Branding Basics for Patient Leaders

Understanding Branding

Whether we’re talking branding for your advocacy channel, or more personal branding, grasping the basics is important to getting this very essential foundation laid right.

Many people come into this space with a naive perception of what a brand really is – or, the term ‘brand’ can feel very corporate and one dimensional. But it’s actually the opposite – it’s personal, it’s complex, it’s multi-faceted. It’s not only possible, but advantageous, to define your brand in a way that captures many facets of yourself and your advocacy activities with a consistent identity.

× Branding Is Not:

Branding is not designing a logo, slapping it on a bunch of things, and calling it a day.

Logos and visuals actually work to support your brand. Things like tone and language also contribute, as do your interactions, and the experience you provide. Ultimately, these all communicate and strengthen your personality traits, or who you are as a person or platform. Planning and defining these help cultivate a strong and authentic brand.

× Branding Is Not:

Branding is not saying who you want to be, and believing that that’s where it ends.

Ultimately, that’s your mission; brand is what your audience thinks of you; and aligning the two is what makes you successful. Branding works best when it’s authentic – so step one is determining who you are and what drives you, and step two is making sure that’s clearly communicated to your audience through your brand touchpoints.

✔ Branding Is:

The culmination of everything people think you are. Brand touchpoints, whether bold or nuanced, pull your brand in one direction or another; they add strength to, or detract from your core brand. It’s all of the influences that make up what everyone else thinks about you. Think about this as identity or reputation.

“Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are.” -Ann Handley

I always explain branding in terms of the humans we know. It’s a simple and familiar way to make it click that brand is a set of traits. It also helps to further the understanding that brand identity (/personality/values/integrity) come first, a visual element such as a logo comes second, and should align with, and support these traits. It also helps give people the framework that branding isn’t a cold, corporate concept. It’s complex, it’s emotional, it’s personal. But it just has to have an underlying strand of consistency to be effective.

Try this: make a list of a few people that you know (or know of) well – your best friend, a mentor, a celebrity. The funniest person you know, the strongest person you know, and another advocate in your disease space.

Then, choose a person on your list that you’d go to when you need something – a good laugh, a good cry, someone to go to happy hour. What about someone to help you move, someone you’d have visit you in the hospital, and an ally when you’re working through conflict or drama.

Was it easy to pick these people? Are you surprised at yourself, or were the choices obvious? Did you pick the same person for more than one of these? And, are you asking, Megan, what does this have to do with brand?

Take it back to how we first introduced brand – it’s the nuanced culmination of what everyone thinks of you. It probably didn’t take too much mental energy for you to identify these people, and immediately come up with a sense of who they are, and where they provide value in your life.

The person helping you move is likely perceived as reliable or strong, but that person also might be the one to visit you in the hospital, because something about their strength injects support into your life when you need it most. And/or, that person might be the one who makes you laugh, because something about their willingness to do manual labor for free pizza and beer shows a selflessness and maybe a humility that also allows them to not take some things too seriously. And that doesn’t make them a corporate entity with a single, one-dimensional trait and goal. That is brand.


Brand exists whether you manage it or not.

Because people around you will always form an opinion about you, based on your impressions, interactions, and communications, a sense of brand will always exist around you. If you don’t manage it, or don’t realize how much it matters, you may find that you’re missing opportunities to really connect with your audience, and become a memorable, reliable, authentic resources in your space.

Let’s go back to our humans example. Let’s say your friend Jim is the one you’d call on to help you move. Your impression of Jim’s ‘brand’ is likely that he’s reliable, strong, helpful, selfless, positive, and the list goes on.  Last time when you moved, Jim showed up and he was a rock star. He was helpful, organized, and set a positive tone for your group. Jim’s brand standing goes up. It’s positive, strong, and clear. You have a great sense of who Jim is as a person, and what he adds to your life, especially when you need him. (Let’s also assume we’re providing all the free beer and pizza, we definitely don’t want his assistance to go unappreciated!)

Now you’re moving again, and who do you reach out to? Jim. Of course you do. Let’s say Jim has three possible responses to your request. Would these change how you think about Jim and his ‘brand’?

A. Jim is happy to help, says he will be there, and follows through.
B. Jim is busy that weekend, and he responds quickly that he’s got his grandma’s 80th birthday to attend, and he’s sorry he can’t help out.
C. Jim is busy that weekend, but he feels bad, so he dodges your calls and doesn’t respond to your request.
D. Jim commits to helping, but on moving day, he’s less helpful and less positive than last time.

How strongly, and in which direction, would Jim’s brand shift in your perception? Would you still think of him as a go-to for a future situation such as this? Maybe your long-term friendship with Jim is strong, and his reliable reputation is strong, so a single incident wouldn’t affect your impression. But, maybe his digression from his previous reputation makes your impression take a turn, and you don’t consider him as a viable help ever again.

This is brand.

In advocacy spaces, all of these touchpoints and impressions will pull your brand in one way or another. These add to, or detract from, a strong brand impression, and shape how your audience thinks of you, and therefore, what they will look to you for, how they will engage with you, and how much they will share your content.

Managing your brand doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. It’s getting organized, taking the time to define who you are, creating a bit of a structure to help communicate your brand with consistency, and learning how to grow and evolve effectively. It’s important, and it’s worth it.

What Did You Learn?

A logo supports your brand values. A logo is not your whole brand.

Brand exists whether you manage it or not.

Managing it aligns your internal values and motivations, with how your outside audience perceives you.

Managing this increases consistency; consistency builds trust.

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