after the comma

think of a brand. whether it’s nike, steve jobs, toms or michael jordan, every brand has a series of identifiers that embody who they are, what they represent and why they matter - a concept we at keating refer to as after the comma. think about the overarching descriptions of the aforementioned brands. michael jordan, the greatest athlete of all time. toms, improving lives through business. steve jobs, the visionary who pushed the limits of innovation. nike, inspiring the hero within. while there are many ways these brands can be described, how did these labels come to serve as the prevailing message? how did they become engrained within the public consciousness?

we believe in the power of words, and what follows the comma is the first opportunity to control what is said and it is invaluable to establishing identity. individuals and companies go to great lengths to define and refine their core identity, to communicate what it is that they stand for and what it is that they hope to achieve. what follows the comma is what is ultimately heard. it’s what people connect with, what they remember and what they repeat.

originally, the comma was devised to indicate the amount of breath required to read a passage. it eventually saw a shift from the oral tradition to the written, and came to serve as a tool of precision. what follows the comma is similarly simple yet powerful, and controlling its meaning is more important than most people consider. what follows the comma is a key factor in terms of how your brand is perceived. it is intrinsic to your brand identity and it requires precision and clarity. as a key message, it is disseminated and eventually becomes a focal point of conversation surrounding your brand. a strong message should be chosen carefully and thoughtfully and should convey the essence of your person or brand. what follows the comma should reflect how you want to be defined and heard, and should resonate with the audience who matters to you. the comma, at its core, is a device that allows for a true representation of what came before it.

think of what happens when you fail to actively control this message - your brand or person is left shrouded in mystery. and while historically, this stealth tactic has been a strategy in its own right, the problem is that it renders your reputation vague or undefined. anything can then be said about it or imposed upon it. this leaves a void, giving the voice of others the opportunity to gain prominence and possibly present your brand in a negative light. for instance, though steve job’s legacy positions him primarily as an innovator, he has also been known as a tyrant. these labels do not have equal weight, and through careful control of this message, his achievements have risen above the characteristics of his personality.

in a time where media is omnipresent in our daily lives, we consume content more rapidly and in higher quantities than ever before. we are inundated with messages from countless brands every minute of every day. whether it’s facebook, twitter, blog posts, news headlines, opinion pieces or video, more messages are being written and published than ever before, and the ability to stand out and cut through the noise has become more difficult. the accessibility of media makes it easier for others to influence your message, and the anchor in this saturated climate is the description that follows the comma. another problematic instance is one where what follows the comma is inaccurate, confusing or obsolete. there should be no doubt as to what this descriptor serves to represent, for providing context and delivering a message with precision are what make a person or brand relevant.

in proactively establishing a core definition, and controlling the words surrounding your brand, your message will be louder and clearer. there should be no doubt as to who you are and why what you do matters. when you get it right, you rise above your competition, you become a standard of excellence in your industry. what follows the comma powerfully influences what it is that people hear and determines how you are described and remembered.

keating, master storytellers.