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Stop Trying to Be Apple — and Just Be You

I began my career in marketing/PR for municipal government. Community building in the literal sense. A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to listen to a couple super smart City Planner types talk about exactly that as my city began the process of creating a new “Master Plan.”

While the focus of the talk was physical communities, so much of the advice was relevant to community building and brands.

My takeaway:

You can admire someone else’s success, but you can never replicate it by repeating the same tactics. Nor should you want to. Building a great brand is not a matter of cookie cutter thinking. A + B does not always equal C. Great brands are successful because they do the hard and honest work to uncover who they really are. And who you are is not the same as who you wish you were. Not everyone is going to be an Austin or a Portland (or a Zappos or Dove) — and that’s okay. Those brands built empires on self-awareness and honesty. And that IS something we can all do in our own way. There’s something special about every brand. It’s not always obvious, but it’s there. 99.99% of the time, that sense of specialness will reveal itself in the people who love you — internally and externally. Talk to them, ask them questions, look to them. The truth doesn’t reveal itself  while you’re sitting behind the table in a boardroom brainstorm; but it will almost always reveal itself once you start having real conversations with real people. Educate yourself on the things other brands have done. Be inspired. Take notes. Then let it go…and just be you. You won’t find your magic trying to recreate someone else’s magic. We can’t all be Apple. It doesn’t make sense to plop San Antonio’s River Walk in Alberta, Canada if you can only use it a few months a year. Don’t try to be someone else’s victory. Create your own. That requires a certain sense of courage. But don’t most good things?

  • Jeff Hora

    I feel that building a successful community needs to be solidly grounded in understanding who your (potential) community members are and what they are seeking. To your point, Apple’s community, or Zappos’ community, are looking for something different than what you can provide to yours. I like your analogy of “dropping San Antonio’s River Walk in Alberta, Canada”. That is an external. The people, and their relationship with you, make up your community and THAT’s the internal. Externals need to provide whatever the internal needs to thrive.
    Indeed, courage is required….but also rewarded.

  • Eric B. Whitlock

    I couldn’t agree more Amy. Well said! Your narrative reminds me of the course text from Graphic Design in Social Awareness read during my graduate studies at SCAD. We kicked the course of reading the, “First Things First Manifesto” originally written in 1964 then revised in 2000. But, that was just the primer for the course. The real meat and potatoes for the course was “Looking Closer Four: Critical Writings on Graphic Design” (2002) edited by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel and Steven Heller. There is a fifth edition out now that I’ve not read yet, but the fourth edition has 48 different writers contributing essays that are in response to the manifesto. I think you would love this book! All the authors are esteemed writers, designers, brand builders, community builders etc. (i.e. folks from our industry) and they all pitch a point of view on how things are, shouldn’t be and should be. Your particular topic strikes a same cord with Paul J. Nini’s, essay entitled, “A Manifesto of Inclusivism”. Near the end off his essay he says, “I would like to assert, finally, that truly ‘good’ design most likely cannot happen without input from the ultimate end-users of our work. We ignore them at our own peril and should take steps to allow their voices to be heard, and to address their needs in more significant ways. We must attempt to move beyond our at times contemptuous view of users, and instead see them as “collaborators’ or ‘partners’ in the process of creating useful communications… who, if we’re listening carefully, will always have important things to tell us.”

  • eric b. whitlock

    BTW, thanks for sharing Amy. I always love your post.