out flat, cracked or hollow. If a person can consistently produce a big batch of perfectly round macaron shells, that says something doesn't it? So why cheapen their own product with the hashtag?


You are what you charge.

Pricing is part of branding. If you consistently price your products below the market price, customers will begin to associate that kind of price with your brand. A reputation that has stuck cannot so easily be shrugged off. The opposite is true as well. Charge premium prices, become known as a premium brand.

Just to be clear: pricing is your prerogative. You know your own product and market more than I do. All I'm saying is that if it forces you to cut corners, don't do it. If it makes you feel trapped, don't do it.

The money that comes from charging what you are worth allows you to innovate. You can use the money to invest in learning new skills, tools, and make improvements to your products/services. In a way, it even forces you to innovate, because you have to deliver on the customers' expectations.

I'm going to throw in a statement that's not universal, but probably applies to you in some situations:

The more expensive something is, the more valuable it is perceived to be.

I know it doesn't apply to all situations. You probably try to make smart purchases, and judge the quality of a product carefully. But it's likely that you don't/can't do this for all aspects of your life. Especially if there is an emotional value attached to the product. This is where cheap = disposable, expensive = investment.

Is your product DISPOSABLE or an INVESTMENT for people?

So don't worry about people who complain about your prices. If the product you poured your heart into is truly excellent, you shouldn't concede to their demands. The people who complain won't be good customers anyway, so they're not the people you should be targeting. Focus on the people who care about the quality.



12: Crafting A Compelling Brand Story


I've talked about finding the Meaning before creating a Visual Identity. Both components come together to create great Branding.
The Meaning isn't exactly some vague promise about how your brand will be better than other brands out there. People can't connect to that. What you need is something more, well, meaningful.

For starters, answer these questions to get to the root of your brand:

  1. What problem are you solving with your brand?
  2. What are your products or services?
  3. Why did you want to start the business in the first place?
  4. What are the problems you anticipate in the future in running your business?
  5. What are the values that you adopt for your brand?
  6. What are your business goals?
  7. Where do you see your brand one, three or five years from now?
  8. What product/service/industry do you plan to expand into?
  9. What does success look like to you?

A great Meaning can be used internally, as part of your business plan. I mentioned that you can use it to base your to-do lists on. But the Meaning can also be used externally as your brand story.


A brand story helps people connect to your brand.

A brand story creates emotional glue between your brand and your customers. It's what creates the intense and sometimes unquestioning devotion that brands dream about. Think Android fanboys vs Apple fanboys.

One of the most successful brand stories the story of Steve Jobs and Apple.

But to craft this brand story, you can't simply outline the emotion you want your customers to feel and leave it at that. The story itself has to be profound and genuine enough to invoke that emotion. 
Let's look at Adidas. If you look at its Youtube channel, you can see so many stories by athletes like Jeremy Lin and Leo Messi. They're telling the story of Adidas, but from their own perspective. The core of the brand's stories remain the same, but the details change. 

But to ensure that the athletes' stories reinforce the Adidas brand, Adidas had to properly craft its own original story first. Right? Can't put the cart before the horse.


How to write a great brand story

So how do you craft a great story? Storytelling takes its rules from fiction-writing, but it's not as hard as writing a novel. For starters, your story shouldn't be more than a page. All the good parts must be written concisely so that it's easy to digest. If it's hard to digest, the Meaning would be lost.
I took the Storytelling for Leaders: How to Craft Stories that Matter class on Skillshare and it has been very enlightening. Putting the brand story into words is a lot easier when it's broken down into three parts by the teacher, Keith Yamashita. The parts are:

The Topic

  • The story of Me
  • The story of Us (or Our Company)
  • The story of an Idea
  • The story of Results

The Components

  • "Once Upon A Time.."
  • A World View
  • Great Characters
  • Challenging Situations
  • Conflict
  • Drama
  • Lessons Learned
  • New Possibility
  • "Happily Ever After.."

The Archetype

  • Coming of Age
  • Overcoming Obstacles
  • Constant Evolution
  • True As It Ever Was
  • Rebirth
  • Quest

When used together, these parts allow you to create a compelling brand story for your own brand. This brand story can then be repurposed into so many marketing materials, from your website to your social media profiles to your packaging.

I highly recommend for you to take this class, because it covers a total of only 21 minutes, has great content, and is free of charge. It has opened my eyes to another valuable skill that I could apply to branding and marketing. Let me know if you like it!



11: Why Are We Talking So Much About Quality?


I've been saying the word "quality" so often these days.

  • Use quality ingredients/materials.
  • Be seen as a quality brand.
  • Give out quality information.
  • Cultivate quality relationships with quality customers.

I know that you know quality is good. I also know that you know why. But I'll just lay out the reasons so that we can both think more on the topic. 


Quality has to be seen to be believed.

If you invest in your customers, you win. And that means investing in branding.

It sounds a bit odd that by investing in branding, you're investing in your customers. Why spend more money on something the customers can't actually use?

Why can't we just take the money we allocated for branding and use it to make the products better instead?

Quality of your actual products is not enough to convince people to buy. Customers have to see this quality even before they ever buy something. How do they do that? Through branding and marketing!

Customers can "see" and judge the quality of your products from your branding. The branding makes them think, "This looks good. I want to try this!"

If customers can't "see" the quality, you will be OVERLOOKED. Customers WILL judge a product by its branding.

But many people don't get this. They don't acknowledge branding and/or marketing as a way to create a good reputation with customers. They see it as something unnecessary / exaggerated / dishonest. They don't spend the necessary time and money to cultivate a brand that can be seen as high quality.


Branding is how you can attract more customers and scale up your business.

I'm not by any stretch implying that the majority of business owners are stingy humans who refuse to care about their customers. NOPE. I know that that's incredibly untrue.

I believe that most business owners actually channel their profits back into their own products. They use quality materials or ingredients and are very generous with their portions.

That's why they cut back on other expenses (i.e. branding). It shows you how passionate they are about their own products. They believe in word-of-mouth marketing.

But I also believe that most business owners want their business to be BIGGER. MORE WELL-KNOWN.

Bigger than their friends and friends of friends. Bigger than just relatives and friends of relatives. We're talking about being able to attract strangers as customers. Getting customers from all over the world.

If you want to sell to a friend of a friend, that mutual friend can put a good word in. Praise your product to the person.

But it's not possible when you're selling to strangers. These people have to be convinced without having a mutual friend recommend you.

Your branding is what speaks to them. Strangers have to feel that your brand is a great brand just by looking at it. Strangers don't have


Branding is only dishonest when it doesn't match people's expectations.

Exaggerated / dishonest marketing happens when customer don't get what they paid for. The actual value (in the product) is much lower than the perceived value (brand materials). This is bad.

Without branding, you'll find it hard to get customers interested in your products in the first place. If the customers think your products don't have any value, they won't buy.  

That's why I say that branding = investing in your customers. If you honestly and passionately believe that your product or service is good, you owe it to your customers to present it in the best light possible. And you owe it to yourself to grab the best chance of succeeding.



8: Maybe I'll Just Do Branding When My Business Is Bigger


In the last email, I talked about the importance of not trying to please everyone. We looked into these points:

  • It's natural to want approval and consequently, want your business to be a household brand.
  • But it's literally impossible to get everyone to be a fan, and very inconvenient for your business.
  • You have to focus on similar needs, wants and backgrounds so that you can create a group of customers called the target market.
  • This allows you to appeal to as many people as possible, while spending less money on branding.

Nonetheless, branding still seems insurmountable to some. It looks like a necessary evil that they want to put off to a later time. They want to do it when:

  • They have more money to invest
  • They have more time to focus on their business
  • They have more customers
  • They have more products to sell

But "more" is hard to define, and very easy to forget. The very fact that branding is set aside can be the thing that stops them from getting more money, more time, more customers and more products. Funny, right?

Trying to save money on branding will prevent you from making more money in the long run.

I have nothing against business owners who choose not to invest in branding. There are some businesses that, in my opinion, don't need branding in the more comprehensive sense, like:

  • those that rely heavily on location and convenience, like the person who sells burgers by the side of the road
  • those that are intentionally short-term, like people who act as agents for other brands

They may practice some aspects of branding that allow them to be remembered by their regular customers, but nothing too extensive. And it's fine! It works for them, because they're not planning to expand their business. 

But what about people who want their business to grow? From one outlet to three or five. Klang Valley only to Selangor. Selangor to nationwide. Nationwide to Asian regions. Asian regions to worldwide.

It's true that there are businesses that are doing well without any real branding. But if those businesses want to expand, they need a brand to unite under. Or else they'd be starting from scratch at each new location.

I'm talking about people who are so very passionate about their business. They believe in its potential to solve problems and its quality. Is there a reason why they aren't as excited for branding?


You can start small with branding.

I haven't done a valid research on this, but I have a hunch. I think that people delay branding because of the perceived cost. They think that they have to start with a bang. Business cards, packaging, website, uniforms, stationery -- to make them, you need money! 

At least, that's how I was when I was running my previous two businesses. I didn't want any unnecessary expenditure - like branding - to cut into my profits. 

But here's the thing: Branding is not an all-or-nothing investment. It can be scaled up, expanded and added to. It grows alongside your business. 

Your business doesn't need to be launched with all the fancy tricks and shiny new equipments. With branding, it's possible to start small. You need to work on the big questions first without worrying about the visual and physical details. Those things can come later.


Start by writing down what your brand is about.

Here's some of the branding questions that you can think about that doesn't cost any money but are extremely important for your business:

  • What your business is all about (It sounds so simple but a lot of people aren't actually clear about what they do!)
  • Your reason for starting the business
  • The problem(s) that you plan to solve with your business
  • The potential problems you will face when you move forward with your business
  • Your business goals (Financial or otherwise)
  • Where you see your business one, three and five years from now (Visualize it!)
  • Your current products/services and what you plan to add
  • What success looks like to you (Happy customers? Big coverage? Making money?)

These are just on the tip of the iceberg. Don't write one-liners, write as much as you can! Delve into your own mind because as the owner, you'll be the one driving your business forward. You can't afford to be unclear.

These branding questions will act as a blueprint for your brand. It's a tangible thing that will ensure all your efforts actually contribute towards achieving your goals. The graphic designer who will design your visual identity would also have a much easier time designing something that will help your brand grow.


You can brand everything, but you don't have to start with everything. Great branding can be scaled up with no problem and it starts with you. The designer can create a visual identity, but it's not his business. He doesn't know what your business is about. He is paid to translate your vision. 

It's your business. You have to give it your meaning. 

In the next email, we'll look at how to prioritize which detail you should brand first if you don't have a lot of money to invest yet.



3: Is Branding Just About The Looks?

Is branding just about the colours, patterns, icons, and all the visual details?

In a way, YES. One of the most important ways your customers perceive your brand is through their eyes. They see your brand by looking at your Instagram photos, packaging, company stationery (among many others).

But this visual identity is the result of branding. You don't start with the visual identity first.

When we want to do branding, we don't go into it blind. We can't just pick a colour palette and hope for the prettiest look.

Of course, you can design the visual details first and assign meaning to them later. "The yellow represents... Ummm... Sunshine and growth!"

But it will make it so much harder for you to expand your business and attract the customers you want to be selling to.

Related article: 6 Reasons Why You Should Only Sell to One Customer

The design that has no basis will be so ingrained in your business that you might find it near impossible to change. A reputation that has stuck could force you onto the same unprofitable path month by month. 

Helter-skelter branding will not produce the brand that YOU will feel happy about.

But enough about that. I'm not trying to scare you into branding. It's just that with two prior businesses under my belt, I'm seeing all the things I've done wrong. I focused on the visual identities without thinking about the way I wanted to position my brands in the market. Sounds like a bit of soul-searching, doesn't it?

I should have sat down and mapped where I want my business to be 2, 3 or even 5 years from now. I should have dug deep and analysed why I wanted these brands to exist.

So the other answer to the question is NO, branding is not just about the looks. It's not meant to be shallow or one-dimensional. 

Branding = Meaning + Visual Identity. Without Meaning behind your Visual Identity, there is no branding.