Let’s establish something right off the bat: most organizations never really hit their stride, especially when it comes to communicating what their value is. The employees don’t know it, the audience doesn’t know it, and often the head honchos don’t know it. No one in or around the organization really knows what makes the organization unique. That leaves customers with a blah feeling when they buy your product. It leaves employees feeling like they are working for Dunder Mifflin, just another paper company in a digital world. It makes churches, schools, businesses and causes feel limp… no one is excited to work for you, buy from you, or be a part of what you are doing. Big problem. Wait… what is the problem?
You… er, excuse me… they don’t know what their burning hot center is, the heart beating behind the business. Here’s my basic premise: when people choose a brand, they are choosing a tribe (a community of people who are a part of the same thing). They choose it ultimately because they identify with it. The tribes filled with people excited to be there attract more people. People become excited about being a part of something that has a passionate center. More people means more resources, more customers, more momentum… everything an organization wants and needs. But you… er, excuse me… they won’t get those people unless they know two things: 1) What the burning passion at the center of their brand tribe is, and 2) How to spread the news. The solution lies in an 8 step cycle that keeps the center burning hot and everyone in tribe spreading the news.
Find the center and spread the news: a fresh approach to branding
8 steps to help you uncover and communicate your passionate center to your tribe:
- Dig Up Your Unique Value. this is what your brand (organization’s identity) really is at its most basic level… and it’s usually buried under lots of (forgive me) crap. Identifying the one thing that distinguishes you from the rest of the competition and making that your primary identity is one of the most important things any organization can do. This is more about an idea than about a product. For instance, in 1994, Steve Jobs decided that what Apple sells isn’t computers… they sell an ethos. Every commercial subtly says that owning a Mac identifies you as: young, laid back, outdoorsy, active, artistic, relational, fun. They don’t ramble on about how Macs never break down like PC’s! They stress the beauty of the design and how fun it is to use. They are selling something no company can literally own… but make no mistake: they are selling it. They discovered that their unique value lies in their philosophy about computers and how we use them, and that determines everything else. It is the DNA strand that no-one sees but determines everything about you. I call it your unique value. You don’t have to able to say it perfectly yet. You just have to be able to feel it… it’s that idea you are always trying put words around. It is the passionate center, the beating heart. Every organization started with one. By the way, the people you work with should be a part of this process before your finish… they’ll tell you if you’re way off the mark. You don’t want to leave this step until you feel like you and the people you work with are feeling the same beating heart. So, what’s yours?
- Discover Your Tribe. Who are the people that make your organization possible? How old are they? What are their values? What are their lives like? Understanding the people your brand is built on is essential before creating your logo, message, website, and everything else that visually represents your organization. Be careful, though! Many people make the mistake of defining their unique value after assessing their core audience.Big mistake! The needs and desires of your core audience change over time, but if you change your core values with them, it means that your identity does not have a passionate center… it’s just spin. It’s safe to assume your audience can detect spin… they’ve had years of practice. Your tribe is the group of people that will connect with or need your unique value. It naturally flows from your passionate center. Who are they?
- Craft the Core Message. Keeping your audience in mind, create (or recreate) a core message, one that says who you are and what needs you meet. Good core messages imply the right things without spelling them out. For example, ours is branding you for the social web… these six words are meant to describe who we are and what need we meet. The power of minimizing your complex identity and list of products into one simple sentence is very important because of a little thing called time. People do not have a lot of it, and neither will you when you get the opportunity to share your identity or mission with them. Memorize it, polish it, and say it to everyone you talk to about your organization (especially the people working with you).
- Use the Right Voice. A voice is the tone you choose when communicating your unique value to different parts of your tribe. Having a great message is one thing, but it doesn’t make people feel that the message is for them. Take a college, for example. Their “tribe” can be categorized into 4 parts: potential students (and their parents), current students, alumni, and donors. Usually, the average age of a donor is much older than a prospective student… so, the tone used in communicating their mission statement is going to be much different depending on which one you are talking to, right? You need to dress your core identity differently for different market segments. To use Apple again, they understand the buying power of teens for their iPods. They also see that those teens are used to visually rich entertainment. So, they don’t spell things out in words in their ads… they use bright colors and creative design, a perfect tone for that audience.This can be a challenging process, and the voice changes with the times. However, creating an intentional voice for each group does two things: it makes each group feel that you are talking to them, and it strengthens the layers of meaning in your core identity.
- Leave It on the Cutting Room Floor. Film directors in the old days would leave yards of unused film on the floor of the room where the movies were edited. Why? So the movie would feel accessible, understandable. Same thing here. Between steps 1-4, you could have pages of material written down. I have often filled white boards with key words, charts and phrases, just on Step 1! However, people need clarity, and you have limited resources (a safe assumption). Now it’s time to go back and cut out almost everything. You may have come up with ideas for 10 different commercials, a new blog, a new logo, 3 creative ways to use social media, etc. Eliminate everything… except two or three things. Remember the limited resources thing? Put your limited resources fully behind a few initiatives. This is about more than money… it is also about your time. It is usually one simple idea that makes the connection with people, and clutter can confuse your message.
- Make a Plan. Take what survived the cutting room, and map out your strategy. It is always creative ideas that stick with people, so get creative. But creative ideas also usually take a good bit of planning to execute well, so also think practically. Here are a few good questions: “What will communicate our message and make people remember it?” “How long will it take?” “How much will it cost?” “When does our audience need to hear it?”
- DO or DIE. One marketing campaign that has permanently branded my memory is Nike’s Just Do It campaign. Why? It said that they were selling grit, determination, strength, endurance. And by the way, buy our products to feel part of that ethos. But they that campaign started somewhere, with someone thinking, “What’s Nike all about?” It ended with action. Steps 1 through 6 are the thinking parts. Step 7 and 8 are the doing parts. Usually, it’s not wise to put all your eggs in one basket, but with a rebranding effort, you want to be clear what the new brand image is. Nike didn’t tippy-toe around “Just Do It” to see if it would work. They JUST DID IT! So, make sure that you implement your plan with gusto, and that it doesn’t look like a sideshow… especially to those you work with. You won’t be able to really measure your tribe’s reaction otherwise. Much of this can be done through a new visual look, but often it demands a new way of speaking, doing events, and even sometimes how you dress! The important thing is that it all supports your core identity… if it’s just hype, it will die like a sugar high.
- Live and Learn. Three to six months from now, Steps 1-7 are done. Did it work? You will never know if you do not set up measurement tools to learn from the process. Marketing is a science, but not an exact one. Just like a lab experiment, you record your steps, make notes, and prepare to do it again. “Wait, we’re going to do this again?!” You bet! These 8 steps are cyclical, not a one-time success strategy. It’s a healthy function of a living, breathing organism called “your_organization’s_name_here”. Make sure that you are set up to measure the effectiveness of your strategy, both how smoothly the process went and the resulting effect on the market. Organizations that succeed long term are always fine tuning their voice, adjusting their visual identity, and finding better ways to keep the passionate center hot, both within and without the organization.