In an era defined by social media, e-commerce, influencer marketing, and widespread entrepreneurship, building a brand is more important than ever. And with the term "brand" being thrown around so often, it may at times seem a little difficult to define.
Is it a logo?
A set of products?
Your customer experience?
According to Shopify, home of many great brands, "branding is all the ways you establish an impression of your company in your customers’ eyes."
The Personal Branding of Nipsey Hussle
When I contemplate a person who epitomizes great branding, whose message is at the forefront of who they are, the individual who comes to mind for me is the late and great musical artist and entrepreneur, Nipsey Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Ashgedom.
Well before Nipsey's tragic murder almost three years ago on March 31, 2019, he was known internationally for his unwavering, clear purpose: to give back to his South Los Angeles community of Crenshaw, and to elevate the culture through opportunity and inspiration.
Even among those unfamiliar with Nipsey's music, many still knew and loved him for his community projects, apparel brand, and activism. Everything Nipsey touched funneled back to his original goal of creating opportunities for the Crenshaw neighborhood.
After building his success as a musical artist and entrepreneur, Nipsey Hussle bought a shopping plaza—one where he had frequently loitered in his younger days—and used it to create a coworking space, recording studio, STEM center and a shopping mall, all branded under “The Marathon.”
It's not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s a million small things on an ongoing basis that bring you to your goal.
Needless to say, his belief proved to be true. His efforts resulted in passionate, loyal fans around the world who loved him and trusted his brand.
Three Lessons in Trust from Nipsey
Here are three lessons in brand trust I learned from Nipsey Hussle's example:
1. Create a Brand Vision
Those who knew Nipsey Hussle during the early stages of his career attest to his vision being the same on day one as it was the day he passed. Nipsey always had the ambition to make music that inspired, and to create opportunities for his community.
Similar to Nipsey, whether you want to build a brand with an exit strategy to sell or build something that lasts generations, a vision is necessary. Not only does it unify your efforts and inspire your team, it also creates a framework for both short- and long-term goal setting.
As Nipsey once said, “If you’ve got a plan, it’s not just like a pipe dream. You have a step-by-step list of things to do to get to your goal.”
Not only does a vision for your brand help you to move more strategically; vision also serves as reassurance when things get tough. Having a strong vision for your brand prepares you to play the long game and not be in it for unrealistic overnight success.
2. Show Brand Consistency
Building trust with your key audiences is achieved through consistency. The common thread that most successful founders credit as a not-so-secret sauce to building something impactful is to focus on the next best step, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the larger picture.
As Nipsey put it: “Instead of trying to build a brick wall, lay a brick every day. Eventually, you’ll look up and you’ll have a brick wall.”
In addition to consistency of effort, consistency in presentation is also key. A consistent brand delivers on a brand strategy aligned with its core values, brand promise, user experience, brand voice and visual identity.
Consistency conveys reliability and helps your audiences get to know you on a more personal level. It is key to building lifelong relationships with your customers.
3. Offer a Social Purpose
One differentiator that creates a lasting impression for your customer is to offer them more than a product. Make what you sell part of a larger mission, based on shared values.
While the quality of your product is obviously important, it's likely that similar products are sold by other vendors. Nipsey Hussle was not the only musical artist to create an apparel line, for example. But what he brought to these and all his efforts was a sense of purpose.
If you're looking to achieve a unique emotional resonance with your customers—inspiring loyalty and trust—tie your product to a social purpose.
Nipsey said, "The best thing you can do for a person is to inspire them. That’s the best currency you can offer: inspiration. I’m focused on giving solutions and inspiration more than anything.”
Whether your organization's larger purpose includes a commitment to sustainability, wellness, DE&I, or helping underserved communities, one of the best ways to build a brand is by demonstrating a strong social purpose.
A Life Worth Emulating
Building a brand that stands out among the endless sea of brands is difficult, but with the right vision, strategy and purpose, it is achievable.
As a brand practitioner and entrepreneur myself, I am inspired by the example that Nipsey Hussle set. While his life was cut short, his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of millions.
Rest in peace, Nipsey Hussle—an expert brand builder, activist, artist, entrepreneur and leader.
As former President Barack Obama told the world of Nipsey: “He lived a life worthy of celebration.”
His legacy now lives on in those he inspired, including me—and you better believe that The Marathon continues.
I salute you, Nipsey the Great.