Most advertising is somewhat of a constant push and pull, the story of the brand versus the insight into the audience. Brands with too much of a disconnect between these two things tend to just muddle through, bouncing from promotion to promotion without a clear identity or sense of what they’re here to do. It’s item at a price based on the idea that people want stuff, not necessarily stuff to facilitate belonging, values or any of all that fruity stuff that seems more difficult to quantify. At least those things that “feel” less like selling anyway.
But our goal is pretty simple. We’re helping brands operate more fluidly, expressing a coherent sense of self and an acute understanding of what that means for an audience, their needs and expectations.
So I thought I’d deconstruct a bit.
In a talk about David Hume, Professor Nicholas Phillipson said the following:
“All our cognitive skills are in fact acquired skills. Ordinary life, from birth to death, teaches us to exercise our various cognitive skills in order to make sense of the world in which we find ourselves. They are acquired. The message in all that is that if you want to understand your own mind, it is best to start off with yourself…in looking at the history of your own belief system.”
In other words, the way we make decisions has everything to do with how we’ve experienced our past. So you can’t really understand a brand’s lens unless you also understand its history, how it got from point A to today.
The tool we’ve been using is meant as both a rallying cry of sorts and simply a way to focus new decisions based upon the important behaviors of the past. The stuff that shapes who these companies are and why they’re here.
For explanation’s sake, I’ll re-order a bit.
What are the things that are most important? What is the brand’s moral code? For Apple this could be intuitiveness or accountability, for Google it could be experimentation.
Does the personality reflect that of their founder? CEO? How might you describe the tone of voice? If you called the company Steve or Stu and tried to describe it, what words would you use?
The next three are a package of sorts.
This is the rallying cry bit. What is the thing the brand could rally their community towards? What is the bigger idea the brand exists within? What does it do in service to the audience, the world? The bigger idea is important. If you’re a foundation company, you don’t just exist to pour concrete, you might rally for more stable homes. Or if your Tom’s shoes, you exist to improve the lives of children. Nike exists to make athletes better.
This is what gives you credibility and authenticity. What is the thing from which the purpose is derived? Why should we believe that you give a shit? Often this is founder driven, and sometimes crosses over with behaviors, but this is really about things that happen inside the company that shape who they are. You could say the core brand motivation for Virgin comes directly from Richard Branson. But you could also say that GM is what it is because of a scrappy, survivor mentality stemming from the restructure.
Often much harder than it seems, behaviors are the outward signs of this motivation. What are the past actions the company or people within it have taken in support of that purpose? If you can’t name anything, you probably haven’t found the right purpose. Red Bull made a secret half-pipe for Shaun White. Levi’s jump-started a town. Apple’s yearly strategy retreats for the top 100 employees or DRI’s begin to define the expectations the company has for itself.
Now we have what essentially amounts to our brand filter. Probably a good place to stop. Next up, we’ll tackle the external stuff and where that fits.