Stand against something or you'll fall. Hard.
To make the most of this post there are a few things you should’ve done before getting into this.
Take the time to create the elements of your brand. That means, work on your ideal customer profile. Understand and implement whatever it takes for you too woo your ideal customer. Know your sob story and get really good at telling it to the right audience in the right way. Your brand story is what you make of the elements that already exist in your business.
WHAT I WAS LISTENING TO:
In this post, I’m going to teach you how to sprinkle some magic dust to make all of those things come together so that you have a cohesive story your brand is telling, and you’re able to utilise it to gain you some serious brand power and influence.
I was asked to create something on this topic for Social Media Week Lagos, by my good friends at the Assembly Hub. As soon as I read the brief, the anthem that played in my head was Kanye West’s Black Skinhead.
My favourite Kanye West moments are, his press photo call at Trump Tower, with then President-elect, Donald Trump, and his rant after the 2015 Grammy’s when he protested (for the second time), on behalf of Beyonce, against Beck winning the biggest award of the night. Honourable mention is when he claimed he made Taylor Swift famous.
Kanye courts shock, awe and divisiveness. As Jay-Z once said, and I’m paraphrasing, Kanye runs over the hill, over the horizon, beyond what the eye can see, paves the way, takes the shots on behalf of the community and pulls the conversation forward.
He uses his stunts to get people hooked on his next ideological positioning because what most people I’ve spoken to find, is that Kanye says things and does things that you disagree with at first, but for the most part, on the big things, you understand and may be even sympathise with shortly afterwards, if you cared enough to pay attention.
Divisiveness is his weapon against a world that he knows will judge him no matter what he puts out there. He turns their guns back on them and in doing that, taps into the rebellious spirit of everyone in America that is looking for someone to be their champion. Kanye West is the black Donald Trump (not the politics, the effect) and he wants you to know it. That’s why he did the photo call.
Love him or hate him, Kanye West lets you know exactly who he is at every step of the way.
There was a time, when Obama was president and people still thought Taylor Swift was innocent, that being divisive was seen as a bad thing. But in a post-Brexit, Post-Trump era, individuals are living in fear of the seedy underbelly, and that’s graduated into a FOR us or AGAINST us mentality.
When it comes to politics that’s great. The division is going to gear people up to vote, because people now know that when you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. They’ve experienced it first hand.
When it comes to African communities, this level of mistrust in the system isn’t new. We openly (in some countries) mock our leaders, and openly discuss their corruption. We are not enamoured with the ideals of hope and truth like our western counterparts, we care much more about realism, faith and strategies that will bring real and positive change.
When Donald Trump called African countries “shit holes”, I was waiting for the Newsroom speech that no one gave.
I was waiting for a politician, or a prominent activist, someone who could actually affect real change in an African country to stand up and say, “Yes. This is a shit hole for many of our citizens. His being impolite and barbaric does not stop it from being true. It stops it from being his place to say such a truth. The saying, take the rock out of your eye before you address the speck in mine, does not mean that there is no speck in mine.’
I was waiting for a rousing speech, a divisive one, a speech that forced us to confront the truth and forced us to take a stand on the issues.
I was waiting for someone in power would admit that there are many things wrong with our continent. We have shit hole things happening every single day, but then importantly, they would address those shit hole things. They would say, “this is exactly what we can do to change it. This is how we are going to make sure that no one can ever call us shit holes ever again.” Instead, all I saw were offended politicians who refused to deal with the issues and relied on political correctness instead.
I think that was one of the biggest missed moments in African politics this year, so far. If you are trying to sell your brand story, you need to jump on the situation, take a stand and say it louder for the people in the back.
If someone as recognisable as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had delivered a speech of that nature, at that time, and ended it with, “God is good, by His grace, we will get there soon”, how many ordinary people do you think would have given her an Oprah style boost to running in the next Nigerian election? My bet is, if she had done that, and even more so, if she were already established in the political arena, that would be marked as the first day of her presidential campaign.
Being offended matters. Causing offence is a terrible move.
Kanye remains a controversial figure to what he calls the “coon” community; they’re enemy number 1. That’s because Kanye West’s chief endeavour is his intense effort to be the champion and defender of the people that share his “black skin” and the people under siege in “chiraq” (a composite of the words Chicago and Iraq). Just as he is differentiating between different kinds of black people, he tries just as much to be the poster-boy antithesis and sacrificial lamb to the people in “middle America”, the “conservative baptists”; enemy number 2.
Notice that Kanye doesn’t go after people as a protagonist. He always positions himself as the antagonist, he comments on the fact that they’re coming for him. If his brand is pro-black anti-establishment, afro-futurist black, then actively separating himself from the “coons” and reminding people of his antagonistic relationship with middle America, solidifies his position.
Just as much as Jay-Z simultaneously models himself after Martin Luther King Jr, el Chapo and Scarface, a drug dealer, from the hood, making it big and essentially becoming a black king, Kanye West is working hard to be a 21st century, rap-game, Malcolm X. These are 2 brands, doing (contextually) the same type of music, and they’re representing and addressing the same struggles, but approaching their expression or storytelling around their product in 2 very different, almost conflicting ways.
Kanye West has done a fantastic job of staking his claim in the culture by creating distinct and recognisable caricatures of his allies and enemies. The caricatures make him polarising, they make the people that love him, love him more, and the people that hate him, hate him more. That’s what you need to do when you start thinking about how you want to craft and sell your brand story. You’re trying to get people to love you, and you’re trying to get people to hate you.
The mistake many people make when they’re crafting a brand story, is that they confuse it with a sob story.
Your sob story, is why you are personally connected to the issues that lead to the problem your product or service solves. Your sob story is something like, I grew up without enough money to buy nice clothes, so I went to Yaba market every Saturday and haggled to get good fabric for low prices and then I taught myself to sew, so that I wouldn’t get bullied when I went out with my school friends. That’s why today, I create fun stylish designs for teenage girls, at affordable prices. You catch my drift right? Personal connection to the problem equals the sob story.
Now, the brand story is much more complicated than that; it is an interweaving of everything that your brand represents. I’m talking about your fonts, your colour scheme, your graphics, your personal brand, your customer relations, all of that process stuff, all the stuff that goes on your website and is represented on your social media. Its all of that, moulded into one intangible cultural capital product that you use to create a perception of your business in the communities where your ideal customers live and work.
Think about these two sayings. Number one, “faith without works is dead” and number two, “a joke that you have to explain isn’t funny.”
When you’re crafting your brand story, you’re doing the work to connect all of the disparate, aesthetic, interpersonal, relationship based, independent parts of your business into a single solidified entity that is most acutely defined by what you are against. What you’re against, is the magic ingredient that ties the people that come across your business, into your brand.
If you’ve ever been so lucky as to do something as satisfying as making slime, you’ll know that until you add the final ingredient, all the things you’ve put in the bowl look good, but they don’t make slime. Slime is a cohesive unit of every good thing you’ve put in the bowl taken up about ten notches.
The genius behind Kanye West’s style of crafting a brand story, creating headlines, having these strong opinions and being deliberately polarising, is that he knows that it is easier to sell to people that love you than people that don’t have a strong opinion of you, and he knows that the people that hate you, were never going to buy your product anyway.
Because if you’re always the antagonist and never the protagonist, in a divisive conversation, the protagonists were never your people anyway. They have an ideological stance that is so far removed from your own that they were never going to become your customers, so why bother playing footsie with a group of people that don’t care about you?
The only way you are going to be able to sell your potential customers, people that are predisposed to love you, on what you’re for, is by telling them, over and over and over, what you’re against.
Offering a solution matters. Dismantling progress is irresponsible.
You might have caught from my shit holes and the fictional Chimamanda response that to sell your brand, and gain the type of brand power that makes you a force to be reckoned with in your industry, you have to give solutions as well as attack problems.
PRO TIP: Attack problems, not people. Attack constructs, not citizens.
People will notice if you’re the only fish swimming upstream, so what you do with the attention they give you, matters. If you use the opportunity you’ve created by playing into a divisive subject in your industry, you will enhance the positives, or the “for” of your brand by placing it in direct antithesis of the thing you are against.
Think about it this way, to a human, an angel is only an angel when placed next to a demon. You can’t just be different, you have to be different compared to something else, something that your ideal customers will consider demonic. How you do that is up to you.
When I’m working with my clients, the first thing we do, without fail, is work on the vision and the mission of the company. I get push back because most people don’t get it straight off the bat, and most people like to question the ability of someone they’re paying for a professional service.
Start with your mission. Create a statement, something strong and dynamic. It has to capture everything your company is about in one fell swoop. One sentence that makes people think, “that sounds interesting, tell me more” - ours is “we help individuals build businesses that make a profit and save lives” or even more to the point, “I’ll help you build a better business.”
Move on to your vision. The idea behind this is, if you could keep doing the thing you’re doing and you're do it to the best of your ability, with all the resources in the world available to you and no barriers in your way, what would be the effect of your business on society in 10 years? What would the world look like for your ideal customer?
Then back to your sob story. What is the one thing you experienced in your life that made you say, I’m going to do my best so that no one else ever has to experience this thing ever again.
Those 3 things together will form your “for” stances. It is your job, as you build a brand with real power and real influence in your industry to come against anything that contradicts or places a barrier against what you need to fulfil your mission, achieve your vision, or propagates the situation that led to your sob story.
How you do that is up to you. Its a very individual thing for each business.
You need to figure out who the movers and shakers are are in your industry for better or worse, and either align yourself with them, or come for them.
Depending on your brand, starting a twitter “war” with a celebrity might actually work for you, as long as you’re saying, “what you did/what you represent is wrong because we believe that the world should be this way, instead of that way.” Its an ideological clap back. That’s going to get the people that agree with you to flock to your side, and the people that don’t agree with you, were never going to be your customers anyway.
This is positioning is the hidden aspect of the “joke” that makes it funny. Its the way you use your intangible cultural capital to your advantage that makes it effective, because a joke is only funny when you tell it the right way, by the right person, to the right person.
The takeaway from all of this is that most important thing you can do, is be “divisive” AKA take a side in an already heated debate, in real time.
Write social media posts, and blog posts that react to what’s happening in the culture your ideal customer is immersed in at that moment. When something happens in their world, they’re going to notice who’s reacting like they are, they’re going to notice who’s on their side.
If you know your mission, vision, sob story and ideal customer well enough, you’ll know which side to take and how to use that situation to present yourself as the business that best suits them.
PS. Don’t come for people at the same business level as you. You’ll look petty. Go for the conglomerates. The people that have hundreds of lawyers backing them up. They are always going to be the protagonist and you get to be the antagonist, the leader of the new era, that’s swimming up stream.
Thanks for reading.
I hope that helps,
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