I have good news and bad news. The good news is that greatness is a state of mind. The bad news is that others’ minds decide your state. As with many things in life, this is true for people as well as brands. A brand is, in its most basic description, what people believe, feel, and think about a company. Companies like to think that their brand (or “brand image” if you’re old school) is whatever they’re currently telling the public it is. Which is rare. However, that is the goal. Because when what people think of you matches up with what you claim to be, you’ve hit the branding bull’s-eye.
Great branding is built on a solid foundation. This foundation is commonly referred to as a “brand platform.” Used correctly, a brand platform can act as a launching pad for your branding efforts. Conversely, it may resemble the 10-meter Olympic diving platform, except, instead of water, the pool is filled with buy-one-get-five coupons that cause financial ruin and death by a thousand paper cuts.
A brand platform defines who you are as a company in a way that everyone in the organization can understand—even Chuck in H.R.—by codifying beliefs into a framework that doesn’t change with the shifting winds of accounts receivable. The platform becomes the guiding document in how you speak about the brand and how the brand acts. It is no use marketing something and then failing to live up to those promises operationally when people finally find time to “act now.”
There is no standard template for a brand platform. Most advertising agencies that deal in branding have developed their own process and format. I prefer a classic format that defines a brand purpose (why you exist beyond making money or even your current product), brand position (who you are relative to your competition and audience), brand personality (five or six adjectives, none of which are “sleepy”), and brand affiliation (the type of people your brand wants to attract). Feel free to Google these terms. Other platforms include brand archetypes or variations on all of the above. The important thing is that the platform brings clarity, unity, and direction. So beware the agency attempting to sell you a process that they themselves don’t seem to fully understand—just because it comes with a cool infographic doesn’t make it actionable.
I do not recommend trying to create a brand platform on your own. Anyone inside the company is too close to the situation to be completely objective. Nonetheless, you should be actively involved in the process. An agency that insists on doing everything themselves before delivering a final document fait accompli is probably doing a lot of finding and replacing on a platform they first wrote in 1998.
Once your platform is in place, use it. This is not as obvious as you would think. Weigh marketing decisions against it. Use it to filter operational objectives. Spread it throughout the company so that when an employee gets asked about where they work, they give an accurate answer. Eventually, because branding is a long game, your brand will be cohesive and consistent. And all your marketing will automatically be strategic in tone and message (and media, too, if you’re paying attention).
You will still need to decide on creative directions and tactics, of course, but you won’t have to do the heavy lifting of figuring out foundational principles every time you write a new tweet. Because you will know who you are. And, more importantly, customers current and potential will, too.
This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.