By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

The Only Question That Matters: How Does Your Brand Make People Feel?

Branding is the way that an organization or a person connects with its audiences. Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons (or both), branding essentially tells your target audience a story about you that they can connect with. It is your story.

For example, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, who recently announced his return to professional football, brands himself as a ruthless competitor, but also a loving teammate who cares about team camaraderie. His teammates say the same.

Branding is how you make people feel. The same goes for business. Your brand will attract the people who feel good about doing business with you or align themselves with your brand. By the same token, your brand will repel those who don’t feel good about you and refuse to embrace your brand values.

For instance, how do you feel when you think of Walmart? Many people love it, while others hate it. How about McDonald’s? Billions of people evidently love the fast-food chain, but I personally wouldn’t care if I never visited McDonald’s again (except for those emergency bathroom stops on road trips when I inevitably buy a cup of coffee out of guilt).

Now, ask yourself: What impact do you have on those around you? Is it positive? Is it negative? Do they keep coming back for more, or do they stay away from you? I, for one, want to always make people feel better for having met me. That’s my personal brand.

In general, people want to feel good. They want to be happy. They want to be uplifted, especially in light of everything that’s going on in the world right now. In some ways, people want to escape their own lives for a second, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. Your brand can represent an opportunity for escapism—a “getaway” from the current problems in the world. After a business meeting, I want people to think, “She makes life so easy for us.” I want them to think, “We can’t wait to see her again.”

Remember, people need to know, like and trust you in order to spend their hard-earned money with your brand. Spending presents an opportunity cost: If they spend it with you, they can’t spend it with another brand. Therefore, you need your clients and customers to feel pride in your brand. (Employees, too: If you hire and manage people, you need them to feel proud about working for you. They need to trust you as an employer.)

But you can only inspire trust if your brand story is clear. You want your brand values to be easily identifiable so people know what you’re all about. Only then can they start to like you. For example, presenting your story and values on your website—in addition to physical locations, if possible—makes your branding obvious to others.

Consistency matters. All of your public relations and marketing efforts should reinforce your brand story and the values that matter to you. Don’t meander. Figure out your talking points, then drive them home repeatedly. There’s a reason why the best advertisers rely on repetition. As Donald Miller, author of Building A Story Brand, explains: “Clarify your message, so customers will listen.”

Over time, it becomes as important to repel the wrong customers as to attract the right ones. You want to find potential brand ambassadors who firmly believe in you and will share your story with the world. My team is now working on a marketing plan for a sustainable, eco-friendly resort destination, where people will sleep in treehouses and cook their own meals from organic, locally sourced meal kits. The guest avatar for my client’s resort is the opposite of the avatar for one of those all-inclusive, luxury beach resorts in the Caribbean, where your every whim is serviced. Those are two very different kinds of brand ambassadors.

But, in either case, you want consumers to become raving fans. Brand ambassadors should be passionate about the community formed around the brand. I always think of my favorite Maine ski resort, Sugarloaf, where I used to work as director of communications. The resort has cultivated thousands of raving fans who call themselves “Sugarloafers.” They love skiing there, talking about it, hanging photos on their walls, spreading the love on social media and coming back for more while finding every opportunity to tell others about how much they love it. It’s almost a cult following! The Sugarloaf logo is simple and highly recognizable on the back window of their Suburbans or Jeeps as they drive northward on the highway every weekend. You can’t fake that passion. Sugarloaf turns people into brand ambassadors, and you should do the same in your business.

In branding, the only question that matters is this: How do you make people feel?

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in April 2022.