24 years ago, after working as a freelance illustrator following in the footsteps of my brother, (seven years my senior), he shared with me a quote from an interview of one of the top talents in the field at that time. Bill Mayer, in referencing a handful of his copycat illustrators of the day, was quoted as saying, “don’t do what I do - I already do that.” Sound advice.
Incidentally, my brother was passing that advice down to me, as we were both beginning to get calls for the same jobs creating a somewhat awkward tension In the office where we shared space with two other friends/graphic designers.
It was his passive aggressive way at that time in life of saying “stop riding my coat tails little brother”.
Of course, he had every right. He got there first. His skills were far superior to mine, and yet our styles as a result of my learning from him since I was a youth, had become similar enough that I wound up working for a lot of the same clients that he had previously, from Sports Illustrated to Disney to Coca-Cola.
After listening to his advice, and putting it to some prayer and reflection, I decided I did not want to be a 'copycat' brand. So, I began the process of embracing what came more naturally to me, which was design and messaging - I began to spend hours and days ('pre-internets') visiting Barnes & Noble, both reading (and purchasing) everything I could get my hands on related to branding.
I spent the next 10 years devouring and applying most everything I took in while servicing nonprofits and businesses as I slowly but steadily built a career in the area of branding practice. From Al Ries/Jack Trout to Tom Peters...from the late Marc Gobe to Scott Bedburry...from Landor to Saatchi and Saatchi...from Seth Godin to Howard Schultz, I was a sponge with an insatiable hunger for branding and was living out Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 rule which has since been somewhat dismantled, (but what hasn't been in the last 10,000 hours?).
Since that time, I have run my own branding practice for two decades and seen organizations change their brand message and/or image like they change their pants, experiencing what I have come to refer to as Brand ADHD. They morph their message each year, distracted by what's trending or what the current experts tell them they should be saying rather than sticking with a message that people can remember.
With all that media, social or other pushes at us, we could stand for some brands that influence us toward steadiness and faithfulness...fidelity toward one message, one thing. Brands that breathe their message with the boldness of consistency and contentment, rather than biting with the constant sting of missing out on the passing.
After spending 22 years watching branding practices morph, mature and morph again, my brother's advice still holds true. If you want to last in business, don't brand yourself as someone else, they already own that brand. Brand yourself as you. Build your own brand story. And stick to it. Sure you can refresh and refine, but find your story, and stick to your story.