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10-4 Good Buddy: A Lesson In Branding

Several years ago a friend recommended this book:

Zag by Marty Neumeier

The book did not enter my mind again until ten months ago when I started working on my new “startup” which centers around the principles of my current consulting practice.

When building a business, you cannot afford to do everything you want (either due to time or budget), and it is easy to get bogged down in minutia. It is best to chose a few priorities to stay on track. With this startup, I have decided that the best use of funds are people and branding… and I am sticking with it.

Zag is a wonderful guide when you start out on a branding journey. I followed the exercises in the book, and by the time I got through them, I knew my brand. I knew what “his” personality was like, and I had a strong idea of what “he” should look like and what “his” purpose was for this business. (Obviously it’s a masculine brand!) And my team has used this information to carry the brand through everything that we are building.

To help you find your passion and purpose, Zag encourages you to write an obituary for your company 25 years into the future. I found this exercise difficult for a couple of reasons. First, I am a strong believer in iteration. I build with as much feedback as possible and change my plan according to this feedback, market conditions, and the status of my team. Because I build this way, I often do not think long term. I follow a purpose and see where things go. Secondly, I am a nontraditional girl. I do not associate my value based on awards or associations – and when you think of an obituary it usually comes down to traditional achievements.

But I did the exercise anyway. It came out weak. I worked on it some more and then decided to hell with it. And today I am finally coming around to understand my feelings on this.

Last night my grandmother, Lois Walling, passed away. She was 88 years old and “a tough old bird” as she called herself. The woman was my biggest cheerleader and probably the toughest woman I know. And this morning when we sat down to write her obituary, we struggled to find the right words that would tell the world how great this woman was in the traditional obituary format.

Lois Walling

Let me tell you a little about Lois.

She was as unique as her name. And yes, even the grandchildren – all seven of us- called her Lois. I realize that everyone thinks that his/her grandmother is unique. And you know what – you should think that. But I am telling you that this woman was an incredible character.

Lois was a people person to an extreme. She talked to people anywhere and everywhere and laughed with strangers all the time. She was proud of being Southern and let everyone know. And like most small town grandmothers, she knew everything going on. She followed ambulances, listened to her CB radio, and she knew what you were going to do before you did it.

Lois loved food. She would call our family at night to see what we were eating for dinner. When you saw her, she wanted to know what you ate last, what you would like to eat now, and what you're going to eat tomorrow. She loved pickled foods and butterscotch pie. She hated salad and chicken (though she ate it anyway) and she would judge your cooking and tell you how to make things more to her taste.

Lois watched the Food Network and Fox News. She read mysteries and knew every lyric to any Broadway musical. She shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor on her trips to the Big Apple, but at home she ordered from QVC and the Vermont General Store. She was forever bringing us weird gifts like weather sticks, bra glue, and shoe stretchers. And often she would send her grandchildren thoughtful packages for no reason.

She was proud of herself and her family. She claims to never have had any issues while raising three young boys back to back. She had everyone's favorite candy bars in stock, and she hosted weekly family dinners for all fifteen of us. She told us when our hair needed to be cut or if our clothes were not a flattering fit. And she claimed to have never been sick a day in her life.

What to Learn from Lois

Instead of writing an obituary about your company, write about the impression you want to leave with people. How you want your business to make people feel. What problems you want to solve for people and how far you want to take your purpose. After all, this is the most important part of life – and a very important part of your business.

And one more lesson

You should know your customer as well as I described Lois. And not in a clinical way. Get to know who they are, what they stand for, and what matters to them. Learn their language and preferences and why they are the way they are.

10-4 Good Buddy

Lois always gave me a big “10-4 good buddy” every time we got off the phone. And now it is time for me to say it one more time for her.

Go hug your loved ones and remember that who you are and how you make people feel is the most important thing in life!

Thank you, Lois, for being my rock.


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