Powerful authentic brands that stand the test of time are built stone by stone through a process of uncovering and deeply understanding who they are at their core and then sharing that process with the world.
It was 1997, and I was a sophomore at Rochester Institute of Technology studying advertising photography. There was a group of us sitting in a friend’s finished attic (doing what college kids do in cozy attics in the dead of a blistery Rochester winter) when a friend said, “I’ve got a new album you need to hear”.
A moment later Bob Dylan’s young weathered voice and simple guitar picking moved through all of us as it resonated off the low hanging pitched ceiling. “Hard Times in New York Town” pierced my heart and flooded my soul like nothing I had ever heard before. We sat and listened to that album all night and replayed that moment countless times over the next few years. How were songs, many of them over 35 years old at the time and recorded using the most basic technology, able to touch us so deeply and influence our lives?
Dylan is simple.
Simple is powerful. Most Dylan songs are three chords. Most of the three disk sets feature only Dylan: just him, his guitar and harmonica. He is the ultimate example that it actually doesn’t take much to communicate deeply. The less that is said, the more piercing the potential of those words/images/experiences. I guess I should stop there.
Dylan is himself.
Dylan has always been and will always be unapologetically himself. He says what he sees and feels; he does what he feels is right and then leaves it at that. Even his voice is unapologetically himself. He didn’t go looking to make a hit; he just did him, and that is where art is born. He then put that art out into the world for people to do with it what they may and decide for themselves what to make of it.
The press and most of the public struggled with this. They often asked him what he meant by his songs or tried to attach him to movements, genres or current events. Dylan never understood this because he was just playing music; people could make of it what they will. This wasn’t posturing or positioning but simply being himself, and that came through in his music. It is the ultimate position, and the only defensible one.
Because Dylan is simple and is himself, he was able to evolve. He experimented and played with music, but more importantly he experimented and played with who he was as an individual and what he might be capable of. Because he evolved, so did his sound– countless times. Even as his health waxed and waned he persisted in being his authentic self, allowing what was happening on the inside to come through to the outside.
Bob Dylan remains one of the most authentic and powerful personal brands that exist today, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. He built that brand the old-fashioned way. He didn’t go around liking other people’s posts so they would like him back, vigilantly posting once a day at just the right time. He didn’t defend his name on Google searches to drive everyone to his website or buy his competitor’s names as search terms. He didn’t mold himself to the latest musical trends or chase the white space.
Instead he focused on himself. He put in the work to discover who he is and then shared that with the world. That’s the old-school way to build an authentic brand that stands the test of time. It remains the only way.