You can’t build your brand without building a foundation. Most businesses start with a product and build a brand around it. They focus on the whiz bang features before defining the personality. The emotional side. The side that really matters. No matter what your product, how expensive or complex, it comes down to people. People respond to emotion than rationalize with data. Given a choice, people ultimately do business with those they like.

We, like many companies, were really good at talking about our robust feature set. We were (and are) successful and growing. Yet our outward persona didn’t truly reflect the warmth, openness and caring personality of our culture. Sure, many of our customers have been with us long enough to have their kids grow up with many of our employees’ kids. But from afar, you would never have known that.

Two years ago we changed that. We took a step back to define who we were as a company. What words represented us if you saw them on a billboard plus how we talked about our products and services. I share ours below for example only; yours should naturally be very different.

To arrive at your final five or six words, gather your stakeholders in a room and one by one share words that each thinks describe your company. Keep going until people run out of words. After brainstorming over 70 words, we landed on the following six:

Contemporary – we keep current with the industry and technology, but never push our customers to the bleeding edge.

Collaborative – whether within the company or outside, we work openly together, sharing knowledge and breaking down silos.

Configurable – our product fits the way our customers work. Not the other way around.

Integrated – pretty much what everyone in our space says, but it’s true for us – and an important attribute.

Comprehensive – our software serves the entire construction business. It’s not a limited suite.

Rock Solid – both our company, products and services exhibit this quality.

For how we talked, we decided that we were never arrogant, that we’d be provocative and most of all, human. These are the words we measure everything we do against. In fact the theme of our user conference this past year was Rock Solid Collaboration. And that’s exactly what we executed against. Before we took the time to define the words that represent us, there was little consistency in how we talked to the market. Now we have a platform on which to build and share our story but in a very natural, conversational manner. Employees have a guide.

But don’t view this as a rigid script.

When you go through this exercise, you create a framework in which you can operate. It allows you to take risks, to push your brand to be more relevant yet staying true to a core personality, and purpose. To define yourself rather than let others define it for you.

It provides needed focus to navigate a noisy market. And separate yourself from your competitors because you now stand for something memorable. You’ve distilled many thoughts down to something simple and repeatable. Something your employees and colleagues can use to describe your business so you present a more united front. If you don’t do this, everyone will describe what you do very differently. They’ll use the words that first come to their mind.

It only works, however, if your words are true to your product and company. If not, you must decide if you can become these words. If so, great. If not, try again because people will see right through you.

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