Your brand helps build differentiation from your competition and defines how you will appeal to customers.
All makes sense. Until you start to define your brand. For something that is agreed to be a key component to the success of any business, it's incredible just how adhoc the whole process feels. Here's a list of some of the interchangeable terms we've come across over the years.
- Brand promise
- Brand values
- Brand mission statement
- Brand purpose
- Brand personality
- Brand pillars
- Brand strategy
- Brand essence
- Brand charter
- Brand essence
- Brand key
The list of nonsense around brand goes on and on. And within that, what's the difference between a promise, a mission and a purpose? What order does it go in? In the name of the baby Jesus, why have we made something so important to a business so hard to understand?
If working out your brand hierarchy is this hard before you've even started to work out what it is, how on earth are you hoping to explain it to people within your company? It's an over-intellectualised shit show.
Before I rip my knitting, let me share the way that we approach it here at Good. The keyword there is "approach". Each brand definition project is different; there are nuances with each client. But I love a framework at the start of the process that I then break as I learn more about a business to get to the best possible outcome.
We try and keep it simple. The first question around this is, why are you doing this? A brand definition project, whether a new brand or a rebrand, needs to be recognisable to the business, ownable and actionable. To that end, whatever you produce needs to be simple enough to be understood quickly and by itself. If you're adding on caveat slides to your brand definition or referring to a brand film to give the brand meaning (boak) then the brand isn't defined well enough at the fundamental level.
Trying to get to the essence of your business to help determine your brand is challenging. That's when you end up with frameworks like brand onions (fuck off) and brand keys (double-triple fuck off) or, even worse, a brand identity prism (no words) that become overloaded with detail. This detail around your business can feed into the definition process but shouldn't be the end product. But try and make a brand key actionable.
I like to go old school and use the brand pyramid. It may be a cliche, but it puts the significant points in order and shows the hierarchy well. I love a pyramid; the simplicity appeals to me. We split the brand pyramid into three.
Let's start at the top.
The bottom line is, what is your company here to do? This vision should stretch you. It goes beyond selling a thing and trying to get to the heart of why you matter. At this stage, I'd like to introduce the Good Plumbing Company. They're looking to define their offering and need to create the basics to ensure they're building from solid foundations. Here's the vision
No plumbing problem should ever become an emergency.
Will every plumbing problem escalate into a emergency? Hopefully not. Does the Good Plumbing Company want to strive to make sure it doesn't become an emergency? Of course they do. It's a vision that drives the company. It's no different a sentiment than NASA's put a man on the moon by the end of the decade mission statement. The scale is different, but it sets the business's overarching attitude to plumbing, customers, and how to approach each callout.
That's the vision — all good. The next question is, how do you achieve that vision? That's where mission comes in.
Your mission starts to detail how you'll achieve your vision. For the Good Plumbing Company to achieve their vision, they need a mission like:
Every job we do is a chance to make a bad situation better for customers so they can get back to their lives as quickly as possible.
The mission statement helps us understand how we achieve the vision. Coming to a concise mission statement is challenging. However, trying to get to how you approach your vision is the start of how you differentiate your approach from the competition. It doesn't have to be unique; uniqueness is overvalued in brand and can get you down a rabbit hole of nonsense pretty quickly.
The mission, tied to a strong vision, starts to be that north star for how you should expect to interact with customers. After that, the mission starts to guide a whole host of elements within your business. How do we approach each job? How do we answer the phone? What do we put in the van to make sure we are making a bad situation better for customers beyond our usual tools? Your mission should lead to make your vision come true.
Lastly, we have values.
I fucking love values. They are at the bottom of the pyramid, but that's not to say that it is the least important. They are the bedrock of your brand, guiding you on every action. But they can be tricky.
Values can have a tendency not to feel particularly ownable to your business. "Innovative" is a value that pops up a lot. "Sustainable" is another one on the rise. Two points on this. The first is that Innovation doesn't help guide you. Also, what company is pushing their non-innovation credentials?
Secondly, getting your values into one word is difficult when you're looking for that value to be meaningful. To make it ownable to you, we tend to use two words rather than hitting on one. Tying those last two points together, rather than stating a value as "innovation", look to how you're innovative, how do you get to be innovative. What's the value you want to see grow behind the outcome of Innovation? In this case, it could be "Questioning" or "Curiosity". That's the value that drives Innovation, not just being innovative in itself.
Values are also the one part of the pyramid that can do with a little help in defining how the value relates to the brand. Going back to the Good Plumbing Company, we have three values.
- We're Trusted Experts
- We Add Value To Every Job
- We're There For Our Customers
On the face of it, these values can be pretty generic. That's why we like to explain them a little more to provide context. Here's the copy around one of the values.
We're Trusted Experts
As plumbing experts, our job is to advise our customers on the best way to get the job done – never pushy or arrogant. We want our customers to know we have their best interests at heart, and the advice we give comes from years of experience.
Again, this value ties back to the vision, supports the mission and guides a wider range of decisions the business needs to make every day. So while all three tiers of the brand are connected, the values are what you probably will refer to on a day to day basis.
I believe that developing the brand strategy, starting with this foundational work, is the basis for business strategy. Without crystallising your brand, you make it more difficult to communicate your offering to your customers and people inside your business.
The way that we define a brand isn't the definitive way to approach brand definition. We're asked where brand purpose lives in here. I have lots to say around brand purpose as another layer of the pyramid, but brand purpose needs to be more carefully implemented than many brands currently do. I'd argue that the definition of the brand at this stage should be purposeful. To recap on the Good Plumbing Company's vision:
For the service that people are interested in buying from you, this is pretty purposeful. Is it saving the world? No, but it defines and drives purpose from the business that benefits its customers.
The way I'm approaching purpose versus the more expansive view may seem like a slight distinction, the way you view "purpose" can have a massive impact on your brand definition. Unfortunately, we've seen confusion start to creep in with Vision and Purpose. In an ideal world, we'd separate them.
The ideal world isn't one we live in, so we'll flex this approach if it's warranted. For example, sometimes, we've created a brand statement that encompasses the whole pyramid into one or two sentences. This type of flex can be done, but it isn't easy. This "one-liner" approach has pros and cons, but we always start by identifying the vision, mission, and values to then distil into something tighter.
That's how we, at a very top level, look to define a brand. Defining your brand may seem like the end of the process, but it's just the middle of it. There are many questions, digging around, understanding your customers, your category, your offering and your stakeholders before we get to the definition. From there, it's executing it, making sure that the brand definition can be outward-facing while bringing your internal team along too.
But this stage is the defining moment for your business; all perceived value is built on top of the brand definition. Get this right, and you've got yourself set up for the long term. Drop me a note via email or on the Twitters if you've got any questions. I'd be delighted to clear anything up for you.