A Brand is What Makes You Burn

Len WilsonCreativity, Culture, Leadership, Marketing, Passion, Strategic Thinking2 Comments

A good brand is not calculated. It is simply the ability to clearly communicate what burns inside you.

In my day job, I work on communication strategy, and a good strategy for communicating what you do starts, in theory, with a clear brand. The problem is that most organizations would agree in theory, but in practice have no way to capture a working definition of brand, much less know how to use one as a strategic decision-making tool.

This post is about what “brand” is and how to use it in your desire to change the world.


“I need a better website.”

People usually begin talking about branding whenever they recognize that they have communication problems.

For example, your website stinks. So you hire someone to make a new one, or make a better video, or a successful ad campaign on Facebook, or so on.

But, as you may have already discovered, you can do that stuff all day and all night – T-shirts! swag! yard signs! – and it makes little difference. If the message doesn’t click, no amount of cool tricks will do a bit of good.

The problem isn’t with communication tactics, but with something even deeper. The problem isn’t a lack of access to or adequate implementation of communications tools, but a lack of clarity about the message.

What’s needed is better alignment between you, your work, and your message.


No, first you need to understand your creative calling.

I’ve heard marketing people define brand as “what makes you unique or distinctive.” This is not far from the truth, though it is incomplete. Just as every person is completely unique, every brand – personal, church, company – is completely unique.

Knowing in what way is critical to knowing your brand and to helping others.

The problem is that a lot of people hear this as free reign to make up your own solutions. Brand is not just something you make up.

In my work on creativity, posted all over this website, I’ve made several references over the years to the idea of a creative calling. This is based on my conviction that God has designed us to do good things with our life.

Sadly, many of us have surrounded ourselves with a mountain of consumption and distraction and have no idea what we’re doing with our life. We’ve filled our minds with clutter and gutter, and the result is “stinking thinking” that has left us unable to understand with clarity about things that really matter.

When Jesus invites us to start life over (a.k.a., to become like little children, or to be born again), he’s inviting us to unlearn our old patterns of consumption. not inviting us to be infants, but to grow up the right way. If we accept this invitation, over time God’s Holy Spirit renews our mind. We begin to see the world the way God sees it and the way God wants us to see it.

This renewal is a return to the creativity that we were given in the beginning. As we begin to see with God’s eyes, God then challenges us to grow up the right way, and in full maturity, with the mind of Christ, to join in God’s great calling to build the culture and help inaugurate God’s kingdom on Earth.

Finding your brand isn’t a process of self-construction, but a process of discerning God’s vision for your life. We are created with specific tasks for our lives, to bring new ideas and solve specific problems that build a redeemed culture. Your brand is the creative calling on your life, or on the life of your company or ministry.

Sounds a bit more lofty than a new website, right? But what does that look like?

Here’s a great example.


A Brand that changed the world.

If you listen to corporate culture, you’ll hear about a lot of people that want to change the world. I’d be hard pressed to accept the premise that any actually do.

William Wilberforce was someone who actually did change the world. After undergoing a gradual conversion to Christian faith over a period of two years in his twenties, he found himself at a professional crossroads.

His high social status had given him access to the most famous names in European and American society, such as King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, and more. His best friend William Pitt had become Prime Minister at the age of 24. He was in line for who knows what political power.

The social evils of late eighteenth-century Europe were stunning. Children as young as five years old were employed for 12-14 hour days in new factories. Public displays of animal cruelty passed for entertainment.  Alcoholism was epidemic, as was sexual trafficking of women. In the late eighteenth century, a full 25% of single women in London were prostitutes, with an average age of sixteen.

Empowered by his dedication to scripture and prayer, a community of fellow believers, and even encouraged by the last letter written from the dying revivalist John Wesley, Wilberforce laid down his political ambitions and status. (He later said that his “first years in Parliament, I did nothing – nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.”)

In its place, he took up the calling God placed on his heart and life. He staked his life on two “Great Objects”: the suppression of the slave trade and the moral renewal of British society.

He spent the rest of his life on these causes. On the latter, he almost singlehandedly made moral living hip. He has used his social standing to redefine what people considered good. In no small part, this achievement led to the fulfillment of his second objective. On his last day of conscious life, Wilberforce heard word that Parliament had passed a law making slavery illegal.

For the next two centuries and still to this day, the name “Wilberforce” has been synonymous with abolition. But William Wilberforce didn’t set out to make his surname a household brand. He followed God’s creative calling on his life.


Brand is what burns in you.

The best way I know to describe a brand is that it is your source of “un-peace.” A brand is what burns inside you.

After all, that’s literally what “brand” means.

The root of the word Brand comes from the same root then gives us the word Burn. What is the passion that burns inside you?

At its root, brand is a verb that means “to burn.” What do you burn for? It is what Simon Sinek is famous for calling “The Why.” It is a Holy Spirit-sparked fire for something. It doesn’t just benefit you. It loves others and builds society. And it is the thing you just can’t let go.

Do you have something that has burned in you for years?


Brand is how others know you.

Last, I’ve heard some people define brand as “what you’re famous for.” Understanding audience is important, and the receiver of a message plays an important role in the communication of your message.

But defining self entirely by how people see you is dangerous quicksand, both in business and in life. I’d venture that the spiritually mature William Wilberforce, unlike the youthful one, didn’t spend much time worrying about what others thought of him.

(Ironically, other people’s opinions and perceptions of you tend to grow the less you worry about them.)

Learning what other people know about you, though, can be helpful if you’re searching for language or insight into your own pasions. If you were to survey your customers or your colleagues, what would they say about you? Perhaps they can help you see what makes you burn.


You must know your brand for your message to click.

If you want to find your brand, I’d suggest instead finding what burns in you. Your creative calling leads to your vision, which leads to your message. This is your brand.

Having a clear picture of your brand enables you to attack tactical issues such as building websites. Here’s the takeaway: You’ve got to know your brand to create messages that click.

Once you have that, you can write creative briefs and hire any number of specialists to craft beautiful presentations of your message.

Next week I’ll name some questions I use to help dig into your brand.


About the Author

Len Wilson

2 Comments on “A Brand is What Makes You Burn”

  1. Len, are you OK? Your article is useful, but it has 2 egregious typos that mar the message:

    1. “The problem is that a lot of people here this as free reign to make up your own solutions. Brand is not just something you make up.” Surely you meant the word “hear,” instead of “here.”

    2. “In its place, he took up the calling God placed on his heart and life. He staked his life on two “Great Objects”: the suppression of the salve trade and the moral renewal of British society.” Wilberforce’s great cause was not “salves,” it was “slaves.”

    You just must have been tired when you posted, but being really careful about word use will enhance your credibility.
    Please don’t take this as criticism, but rather as a bit of supportive feedback. I hope you are doing well in your current calling!
    Jim Galbreath (retired UMC pastor)

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