Brand platforms are all about capturing the existing spirit of your company. The personality, goals, and driving force of any brand should be somehow expressed in a genuine brand platform.
Start with Buy-In
The idea of branding can often be disconcerting. In an organization with a strong community, new brand imagery or language is sometimes difficult to rollout if stakeholders feel a brand has been forced upon them. Genuine brand platforms will come from purposeful feedback, interviews, and conversations with all types of internal stakeholders. While there is never enough of it, take your time in developing a first brand platform. Then, allow it be a living document that changes when necessary (we’re talking slight updates every couple of years, as the vision and direction of your company shift). The brand platform of Firefox is quite exceptional (great content, anway … I could take or leave the visual expression of their brand) and I’ll be using it as case study for this blog.
The Brand Platformula
I like to think of the elements below as a basic formula for writing a great platform. You may choose to include extra elements, or exclude sections that don’t fit with your company. But, this is a great place to start.
Pillars of Support (a.k.a Differentiators)
Depending on which expert you talk to, there should be about five pillars of support for your brand platform. I find that it’s easier to think in terms of what makes your company different. While differentiators are not quite the same as pillars of support, let’s not get caught up in semantics. Think about what truly sets you or your organization apart from the competition. These can be practical or factual things, like being a non-profit in a for-profit industry. But, these can also be conceptual, like having a challenger spirit. Be picky. Write these as a single word (or two, if you must). Then, expound on each of these elements with a single sentence.
In short, what are you promising to your customers? This statement should be informed by what makes you special as a company, yet be expressed in a single sentence. Firefox puts it likes this: “Your brand promise is a single statement that crystallizes what you’re all about, what makes you special, what makes you unique—in short-hand form. It is your promise to those who choose your products and services, and support your brand.” This is not only a promsie about what you are delivering, but how you deliver it. Far from a marketing line used in any advertisement, your brand promise should become a mantra around the office–helping employees live out the brand in their daily work.
A positioning statement should both compare and contrast to your competitors. Define who you are in comparison to similar companies, then point out what sets you apart from others in the industry. Are you a small, liberal arts university? Or, are you a technology startup? Great–then say so! But, follow it with why you’re not just any tech startup. The themes in your positioning statement should fall in line with your brand promise and pillars of support.
Use this as a guide: For (target market) who (have the following problem), (brand) is the (frame of reference) that provides (benefit/point of difference) because only (brand name) can (reason to believe).
Brand Voice (a.k.a. brand personality traits)
If your brand were personified, how would you describe that individual? The tone of marketing and branded writing will pull from these attributes, so make them unique and distinguishable. And, like anyone you want to spend time with, describe a well-rounded person. You wouldn’t want Unique, Quarky, Out-Spoken, and Eclectic to describe your brand voice because you’ve just described someone that no customer could relate with. You’ll notice that Firefox chose six personality traits. I’d venture to say that six is a lot, and might make it difficult to define a focused writing style. Also note that they included the word “human.” This is a smart move for Firefox, because their primary product is a web browser, which might make the audience think of a robot.
Why a manifesto? A manifesto is not only a public declaration, it’s a proclamation about your beliefs, aims, and ideals. These paragraphs should be written to the audience, and should mirror all of the elements in your brand platform. Be sure your manifesto is written using the brand voice you’ve describe. Talk about your position in the market, what makes you different, and why. Then, declare your promise to the audience in a way that is uniquely your brand.
A Brand Platform for All
Remember to include diverse groups of people as you develop your brand platform. During brainstorming, allow people to express themselves in long or short form. Then, use the plentiful words and ideas to draft a concise set of ideas. This is, in essence, the foundation of all your marketing messages but should not be used in lieu of creative campaign headlines. Writers should be able to pull language from anywhere in the brand platform to stay on-brand. But, for your marketing team, it’s only a starting point for campaign brainstorming. Don’t confuse writing your next ad phrase with developing a meaningful brand platform.