June 25th, 2016 - Personal Brand

Who’s in your squad?

As I dropped my daughter off for her last Grade 9 exam yesterday, I found myself parking the car and taking a moment. For six years, we’d made that drive to school.

I remembered the anxious 8-year-old the first week of Grade 4 – new house, new school, new city. Her overwhelming worries. I thought of picking her up early when she’d torn her knee open or when we were facing flood evacuation in the final days of Grade 6. But most of all, I was flooded with memories of the car-ride chats, the tears, the frustrations, the day-to-day emotions of my darling girl as she grew up.

Usually we talked about who she had spent her day with and how those people made her feel, and perhaps, how together they made other people feel.

The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends.

Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life

I tried to listen with an open heart and open mind while parking my own emotions. There were days when her stories made me feel the world was good and days when the stories nearly broke me. Those days when I wanted to hold tight and banish mean girls from this world.

And then there were the times I would challenge her thinking, her own behavior, hoping to guide her to step above, to be kinder.

Through it all, I hoped that she would learn the value of other people. How to wisely choose good people. How to be there for them when they needed her and how to let them be there for her.

After our talks, I wondered if I was applying the same perspective to my own life and relationships. Our car rides were a gift of personal discovery and enrichment that I came to cherish and selfishly protect.

Lately, my 14-year-old, wiser than her years, has turned the tables and taught me important lessons. At Tuesday’s junior high awards assembly, she humbled me with the accolades she received. It was the final award of the day and my husband and I listened politiely as the principal read:

The Carla Wildeman Award has been given annually, since Carla’s death, to honour her memory and to inspire and acknowledge a student who demonstrates a sincere desire to model spirit, enthusiasm for life and school values.

While our school is blessed with many young men and women who model these characteristics, this year’s recipient stands out for her enthusiasm, energy, passion for life, generosity and kindness.

And then he called our kid’s name.

We were gobsmacked.

At 14, she had accomplished what so many adults, businesses and corporations fail to do. She had created a remarkable personal brand. And it wasn’t for a thing, an accomplishment … it was for a feeling. She received this special award because of how she made people feel.

She had learned to be that person for someone else, that “living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe in other things.”

Her achievement reminded me of a favourite Seth Godin quote. “Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning.”

And it’s made me ponder my own brand.

What about you?

How do you make other people feel? What do the people you surround yourself with tell the world about you? Is your company just selling stuff or are you creating feelings, emotions, something that targets the heart as well as the mind?

PS. We certainly are the company we keep. That’s been on my mind a lot over the last year as I’ve tweaked my squad both personally and professionally. On that front, stay tuned for a Blackcoffee announcement next week as I introduce you to a new collaborator. Someone special that I’m honoured to align with.

No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.

We need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, & challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.

Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life

With gratitude,

Shannon Larkins

Inspired by a little blackcoffee

Some of my favourite moments are spent in search of something beautiful while I drink my first cup of coffee and hear the house wake up. From there I move on to the paper and the news of the day. In this space, I’ll share some of those inspirations.

Now that's some good advice

Articles, snippets, or videos that highlight what to do and what not to do in the always changing world of branding and design. 

By Seth Godin @ profile.typepad.com/sethgodin

The brand is a story. But it’s a story about you, not about the brand.

The brand is a story. But it’s a story about you, not about the brand.

Why prefer Coke over Pepsi or GE over Samsung or Ford over Chevy?

In markets that aren’t natural monopolies or where there are clear, agreed-upon metrics, how do we decide?

Yes, every brand has a story—that’s how it goes from being a logo and a name to a brand. The story includes expectations and history and promises and social cues and emotions. The story makes us say we “love Google” or “love Harley”… but what do we really love?

We love ourselves.

We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.

We can’t easily explain this, even to ourselves. We can’t easily acknowledge the narcissism and the nostalgia that drives so many of the apparently rational decisions we make every day. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not at work.

More than ever, we express ourselves with what we buy and how we use what we buy. Extensions of our personality, totems of our selves, reminders of who we are or would like to be.

Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning.


Shannon Larkins

Founder, Blackcoffee Studio

Over the course of 15+ years, Shannon has grown Blackcoffee Studio out of a love for building brands and reputations. She serves up Blackcoffee as a morning ritual while caffeinating clients and readers on the regular. You can find her at www.BlackcoffeeStudio.com


Blackcoffee Studio

Blackcoffee is a premium brand development agency, offering luxury brand experience to clients at home in Calgary, Canada and around the globe. Brands create experience, set you apart from the competition and drive growth. Anyone can bulid a business but only the exceptional can create a brand. Are you ready?

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Hi I’m Shannon, founder of Blackcoffee Studio. A former reporter, spin doctor and politico, I now focus on using my powers for good.

I create mighty brands for clients and share their stories with the world. I’m also rather addicted to my nutty family, dogs with pushed in faces, Mexico and of course coffee … black.