At the end of the day a good brand continuously builds its own equity - that is, a price differential between itself and its competitors - by doing three things well. They can be summarized by the following imperatives:
1. "Choose Me": Help the customer make a decision quickly.
2. "Be Me": Provide the customer with a sense of identity.
3. "Join Us": Create a like-minded group of people rallied around a meaningful cause.
The urgency behind these "commands" flows from a brand creator and their team working together to accomplish three goals:
1. Communicating: Explicitly or implicitly setting forth a unique value proposition that has value to a specific target audience.
2. Consistently delivering: Actually providing the real (functional) and/or perceived (emotional) value they promise.
3. Continuously moving: Symbolically and actually "living," moving about in the world and representing themselves to their audience/s.
But brand teams can't read brand creators' minds. To help them deliver every single day, the brand creator must provide guidelines:
1. Purpose (Meaning)
a. Vision: In one or two words, how do we make a positive difference in the world?
b. Mission: In a sentence, how are we making the vision happen?
c. Values: What kind of people are we? Why would you want to work with and/or buy from us?
2. Approach (Style)
a. Complexity: Highly technical, college-educated, or mass-market?
b. Narrative: Just-the-facts, research paper, or romance novel?
c. Data: Screenshots, photos, infographics, multimedia, or charts and tables?
3. Brand (Persona)
a. Visual: Wordmark/logo usage, color palette, photography style, and font
b. Spokespeople: Just the boss, senior executives, all employees, or customers?
c. Themes: One big theme, two interlocking, or three related (no more than three)
In short, brands win by "acting spontaneously," but the spontaneity comes from an immersive approach to training.
This doesn't mean handing out dry, stiff guidelines that take the wind out of everyone's sails.
It does mean having an ongoing conversation, one that starts with a basic set of principles.
When you're doing it right, your representatives are so fluent -- so fluid in the brand's language, culture and symbols -- that they come up with new and better representations of the brand on your behalf.
They don't ride your wave, they create their own.
And they don't even have to think twice about what they're trying to accomplish.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Alexey Naumov via Flickr.