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3 Things I Learned about Branding as a TEDxNewBedford Organizer

TEDx letters

It is hard to believe that TEDxNewBedford: uNBound is less than two weeks away. When Dena and I decided to co-organize this event, we didn’t imagine that it would become as big as it has. Nor did we imagine that we’d be moving furniture into our new space at EXACTLY the same time, but that’s another story.

I’ll admit to feeling a bit skeptical about the TED brand and the “TED-ification” of ideas when this whole thing started, but I wholeheartedly believed that it would be a good thing for the New Bedford community so I jumped on board.

It turns out that the TED brand is powerful, and more powerful than I even previously thought. Here are three truths I’ve learned about branding from my TEDx experience:

1. Brands build Community

Seth Godin writes a bunch about how good marketing builds and connects tribes of like-minded people. Naturally, the members of these tribes look for some symbol or way to identify themselves. Nations have flags, sports teams have uniforms, and some tribes use face paint or specific kinds of clothing.

TED is a tribe identifier. Those three red letters symbolize great ideas, or “ideas worth spreading.” You trust when you watch a TED talk that it will likely provide you with some useful or inspiring insight and be worth your time. Furthermore, TED talks are associated with the intellectual elite, innovation, and success. A big motivating factor in organizing TEDxNewBedford was to bring these brand values to New Bedford:

Why not turn the local conversation to innovation and success? Why not showcase our local intellectual power? If the “TED” stamp provides some sort of validation, why not bring that into our city?

TED has stumbled on a formula that works: bring people together for short, concise talks about important ideas, and then spread these ideas on the internet. With a TEDx license, we can re-create this formula for success in our own city, with our own people and ideas. The brand speaks for itself, and I’ve been amazed by the community that is emerging around those three red letters.

2. Brand Trumps Ego (unless you’re Donald Trump)

The great thing about working with a big brand is that it doesn’t belong to any one person. It has been an absolute dream to be part of the TEDxNewBedford organizing team. We are all volunteer, and we have put in long hours to pull everything together. We don’t get a bunch of credit, and we don’t get to advertise our own brands. So why do we do it?

First of all, we care about New Bedford, and we want to bring an event and conversation to this city that has the potential to transform the local conversation.

Secondly, we want to be a part of something that is bigger than each of us. We aren’t doing this for ourselves; we are doing it on behalf of our tribe. And the symbol for our tribe is the brand.

By working on the TEDxNewBedford team, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working on a team with no ego, nobody rushing to take credit, no resentment or whispering behind backs. No sneaky Skype conversations. Just a group of people willing to put their egos aside and work together to make something happen. This is the power of strong branding.

3. Brands Create Freedom

The core of any successful brand is its guidelines. This includes the practical items like font, colors, and logo usage. It also includes things like core values, mission, and purpose. These items define the brand, and they must be thorough and well-implemented. The beauty of working with brand guidelines is that they actually give us great freedom and creativity.

Any web designer knows that work is much easier with a set color palette and fonts. Without those, we are completely aimless. It’s amazing how creative you can be with a limited set of colors! Any blogger knows how much easier it is to churn out content when you have a clear idea of your mission and values. Without those guidelines, writer’s block is sure to appear.

In Zen retreats we follow a highly structured schedule. We dress in black, eat what we are served, and sit, sleep, and take breaks when the bell rings. My Zen teacher calls this the liberty of not having to make decisions. Zen students enter into this rigid container because when we are liberated from the task of making simple decisions the mind can open up to a much deeper, spacious and profound freedom.

The Ethics of Branding

A final note: branding is powerful, so it is important to back any brand with strong values. If you are building a community, you will find at some point that the community naturally and organically needs a brand. Build your brand with integrity, use it well and it will propel you forward.

I’m excited to apply these lessons from TEDx to the Groudwork! brand as we continue to grow. But first, I hope I’ll see you at the big show. I’ll be hiding behind those letters…

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