build a brand

How to Build a Brand and Make a Living with Your Ideas

The following is excerpted from “Creative Careers: Making a Living with Your Ideas” by B. Jeffrey Madoff. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Being a “brand” has become the necessary descriptive term when referring to a product or service, be it fashion, computers, movies, cars, mobile phones, or celebrities. But before you can create a brand, you must understand what a brand is. It is imperative to remember that it all starts with the product or service, which is the foundation that brands are built on. The strategies and protocols of creating a brand are the same no matter what the product or service.

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What is your brand story?

The most precious commodity out there is our attention. How do you get it, and how do you keep it, so you can attract customers? An ongoing brand story is essential to accomplishing that.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single image. In creating a strong brand, that image is the logo.

The strongest brands have their missionaries—or brand ambassadors, people who sing its praises—just like the  believers in Apple do today. Like some ancient religious ritual, thousands of people line up at Apple stores around  the world to buy the newest iPhone. No company has brand evangelists like Apple.

A brand is a story well told. A compelling narrative is the essential characteristic of any successful brand. However, no matter how talented or creative you may be, creating a brand is difficult because it requires getting and holding on to people’s attention. It also takes time. We live in a constant hailstorm of data and images, and to get people’s attention, an ongoing brand story is critical. That story needs to use emotion and anticipation to communicate the core values you’re trying to sell, values that you know resonate with your consumer base.

Storytelling is essential. Marketing is storytelling. When it’s good, it’s a compelling story. When it’s a list of features and benefits, it’s not a story. It’s boring; most people don’t remember facts and figures. Apple, Nike and BMW never advertise their product features and benefits. They tell a seductive story, sometimes just visually. 

Related: 5 Tips for Mastering Your Brand Storytelling

Compelling storytelling

Feeling a part of something is a hugely important factor for a brand to be successful. People who buy Apple products and certain fashion brands all have unifying beliefs and symbols that identify and hold them together.

Dylan Lauren, founder of Dylan’s Candy Bar, had stories running through her head when she was conceptualizing her business. She knew she wanted to create an immersive environment that encouraged shopping. Her favorite movie when she was a kid was, as you might guess, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“I also loved Disney and ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and all those fantasy movies. For me it was about the whimsical set design. I always felt like it would be fun to shop in a world like an actual Candy Land. I wanted to create that because I had seen that FAO Schwartz was doing it with toys and Niketown was doing it with athletic wear,” Lauren said.

“But there was no candy store that made you feel like you were in an environment. I love candy, and I don’t want to go to World of Nuts or whatever. I wanted a real fun environment. As an artist, I was very heavily involved in the actual design of all the fixtures, trying to replicate how to make a Starlight mint into a stool and how to make it more fun to sit at a bar than just sitting on a stool. I also knew subconsciously that’s what helps attract people and make it a destination, versus just another candy store.

I think having been inspired by my dad (Ralph Lauren), knowing it’s a competitive market, I wanted to create the best candy store. We attract people here of all ages. Our actual target market and what I set out to do was to make it a store for adults and a kid in the adult, which is what Disney does. I don’t like when people say, ‘Oh, it’s a cute gift store.’ You’re actually my target group because everyone loves candy and wants to feel young at heart. The colors make you feel that way. We play music and have over 200 candy songs from every genre. So older people are like, ‘Oh my god, I remember ‘Lollipop Guild,’’ and other people know the new hip hop songs. Downstairs there’s also classic vintage candy brands that were around when I was growing up. So, when parents come in with their kids, they see those candies, too, and the nostalgia that it triggers is very effective.

It’s a full environment that gets you in the mood to want to be shopping. Our mission is to ignite the inner child and creative spirit in everyone and to merge pop art, fashion, and pop culture with the candy.”

What Dylan has created is a brand story you can walk through. There is a phenomenal attention to detail, and  that’s the distinguishing difference. It’s not good enough to do a colorful tabletop; it’s a mosaic of colorful gumballs, and the legs are peppermint sticks. Every bit of detail is thought out, and that’s so important in terms of creating a clear brand story. It doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work.

Whether for a product or an individual, branding is creating the images and vocabulary that tell the story, coupled with the distribution strategy to get the message out there.

You can’t do “branding” until you are clear what the brand stands for. Many companies confuse branding with doing a lot of advertising and marketing, but until the core message is clear, all the advertising and marketing in the world won’t establish a brand identity.

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“Becoming a brand” means that there is something that establishes a differentiated meaning for your product or service that consumers care about—before you begin branding.

For a brand to be successful, the difference must be simple to understand. What does the brand stand for? For example: Apple versus PC (personal computer) is hip versus square. The difference needs to be relevant to the consumer.

Their first commercial, “Think Different,” set the template and differentiated Apple from all other computers. The Apple commercials, portraying the Mac and PC users, are great examples of illustrating brand differences in an effective way.

A brand needs to be a simple, persuasive idea: “Just do it.” The message must be consistent and reinforced wherever and whenever you communicate to your consumers.

People want engagement and emotional attachment, something to connect with. An effective brand story does that.

“Creative Careers: Making a Living with Your Ideas” is available now wherever books are sold and can be purchased via

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