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Top business executives have built careers on focusing their strengths and downplaying their weaknesses. We have rarely seen it fail. They are very uncomfortable when you start poking around their bald spots and pot bellies. It’s not that they aren’t aware of them (top executives are a very smart lot, by and large). They just don’t want to be reminded of them (or to be reminded that others are aware of them).

My mentor and friend, Bobby Joe Jones used to call this trait “corporate ego.” But I see it more as vulnerability than hubris. Anyhow it can be a real impediment to proper branding.

An authentic brand is always the product of a discovery process, in which the brand culture is interrogated until it confesses to its strengths. If the branding firm is not able to interrogate the brand, it will inevitably diminish the authenticity of the brand. This discovery process (we call it Communication Audit) can be invasive. We want to get at the deep-seated themes and gaps in the branded organization. When done properly, the discovery process can have value beyond the brand standards it yields. It can be a great vehicle for executive feedback and cultural alignment.

But some people just can’t get past that vulnerability regarding their warts, scars, and unsightly bulges. In fact, it is very common to hear, “Just talk to our CEO. He knows what we’re all about.” Or, “here are some CEO videos on YouTube, that should give you the idea.” Or, “why do you need to know all that, just to design a logo?”

It might help to think of branding as having a bespoke suit made for you. The ultimate goal is to have a suit that fits you so well, it makes you look better than you are. It magnifies your best traits, while covering your less attractive ones. It presents you, the real you, the authentic you, but it does so in a way that also presents the BEST you. But the problem is getting there.

If you’re going to have a perfect, bespoke suit made, you are going to have to stand in a room with unflattering light, on a raised box, in your unmentionables, while a tailor measures you. Every inch of you. The thighs. The back side. The less than athletic waste line. The flabby arms. All of it. Then, to ad insult to injury, he will write down every measurement, exactly as it is, with absolutely no flattery whatsoever. And you will be asked to try on several versions of the unfinished suit. Stand there as he nips and tucks.

But all of this is done in private. And the result is something that makes you look great…in PUBLIC. The perfect suit.

If you don’t like the poking and prodding, you can always go for an off-the-rack suit. Some of them are very nice. Nice material. Nice details. Nice colors. But you’re never going to get the bespoke fit from an off the rack suit. Never.

So, when you look around at your competitors and feel a bit of brand envy, just remember that you can have a brand that fits like that. But to get there, someone’s gonna see you in your unmentionables. It’s just the way it goes.

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