For many years, I was a social worker in the small communities of Northern New Mexico.  One day, my colleagues and I were participating in a conference focused on innovative approaches to mental health on one of the local Native American reservations (called Pueblos here).

One of the grandmothers of the tribe, well into her 80’s, taught me something I will never forget:

“As long as the people remember our sacred stories, they will survive and even thrive.  The problems start when they forget the stories.”

It wasn’t just her words.  Every cell in her body vibrated with the knowing that our stories create the world we live in. 

Building a Brand Starts With Your Sacred Story

“I don’t know what to say about (or how to describe) my business.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this over the years.  In fact, if I had to boil down the dilemma that most struggling entrepreneurs face into one sentence, it would be:

Tweet: Most struggling entrepreneurs don't know the resonant version of their own business story. @PaulZelizer Most struggling entrepreneurs don’t know the resonant version of their own business story.

It’s very hard to thrive when the way you speak about your business doesn’t resonate with others.  Your website, your marketing messages, the description of your offerings, and just about everything else sit on this foundation.  And if it’s built on sand, you are in trouble.

Since we have the power of Zen on our side – go Team Conscious Entrepreneurs! – let’s simmer down “an awareness of your sacred business story” to the word brand.  For our purposes, it’s that simple.  Your brand = an awareness of your sacred business story.

Once you understand your brand deeply, you leverage that understanding to build a tribe of raving “brand evangelists”.  People who LOVE your products and services and actually enjoy telling their friends and colleagues about your business.  But without a strong brand, that’s not going to happen.

Enter the Zen master …  🙂

Zen and The Art of Building a Brand – Step I

Spiritual entrepreneurs and conscious business owners often rush too quickly – misguided by well meaning coaches, web designers or branding consultants – into the question of “What is my brand?” before they have an embodied experience of ever playing with with the question “What is a brand?”

Tweet: Give yourself time to play with what a resonant brand is before trying to figure out what YOUR resonant brand is.Give yourself time to play with what a resonant brand is before trying to figure out what YOUR resonant brand is.

To help clients with this, I often give them an exercise early on in our coaching to allow them to experiment with a Zen approach to branding.  I call it the Magic Camera Branding Exercise.   I find it really helps in easing into building a brand that’s elegant, simple and resonant.

Here’s the instructions from that exercise:

Before our session, I would like to invite you to play with branding.  Notice I said PLAY.  This is an awareness exercise.  There is no right or wrong …

I want you to imagine you have a magic camera.  The beauty of this camera is you can point it at any business in the world – of any size – and it will show you what the brand is in 3-5 Zen cornerstones.  For instance, if I point that camera at Starbucks, I see:

  • Beverage (and some light food)
  • Hip/Urban
  • Gathering Space
  • Consistency

I invite you to point the Magic Branding Camera at 3 or more businesses.  Please make one a national or global brand so there’s a good chance I’m familiar with it.  And I’d suggest at least 2 examples of heart or wisdom based businesses that resonate with you.

Then we explore what it was like for them to do the exercise and what they learned about branding having gone through it.  Clients often report they have a much clearer and more grounded sense of what branding can be.

Zen and the Art of Building a Brand – Step II

The Zen Cornerstones for my brand.

The Zen Cornerstones for my brand.

Once you have a bit of experience of playing with a deep approach to building a brand, then it’s time to start playing (there’s that word again) with building YOUR brand.   Again, I want to encourage you to use the same Zen cornerstone approach you used above.

Here are some questions to help you feel your way into Building a Brand For Your Business:

  • Who can you best serve?
  • What do you help your clients or customers with?  What challenges do they have?
  • What’s unique and/or exciting about the clients you work with?
  • What are the wisdom/spiritual foundations of your brand?
  • What is the feeling tone of your brand?
  • What kind of personality do you want your brand to have?
  • What are the specific benefits your clients or customers experience?

As you start exploring the above questions and getting a sense of what’s unique about you and your business, the trick is to think of maple syrup.  On average, it takes 50 gallons of sap from a maple tree to get one gallon of maple syrup.  The tendency for people new to building a brand is create something boring by trying to fit in too much.  You’ve got to simmer it down if you want it to taste good!  🙂

Tweet: Good branding is like maple syrup - it takes intention to cook down the raw sap into a tasty, poignant product.Good branding is like maple syrup – it takes intention to cook down the raw sap into a tasty, poignant product.

After you have a flavorful set of 3-5 Zen Cornerstones for your brand, I encourage you to create a visual representation – like the picture above. is a free and easy tool for this.


I originally wrote this post in June of 2014 and it’s become one of the most read things I’ve ever written.  In the spirit of what I teach my clients – that a good brand story is a living and changing thing, not something set in concrete – my brand has shifted.

In the summer of 2015, I launched a new site.  In the process of working up to this, I worked on my Zen Cornerstones for the new expression of my brand.  Below is the new brand graphic.  I want to say a BIG thanks to Rachael Kay Albers at RKAInk for both the amazing new site and this brand graphic.

brand graphic 3

What’s Next in Building a Brand?

Most people think of building a brand as the stuff you do “out in the world.”  Connecting with people and developing a tribe of “brand evangelists” who will use your product or services and help you grow your business.  And, I agree that this is essential.

Going through the above process let’s you have something tasty with which to step into the marketplace – pure maple syrup instead of sugar water.   From here, it’s a matter of translating these Zen cornerstones into marketing assets (like a strong website) and messages that resonate strongly with a particular kind of person.  The more visible action steps of building a brand are a whole lot easier and more effective with this strong foundation.

Given that I’m already over 1100 words,  I’ll leave some of the details of these next steps for another post.  For now, I’d love to hear about your experience and questions around building a brand.  Does this approach resonate with you?  What questions do you have about building a brand?  What’s worked well for you?   I’d love to hear from you in the form of a comment below!