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April 11, 2011

I’m a Yoga Teacher, Not A Cow, So Why Do I Need A Brand? ~ Kristen DiLandro

What does it mean to have a yoga brand?

Teacher trainings exist all over the world, and they are turning out dozens of new yoga teachers. Many of these new teachers may be asking this question. One component to some of these trainings’ curricula does include “the business of yoga.”

My experience in yoga teacher training programs, both in New York City and in Boulder, have one striking similarity: trainees do not like talking business. When asked about how they are going to make a career, words like “commercialization,” “uncomfortable,” and even the word “dirty” are often tossed around. But, your branding must be considered carefully if you intend to teach yoga for money.

“If you build it, he will come” is a popular quote from the film Field of Dreams, but unfortunately what people forget is that it was just a movie. If traction were as simple as building something great, few if any businesses would actually fail. There would be very little (or no) need for brand strategy, marketing or advertising. If it were that simple we would never have to say, “location, location, location.”

Building something great is important, but how can it sustain if no one knows that it exists? Your tenable yoga-teaching career is contingent on your willingness to develop personal business acumen. You must be committed to creating, living, offering, maintaining and promoting your yoga brand.

When I asked Shannon Paige Schneider, of Om Time Yoga, how important it actually is to have a yoga brand she replied:

“[Branding] is so important. If you think people are buying a class, you are crazy! They want to purchase an experience.”

Think about that. We attend the classes of our favorite teachers. They are our favorite teachers because we are buying what they are selling. Meaning, we trust them and believe they are good at what they do. That is the bottom-line. First, they get us in the door and they charm us, so we keep coming back. Students of yoga want to find teachers that they love and yoga teachers want to offer their services to people that appreciate and support them.

Creating a brand simply means that you are able to deliver your message clearly, establish your credibility and create an emotional connection with your students. There are other definitions, but for the purpose of keeping things simple we will start here.

Another note about branding is that it is targeted. While a message may be somewhat universal, it is ultimately targeted at the audience you are trying to reach. Branding is communicating what you know you can offer, and presenting yourself as the best provider of this service to the people who are looking for it. You communicate with them through your words, the channels you choose, the logo you create and the colors and fonts you incorporate. All of your decisions should be mindful of these facts.

The best place to start is to ask yourself what kind of teacher you are. If you teach restorative yoga then you are not going to target elite athletes looking to gain more strength and flexibility. That is not your brand. However, you could target this same group by offering them a time to enter a state of deep relaxation. That is your brand.

Stay honest about your talents and get that message out. Do not sell yourself as something you are not. That is a bait and switch which is inauthentic and, frankly, unethical. Here are some general guidelines for consideration when you are developing your brand:

Be Y.O.G.A.

Be Y: Yourself.

Let your unique voice and perspectives shine through in your blog posts, tweets and on your Facebook page. Be consistent about what you stand for in all of these forums. Share your story. People are drawn to narratives and relate to others through storytelling. A concept, myth or story is at the heart of any worthwhile brand. Develop the best account of you and share it.

Be O: Oriented with Others

Promote other people and organizations that you believe are serving the world well. Congratulate others on triumphs. Share articles that you believe your students will find interesting. Comment on other peoples’ pages and links. Be an advocate and an active member of the community that you support.

Be G: Genuine

Like being yourself, being genuine about your skills and your yoga offerings is critical. One embellishment can make people lose trust in you. Your students want to trust you and you will create an atmosphere of trust by highlighting your talents and credentials.

I recently stopped attending classes from a teacher whom I like. Why? This person publicly misrepresented what they do. Instead of being a yoga teacher this person took the liberty of saying that they “practiced yoga therapy.” After some research I realized that this is simply not true. Some people may not think that this is a big deal—I do. This person is a body worker, and I want to believe they will always tell me the truth even if it means admitting they do not know something.

Be genuine, it is not worth risking your reputation.

Be A: Artistic

This piece of advice comes to you with one important caveat: if you know that you have no sense of design, get help. Ask for advice from someone with taste whom you admire. Less is usually more and seems cleaner. Clean is a great association for a person teaching yoga. When you create any sort of content or correspondence with design components, be aware that this is part of your brand. Choose your words, type/font, color story and widgets very carefully. Think about why your favorite things appeal to you and give your students a similar feeling.

This is a very simple way for you to think about creating your yoga brand. You can certainly find entire books that are committed to branding. If you adhere to this general guide, you are simply communicating your greatest gifts to your potential students.

Now you have a framework to use when you are talking about yourself and your services. You are on your way to creating a sustainable career in yoga without compromising your yogic values.

Kristen DiLandro is inspired and informed by yoga, art, and fringe culture. She finds every opportunity to integrate these passions into her work. Most days are spent tucked away in her favorite coffee shop, sipping mate and hammering out strategic plans and content for her various projects. Helping yoga teachers and artists develop their on-line communication tools and personal brand identities is how she likes to spend her time. She also enjoys time spent collaborating on brand amplification projects that focus on experiential, high-touch, design events. When she is not on the web she can be found: turning her home into a gastro-speakeasy, traveling with her amazing husband, practicing titibasana and dreaming of her next outlandish adventure. Follow her on twitter or posterous.

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