branding is like a tree

I stepped out onto my patio the other day and saw a young tree that we had planted there a couple of years ago. We found it as a seedling in the yard. In fact, my husband almost ran over it with the lawn mower! But instead of mowing over it, or pulling it out as a weed, he dug it out of the yard and decided to plant it in a pot. It sat on the deck for about a year and when it outgrew the pot, we planted it in a nook on our patio.Patio Tree 2 (1)

I stopped to admire the tree; the fact that it’s trunk had growth thicker, it’s branches reached farther and small buds were starting to inch their way to becoming bright green leaves. Within the next few years, this tree was going to become a wonderful shade tree for our dining area on the patio. Not only that, but it’s going to add value to the property, serve as some lucky birds nesting place and bring us a lot of joy in the years to come.

Hmmmm, This Tree Is a Lot Like Your Brand

Before you laugh, why not play along? I was inspired and ran inside to my computer and immediately asked a few branding folks to finish this sentence for me. Here are just a few of their responses (feel free to add your own in the comments and I’ll make images and share them!)

seeds (1)


So, what would be the seeds of YOUR brand?

Like every good story, there needs to be a who, what, where, when, why and how involved. And to me, the seeds of branding are exactly those elements. So let’s break these down:

  • The WHO – These would be the constituents of your business; you (the owner), your team, your suppliers, your community, your customers, etc. All of the people whom your brand touches are the WHO.
  • The WHAT – Of course, this would be the products or services you offer. But it can also include the’strategies that you use to get the word out about your brand.
  • The WHERE – This is the distribution channel of your brand. Where can people find you, how can you be within arm’s reach of your customer and your community? Where is your voice heard?
  • The WHEN – I like to think of this as the TRIGGER for your brand. WHEN should people think of you?
  • The WHY – This has become so popular over the last few years. ?Simon Sinek has written a book about it and his TED talk on the subject has inspired all kinds of “Know Your Why” conversations. The WHY is the CONTEXT from which you operate. It’s your motivation behind the brand.
  • The HOW – These are the things you DO to promote your brand, email, networking, etc.

These are seeds of your brand and brand promise. If you’ve thought about them carefully and focused in on clarifying these details, your brand will grow strong.

roots (1)

I love what Jillian said here – the idea that solid roots will promote the growth and success of your brand.

One of the cool things about tree roots is that they seek out nutrients. Some tree roots grow narrow and deep while others grow shallow and wide. I think it all has to to with the quality of the soil they are in. But I’m not a tree expert.

What I do know is that your brand, like a tree, needs a constant source of nutrients. You get to decide if your roots are going to go narrow and deep or shallow and wide. This is a VERY important decision.

Do you want to be like GE and own a share of someone’s home or LIFE — or do you want to be more like BOSE speakers and own a very narrow niche. Neither is better or worse, but doing both at the same time — no good.

rings (1)


Kathy’s point about branding being like tree rings is truly brilliant. For a brand to be viable over time it has to grow and adjust in order to stay relevant, yet remain the same at the core.

All of us know long-standing brands such as McDonald’s and Arm and Hammer and Dove soaps are great examples of brands that started with a simple, almost commoditized product and expanded their brand to encompass so much more.

The key to a successful brand expansion or brand repositioning is to understand the core of your brand. My favorite way to do this is to ask yourself three questions:

1. Who are you being?
2. What are you committed to?
3. What can people count on you for?

Go ahead, take some of your favorite all time great brands through this process. You can see that they all stay true to the core essence of these three elements. This is what allowed them to expand and extend without diluting their brand essence.

A word of warning here: Extending and repositioning your brand is a tricky business. I listed McDonald’s as a success, but they have had massive failures too (remember McPizza) Even branding king Richard Branson has had more than his share of brand failures (he tried to get into the wedding business!)

But there is an important lesson here, especially when you see Branson’s example, you have to keep trying. Don’t be afraid to make tweaks and changes. Update your website, materials and your logos, continuously craft and recraft your messaging so that it resonates with updated consumer trends and memes.

The number one reason brand extensions and repositioning strategies fail is that they simply don’t bring enough value to the customer. There are thousands of examples of brand failures where consumers just couldn’t come along for the ride. Clearly these big brands did their research (think New Coke), and yet, they were unable to predict how consumers would react. Bottom line, keep moving, keep growing, keep expanding, but DO NOT ever change the core essence or promise.

Now it’s your turn — Why do you think branding is like a tree? Share your wisdom in the comments below!