How to stay on-brand

I’m interested in lots of different things. I’m interested in business but also economics and philosophy and literature. I always like to rationalize that as helping me think about things better, or that these things are interdisciplinary. But maybe it’s just being a dilettante or procrastinating and not ever really getting focused. - Peter Thiel, 2014, The Washington Post

Let me just say how relieved I was to read that even Peter Thiel worries that he may be a dilettante. This is proof that no matter how far you go in life, you can always feel guilty for not being a super-specialist that is 100% devoted to one field.

It can be hard to stay in one predetermined area. Likewise, staying on-brand is hard.

Staying on-brand is important for branding, but not so important that it necessitates cutting off all exploration that doesn’t immediately fit with the brand. People like to explore, and the payoffs of doing so are not always obvious until a great opportunity arises.

Here’s how to manage your brand when it has exploratory tendencies:

1. Shut your mouth and go off-brand quietly

Branding and staying on-brand can be challenging when you are sort of an open book, like me. However, I do know when to lower the volume publicly about some things. Such as:

a) my dislike of some people, on principle,

b) my odd working patterns, and

c) my thoughts about where autonomy should be limited.

These things are off-brand for me. Trust me, I do all of these things, I just try not to talk about them. I know, I just mentioned them. But I’m not going to get into it any further.

2. Emphasize the things that you do that are on-brand

First off, you want to have your branding priorities straight so that you can emphasize them easily. Then..

Something that I learned in law school is that as a general rule, you put the most important things first in communications. This is in an effort to get judges to read the parts that matter most -- word on the street is that judges don’t always read every single sentence of the briefs that are submitted to them. Lol. So, lawyers put the important stuff in the beginning.

This technique is supported, in part, by studies that show that people tend to remember the beginnings and ends of things better than the middles. So, in case the audience doesn’t get all the way to the end, focus on being on-brand in the beginnings, where it really counts.

3. Figure out how to tie off-brand aspects into your brand, if necessary

If you can’t keep your mouth shut about it, and it keeps on creeping into the beginnings of your communications, then your exploration is probably on-brand, and you need to work it into your branding.

Take Google, for example. The company started out with a search engine. Now, It is a global corporation called Alphabet in countless fields of exploration. Can all of Alphabet's projects be categorized under Google’s original mission to organize and make accessible the world’s information? Sure, because basically anything can be categorized as information.

People could judge some of Google’s ventures as off-brand because they don’t have a clear idea of the big picture. In this kind of scenario, the correct brand management action is to communicate the big picture to the audience in a coherent and easily understandable way.

Note with regard to the introductory quote

Peter Thiel could have easily declared that he is an interdisciplinary thinker. Which he is. There was no reason to display a crack in his confidence.

However, Mr. Thiel is so smart that I can’t imagine that it was a complete accident to divulge his moments of insecurity to THE WASHINGTON POST. It was almost certainly strategic. He knows that doing so will endear him to the readers.

It worked! I liked him a little more when he admitted that sometimes he wonders if he is just messing around with all the stuff that he’s doing. Didn’t you?

Even Peter Thiel wanders around a little! So don’t worry if your brand wanders around a little, too.


When your brand has exploratory tendencies:

1) Shut your mouth and go off-brand quietly,

2) emphasize the things that you do that are on-brand, and/or

3) figure out how to tie off-brand aspects into your brand, if necessary.

What’s something that you or your company does that could appear off-brand? How do you manage or plan to manage it?