Clients often ask us the secret to building great brands, and the answer is not always what they expect. Building great brands takes time and discipline, and like strong relationships, great brands have to be built on solid foundations.
The foundation of any successful brand, be it B2B or B2C, public or private, and regardless of industry, is its brand platform--the succinct articulation of the organization’s purpose and promise, its values, and its voice.
It is the brand platform that embodies an organization’s individual culture and personality. And, by ruthlessly adhering to their platforms, companies can build brands that become intuitively understood at every touch point and actively sought out by the audiences they target.
Below are a few best practices that all organizations, regardless of size, longevity, or industry, should bear in mind when looking to define their own effective brand platforms.
Take a critical look at your organization, and try to define what is actually true about who you are, not just what you think others would like to hear.
Enron’s mission statement, for example, used to claim that the company stood for "respect, integrity, communication, and excellence." Great words, but if your brand platform is not true to your culture, then it can never be more than window dressing and will ultimately fail to infuse the fabric of your organization.
To define an authentic platform, you need to be honest with yourselves. What is your company’s personality, and how it is embodied in the actions that you take? How do your clients describe working with you?
And ultimately, why do you do what you do? Beyond just looking for a paycheck, why did your people come to work for you in the first place, and why do they stay?
Avoid The Obvious
When defining your authentic self in your brand platform, try to focus on what makes your organization unique.
For example, Adidas says its values are "authentic, passionate, innovative, inspirational, committed, and honest." Nothing is wrong with these values per se, but do they go far enough to embody what is special about the company? I would suggest that they could be pushed beyond the generic to become truly effective.
By the same token, many companies today claim that integrity and teamwork are values that they hold in high regard and that make them who they are. But do they? Do these values make a company special, or are they simply table stakes? I would argue that the latter is more often the case.
Keep It Simple
One of the keys to a powerful brand platform is making it understandable and usable.
As with many things in life, when defining a brand platform, less is often more. When crafting your purpose and promise statements, try to use 10 words or less to complete each line. These statements are not intended as all-inclusive legalese describing every aspect of your operations; rather, like Nintendo’s simple aspiration to "put smiles on the faces of everyone we touch," they should serve as succinct and inspiring rallying cries designed to unite and align your organization.
And when defining your values, try to limit yourself to four or less. If you find yourself with more, you aren’t being focused. Your values should be taken to heart by your employees and used on a daily basis to guide their actions, which is far easier to accomplish with three than with 30.
Bring It To Life
Don’t take the time to define your platform and then relegate it to a plaque on the wall or the "about us" section of your Web site.
Use your platform to guide your actions so that your brand moves from something you talk about to something you live. Use your values as the principle criteria in hiring decisions and as the lens through which you review and promote your employees.
And use your platform when evaluating business decisions and execute accordingly. For example, regardless of the controversy over the campaign’s execution, and as Siegel+Gale has already commented, Starbucks’ recent "Race Together" campaign is entirely in line with the company's stated purpose to "inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time." The brand the company is building goes beyond coffee; it's about human experiences.
In essence, great brands are those that distill what is truly authentic and unique about the organizations they represent and then amplify these core truths to the world. While the brand platform cannot do this alone, defining a strong platform upon which to build communications, behaviors, and experiences is a powerful--and essential--first step.