My mother spent last November on her hands and knees in a basement crawl space. She’d decided to “weed out her stash” of Christmas decorations.
For years, she carefully balanced mountains of holiday decor in the pine-scented closet under the basement stairs. Want to see what fifty years of Christmas YA-HA looks like? Okay. All I ask is that you open the door CAREFULLY.
A collection of green Santas, innumerable ornaments, swaths of swag, Christmas candles, at least two creches, advent calendars, wreaths, holiday themed welcome mats and wind socks, and a multitude of heavenly hosts singing, “Glory to God on the highest! And peace to his people on earth!”
She asked what my sister and I wanted. I could have had it all. But I only wanted one thing: a Christmas ornament my mother bought me when I was a little girl (an annoyingly talkative little girl with awkward little girl glasses, who was crazy about Wonder Woman).
Wonder Woman meant something to me. She was the figure I counted on when I felt awkward. She was a totem that represented a way I could be strong. She made me feel okay about having opinions and expressing them. Wonder Woman made me aspire to make liars tell the truth, gave me a model for surrounding myself with Amazons & showed me I could deflect nonsense off my magic bracelets. Wonder Woman is an example of Branding Advice I share with my clients:
Great branding helps customers locate and understand themselves and what they want to be within a system. Great branding says ‘I SEE YOU’ first. Companies that thrive figure out how to embed I REALLY SEE YOU by reflecting back to people an aspirational position in a system. Great branding, like Wonder Woman, becomes a totem for your customers to help see themselves. Out of touch brands ask us to aspire to impossible standards, relevant brands invite us to aspire to our best selves and better angels.
Here are two steps to being figuring out how your brand can become a totem:
1. Identify the system(s) your brand operates in and the values within that sphere. Maybe it’s an educational system and the value is knowledge? A technological system and the value is ease? A cohort and the value is belonging? A financial system and the value is freedom?
2. Brainstorm visual or written ways for your customers to locate themselves in that system and its values, feel seen and inspired and want to be with you on the journey. When you connect with your client’s life or culture, your brand becomes a TOTEM. That’s great branding. That’s what you want.