Yes, I watch What Not to Wear (the U.S. version). There, I said it. I could tell you it's because my wife follows the show, but the fact is I think makeover shows are some of the best places to learn about pure branding.
Look at it this way: They take someone who, according to friends and family, is not looking like or achieving their full potential. They gather information about the person, and his/her life, by doing background research. They present new options to the person, get feedback, then send them out shopping with a new understanding of how they can look. Then they check back in to make course corrections, fine-tune hair and makeup, and do a follow-up at the end of the show.
Sound familiar? It's just like the research, strategy, concept presentation, launch and maintenance we do with a branding job.
With this in mind, I humbly present some pearls of wisdom from my brand guru, Stacy London:
"You can't fit your clothes well and look your best if you don't know what you're working with."
Effective branding requires honest self-awareness. It's not just finding out what your target markets want you to be; you've got to know what you can deliver. In the case of a makeover show, this means accepting your size and finding stylish clothing that fits (rather than following unflattering trends) and making sure the look fits your lifestyle. In business, it means basing your brand promise on your real value to clients/customers, and not pretending you're something you're not just to incorporate the latest buzzwords.
"Dress for the job you want, not the one you have."
Clinton may have said this one as well, but if memory serves it's a common Londonism. This is the aspirational aspect of branding. Once you know what you're capable of, you might as well start reaching higher. In fashion strategy, this means that you can get coworkers used to the idea of you in a leadership role if you look like a leader. In business, it's much the same. And the great thing about it is, in either scenario, if you look more professional, you feel more confident, and the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling phrophesey.
"A quick fashion fix: A great pair of high heels; a good shade of lipstick; a stiff drink. "
I just included this line because I like the attitude. But I'll try to rationalize its inclusion by saying there really are "quick fixes" out there in the branding world. If you're in a hurry, you're better to go out there with a focussed message, a better logo and a shot of courage than to stick with the status quo just because old-school brand consultants have convinced you that rebranding is a costly and tedious hassle.
"If it doesn't match anything you own, don't buy it. It will never match anything you own."
Of course, branding is about more than the superficial. It's an expression of your organization's beliefs and values, and ideally guides every aspect of your communication, from the attitude of frontline folks to the high-level presentation in the boardroom. The point is, it's about YOU. Just as it's a fashion fail to buy a new trendy look because it looks cool on someone else and not because it suits you, so should business brands avoid trying to package their offering solely based on the flavour of the day. If it doesn't come from within (and above), nobody will believe it. Like me in an iridescent designer tracksuit.