The Spirit of Your Brand = Secret to Your Success


What do the city of New Orleans; street psychics and your small business have in common? Give me just a few minutes of your time, trust that eventually I will get to the point, and hang with me here. Oh, and you might want to grab a snack too.

New Orleans has always been one of my favorite cities in the US. I haven’t been back post-Katrina, but I imagine most of what I’m about to share with you regarding the city is still very much the same. What I loved about New Orleans is the energy of it. Its spirit.

For anyone that’s ever walked those old cobblestone streets, felt the stifling humidity, smelled the combination of Creole food, jambalaya, and street trash mixed with a dash of “ode de Mississippi River”, it was surreal. Like walking into postcard.

Your eyes were saturated with the colors purple, gold, and green, flashes of Mardi Gras beads and feathered, sequined masks. Snippets of jazz, blues, and Zydeco music and cackles of laughter spilled out into the streets from Pat O’Brien’s, Bourbon Street Blues, or Café Benet.

Street performers danced among the tourists in Jackson Square throwing flaming sticks, juggling bowling pins, or riding unicycles, while children tap danced with bottle caps on their shoes for your entertainment and pocket change.

Colors popped here and there as artists set up shop and sold their wares outside of the St. Louis Cathedral. Street psychics would predict your fate and tell your fortune for $10-$15 dollars if you let them. Wrought iron balconies, warped by time and sun and humidity lined the cobblestone streets and almost buckled under the weight of lush green ferns and brightly colored flowers that peppered their shoulders.

What mesmerized me about New Orleans as much as all the physical attributes that I just shared with you? Along with dancing and singing in the streets, along with antique rows and thrift stores and the sounds of jazz and Zydeco music, along with food that’ll make your mouth water when you smell it, was the energy. A spirit that is only New Orleans.

It permeated the streets, the buildings, and the river. It was electric and palpable. The vibe was both haunting and unpredictable. It’s as if past, present and future were all happening along those streets in the same instant.

You could feel the history and the spirits of the early French and American settlers. You could feel it oozing from the buildings and spilling into the streets. It’s that energy that caused people to “go crazy” and party and drink hurricanes till they’d get sick. That same energy that caused “good girls” to flash for beads, and otherwise average people to get “swept away”.

True New Orleans natives might get angry with me because I didn’t mention everything. I didn’t mention the beautiful mansions along St. Charles Ave. I didn’t mention the poverty and low-income housing. I didn’t mention the welfare stats or the people that lived in the swap shanties.

ALL of that – the joy and the sorrow – is what makes the spirit of New Orleans unique. The blend of old and new, the smells of mouthwatering food and trash. The good and bad. The yin and yang. When you ask someone who has been there, they get it. They’ve experienced that same energetic force.

What does this all have to do with your business? How does this story relate to your brand? My question to you is, if you were to bottle and sell your business, what would the essence, the spirit of your brand be?

What does it look like? Can you describe it in Technicolor detail? What does it smell like? Crisp and clean? Musky and sweaty, like an old leather boot? What does it sound like? Garage punk, or smooth jazz? What’s at the heart of your brand?

Can you tell your brand story? Better yet, can your customers? Do they “get it” when they stumble upon it in a crowded marketplace? Can they describe it with passion to ten of their friends and get them to “buy” your brand the next time they visit that same crowded marketplace?

One stellar example of spirit in business is Southwest Airlines. They’ve even called their in-flight magazine Spirit Magazine. According to their website:

“The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”

What I’m interested in is the, “Company Spirit” part. (Notice they capitalized Customer Service & Company Spirit?). Southwest has been able to stake a claim and get more than their fair share of the pie in a market that is dismal to say the least.

Why have they been so successful when so many others have failed? Because they are NOT having an identity crisis! They KNOW who they are. They very clearly state their mission and then streamline and simplify their operations around that vision.

“More than 35 years ago, Rollin King and Herb Kelleher got together and decided to start a different kind of airline. They began with one simple notion: If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline. And you know what? They were right.

What began as a small Texas airline has grown to become one of the largest airlines in America. Today, Southwest Airlines flies more than 80 million passengers a year to 62 great cities all across the country, and we do it more than 3,100 times a day.”

Southwest Airlines isn’t just a carrier to get you from A to B. It’s an experience. What kind of experience are you creating with your brand? Are you consistent with your message? Can customers clearly identify you? Or are you too busy trying to shape shift into the latest, newest version of your brand?

Get in touch with the spirit of your business. Get to the heart of your brand. Sit down and ask your brand to tell you a story. When you invite the spirit of your brand to come out and play, there’s no way customers won’t respond.

Not everyone needs to get it. But those that do will return time after time and will become walking evangelists for your brand. I can’t guarantee they’ll flash you for beads, but I do know they’ll be loyal to your brand for a lifetime.

The spirit of New Orleans keeps luring its residents and visitors back. Can the spirit of your brand do that?



  1. This is an eloquent article on the value of “experience” branding. It also touches on the topic of using mission statements to engage your Employees and Customers.

    Mission statements should almost never be about the specific products or services you deliver, even if you say you will do it best. It’s too easily read cynically. Few people are likely to rally around such a utilitarian “battle call”.

    Mission statements should be about the value your Employees will bring to your Customers. Most people enjoy serving others, as long as they feel their labors are appreciated, and their needs are not sacrificed to an excessive degree.

    Tell your Employees how to best serve their Customers, support your mission statement in practice; you will find your Employees see the mission statement as genuine, and they will enthusiastically support their Coworkers and Customers.

  2. Colin,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I’m glad you dig the article. Sometimes I’m more knocked out by a brands ability to make an impression on me through expereincing it, rather than “being sold to” with bells and whistles and fancy promises.

    And I agree with your statements about getting support from your employees around mission statements.

    Guy Kawasaki talks a lot about “Brand Mantras” as opposed to mission statements…you should check out his blog, it’s good stuff!

    Thanks again for your feedback,

  3. Riveting Kam… I can almost taste New Orleans despite not having been there before.

    Altering the spirit of your brand is definitely a great way to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Combined with a little creativity and as Nick writes in his latest article, you’ll avoid becoming just another “commodity” in your industry.

  4. Robert~
    Wow! “Riveting”…that’s a first! Thanks so much:) Yeah, I think creativity and a good story will take a brand a LOT further than a bunch of muscle with no heart.

    Not to sound “woo-woo” but when we share our story, our heart of our businesses, customers/fans/clients feel that genuiness, that realness. I think that really ups the ante.

    Thanks for your feedback. I KNOW, New Orleans is such a mish-mash! Anything goes, and that’s what I loved about my times there. It was like come one, come all! But the “taste” of it is what made me think about it from a branding perspective. Just thought it might put a good spin and brand identity and charisma.

    Stay passionate fellow SBB’ers,

  5. Hi Kam,

    I love your article and the whole experience concept. I think the part about “the yin and the yang”, and the “joy and the sorrow” is particularly interesting, especially in a brand sense. Like offering a “whole personality” as opposed to a one-dimensional product or service.

    As for New Orleans, what a great example to use. I was only there a few days but found it a fascinating, intriguing place. A real melting pot isn’t it.

    I have this theory that cities have personalities, and it’s one of the things I love about travelling – arriving somewhere for the first time and getting that first ‘taste’ of its personality. I can feel it right away and I love that. And I imagine that brands are like that too – they have personalities and straight away we get a sense or taste of that.

    The tricky part is first defining the right personality for your brand, and then finding the right ways to create that!


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