Growing Pains: Building Your Identity

There are so many facets to a business’s brand, beyond a logo and website. When building a brand, it can be difficult to give full attention to the variables. To get a feel for the process, we spoke with Patrick Hanlon of Thinktopia and Dave Fransen of Fast Horse to get their advice.

How Important is Branding From the Beginning of a Business’s Life?

Fransen: It is very important. Critical, really. From day one your brand communicates who you are and what principles guide your business. Establish a voice and a niche for your brand and make sure it resonates with the audiences that are most important. Connecting with them through the right channels is key from the moment you open your doors.

But it’s important to recognize that brand building and marketing are not second nature to everyone. As a practice, it requires a lot of input and constant modification. Don’t be afraid to look for help to get a strong start.

How Can A Small Business Set Themselves Up For Successful Branding?

Hanlon: The number one thing for any business to understand is that nobody cares if you succeed; you have to make them care. To make that happen, you need a strategic brand narrative including a creation story, creed, rituals, icons, sacred words, nonbelievers, and a leader. These elements all factor into a strong brand story. A brand can survive for a while with bits and pieces of a belief system, but to truly last, you need all seven.

In the end, people want to belong to a group. Having a belief system attracts people (both customers and employees) to your brand and creates advocates and fans – a community of people just like you.

If Your Brand Is Constantly Evolving, How Do You Plan For The Future?

Fransen: You need to think long-term from the beginning, be concise but not confining. Think outside of traditional channels to engage with your audience. Mix and match your approaches and maximize touch points to create a lasting impact with your potential end users. Once you know your long-term destination, stay true to yourself and your mission. Communicating about your brand isn’t just about your product, it should be fueled by your purpose, vision and values to give your audience a chance to align themselves to what you’re offering.

What Are Some Common Mistakes Business Owners Make Regarding Branding?

Hanlon: Too often, business owners are confused. They think “branding” is the logo and website, or something that only big companies can do, like Nike, Apple or Coke. If you aren’t telling your own story, you leave your brand in the hands of others – those simply observing your story. Taking control of your brand narrative allows you to recover and bridge hurdles or crises along the way.

Brands drive growth, awareness, and longevity. Most importantly, your brand is not your product. It’s the crowd of fans, users, and vendors that surround your product. That community only exists because you have created a story that attracts them toward a common belief. That means you need a story, because stories tell us who you are and why you come to work in the morning; they not only identify you, they define you.


Patrick Hanlon is founder and CEO of the global brand transformation firm, Thinktopia®. His book Primal Branding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company and Your Future is in six languages and required reading at YouTube. He is a contributor to Forbes, Inc., Medium, Fast Company and a rebellious thinker/ influencer in our world of marketing and innovation. Clients include Google, PayPal, Shopify, Levi’s, Yum! Brands, Microsoft, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wrigley’s, TimeWarner, and more. Thinktopia has conducted business on every continent except Antarctica (which gives them their stretch goal).

Dave Fransen is a vice president of accounts at Fast Horse, an integrated creative agency in Minneapolis. He’s a thought-leader, strategic communicator and brand builder for a broad range of clients, spearheading the agency’s work on such nationally and internationally recognized campaigns as Newcastle Brown Ale’s Cannes Lion-winning “If They Made It” and Coca-Cola’s Effie award-winning “Share a Coke.” He currently leads the General Mills, Heineken and Sunrise Banks accounts for Fast Horse.

Digital Banking Log In

Securely log in to digital banking to manage your accounts, send payments, transfer money and pay bills.


Forgot Password