5 Branding Lessons from Kanye West

If you’re familiar with anything even remotely related to Kanye West, you’ll either love him or love to hate him. Whatever your stance, most can’t deny that he’s the perfect example of a solid brand.

And by solid brand we mean he’s consistent, he knows how to speak to his audience, and he’s a beast at repelling those who aren’t members of his audience. And at the end of the day, he’s going to do what’s best for him even if that means making jaw dropping pivots into gospel music and presidential races.

But you might be wondering what that’s got to do with your brand. Well, there are few pages that any of us could take from Kanye’s book. We’ve outlined them below.

He’s a trendsetter.

If you’re not setting the trends in your industry, you’re following them. That means your brand has less of an impact. After an audience has heard the same message over and over again, they - much like a mother who has learned to ignore her child’s screams for attention - have gone tone deaf. When you show up on the scene doing and saying the same thing as everyone else no one will pay you any attention to you.

So be like Kanye. Kanye knows how to attract attention because he’s not afraid to take the lead and stand out. For some reason, most brands wait to be told what to do rather than listening to their audiences for hints at what they should be doing next.

Want to get a leg up on the next trend? Stop what you’re doing right now and think about your industry and the people it serves. Think about what you could start doing, today, to better serve them in a way that no one else has. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme or costly. But it should challenge what’s already out there in a way that makes both your peers and clients view your brand as an industry leader.

He has a definite brand identity.

Ask about Kanye. You’ll hear words like outspoken, genius, narcissistic. Most people know that he’s passionate about art and fashion. He’s protective of those he loves. He’s not afraid to stand out.

Now. Ask your audience about your brand.

If you aren’t able to identify any commonalities among what people think and say about your brand, you just may have a problem. Your brand has to be grounded in some idea, rationale, or principle or else you don’t really have a brand at all.

But, it’s not too late to figure it out. Start with the following question. For what do you want your brand to be known?

Once you have an answer, that one thing (or things) should permeate every piece of content you produce until your audience is able to sum up your brand identity in a few words or short phrases.

Keep in mind that old proverb (is it actually a proverb though?): you have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. Your brand has to stand for something or it’ll be seen as unstable and wishy-washy. That’s not what you want.

He’s not afraid to alienate.

Unlike Kanye, too many brands fall flat because they try to attract and appease everyone. Kanye does not.

If you like what he’s doing, cool. If not, that’s cool too.

While most brands don’t have the luxury of such a cavalier attitude, all brands can take a lesson in creating messages that are so strong anybody outside of their target audience will be repelled. And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

Why you ask? Because as soon as you can remove those people who are more hurtful (the ones who leave mean comments on social media and troll your promos) than helpful to your brand the better off you’ll be.

There’s literally no way you can build a brand that pleases everyone even if you have products or services that are super common (like soap or shampoo).

Stop trying to attract everyone. Refocus that energy on refining your brand message and attracting the right people. Your people.

He’s not afraid of imperfection.

Kanye knows that perfection is overrated. Now, you know.

Your audience doesn’t actually expect perfection they expect your best. Sometimes even your best falls short and that’s okay. Just try again.

Kanye’s first fashion show was a complete train wreck. He’s been criticized for not having made good music since he married a Kardashian. He had a public meltdown and criticized some of his best friends and peers in the music industry. Still, Kanye rises.

The thing about building a solid brand is that you will make mistakes. You’ll never know what actually works until you’ve gotten a few bazillion things wrong. The key though is to keep tapping into your brand voice until it’s so fine-tuned it practically speaks for itself.

But, like Kanye, you have to consistently show up. Show up even when no one seems to be paying attention. The right people will take notice soon enough.

Consider this. Even after a nearly failed fashion show, there are still people who are devoted to him and his clothing brand. He’s still securing major endorsement deals and he has just topped the Forbes list for being worth a billion dollars.

One imperfection, or even a succession of them, hasn’t stopped his success. They won’t stop yours either.

He’s consistently shows up as himself.

Attending an awards show? Doesn’t matter.

Speaking at a charitable event? Doesn’t matter.

Day out with the family? Nope. Still doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter the time or the place, Kanye will always be Kanye.

Can you say the same for your brand? Does your message change depending upon where you are or who’s asking? If it does, you’re not being authentic to your brand and you’re definitely not channeling your inner Kanye.

It’s easy to want to shift gears depending on who’s watching, but every time you do just remember that you’re not only diminishing your brand you’re also making it harder for your target audience to find you.

That essentially means you're missing opportunities to gain their trust...and their dollars.

Here’s how you can be consistent:

  • Use the same language in person as you do in your written and video content.

  • Identify your core brand values and messages and share them regardless of the audience.

  • Don’t back down, and change paths, when someone challenges those values and messages.

It’ll happen. That doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path, it only means that you have to be super confident and knowledgeable about what you have to offer.


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