I recently listened to a podcast about Alexander von Humboldt‘s first expedition to South America. While his life, his travels and findings are absolutely interesting in themselves, I was specifically intrigued by a side remark in said podcast: Humboldt had been possessed by the ideas of long sea voyages and innovative field research since his childhood and, thus, this expedition was his dream come true. Whoa, so even in his childhood, von Humboldt acted completely in line with his future endeavours – he has always been an explorer!
I’m often in awe with and admire people whose biographies straight up reflect their passions, people whose career path seem to have been crystal clear in every step they take from early age on. You know, like on “About” pages by freelance consultants and other professionals, as in: “I bought my first stocks when I was 11 years old, became a billionaire by the age of 20 and now I share all my insights with you.” or “I got my first puppy when I was 6, raised and trained it while walking all dogs of my neigborhood on a daily basis and now I am one of the most renowned dog training specialists in the whole country.” This counts true, too, for people who make a 180° turn in their lives, because they might have followed “society’s expectations” for a while but then found that their true calling had been there all along and they finally follow the path that lay in front of them since, let’s say, they went to kindergarten. Those kind of people.
For me, this would probably mean that I should be a My Little Pony-riding veterinarian who fights for justice and the environment with their Gameboy in one hand while writing novels about ballerinas with the other. But … I’m not. On the other hand, I could probably say something about me like “I’ve loved to gather information and edit it in a way so that other people enjoy it and want to know more about it” or “My entrepreneurial spirit led me to found, manage and market a magazine during my student days”. Notice something?
While the building blocks of biographic narrations may (or may not) be true, the final biographies usually have on thing in common: deliberate omissions. That is how you build a legend around a person: you leave out the things that don’t align with the core concept that you would like to convey about them – or you integrate random other aspects as opponents, things that had to be overcome to become the depicted person. And in the end, you get a very straightforward image of the person without any contradictions.
This process – best to be paired with some other techniques – is, of course, also called personal branding. And by now, it should have become clear, that the brand or image never portrays the person as a whole. I mean, come on, who on earth was really solely occupied with stock markets or training puppies when they were young? Leaving out information serves the purpose of depicting an image that is easily readable and that has a chance to stick with the beholder by delivering a single congruent message.
Painting your image
Soooo, what’s true for building an image about persons can’t be false for building images about products or companies, as well, right? Well, yes and no: of course, you do want your products / company to be easily readable, i.e. to convey the most important USPs in a way that can easily be understood and digested. This counts true all the more with attention spans growing ever shorter in the digital age. And of course, you would like your product / company to instantly spring to mind as soon as a (potential) customer thinks about feature or concept X.
To identify the most remarkable features and focus on them is the key here – to draw the main subject of your image, so to speak! It is most likely, that you would also like to be associated with secondary characteristics to paint the bigger picture. Think about it like choosing the colors, brushes and techniques you use to paint it and the surroundings you add to the picture (or, the tone and placement / platform you choose for your communications).
Still, to focus on certain aspects doesn’t necessarly mean to withhold others completely. It depends on who you target at a certain point of communication, where you do it and which part of the funnel you expect that person to be at. Fleeting communication via social media will need a different way of “legend building” than email marketing or preparing information for your corporate website. Just always make sure that the image is still congruent even as it gets more detailed on the way down the funnel.
- identify what you would like your legend to sound or look like, i.e. what you intend to be known for and identified with
- concentrate on and highlight highly recognizable parts of the bigger picture
- integrate these parts in your communication and repeat them like a
- you want to get people to also get a look at them from different angles
- add more details for curious “spectators” who come closer to get a better view of the overall picture