Your brand needs a “belief framework”


Author and marketer Seth Godin defines brand as the “set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision of one product or service over another.”

These expectations result from direct and indirect experiences that current and prospective customers, members or fans have with a company, organization, individual or idea.

So how do you put a connected framework around a brand to begin to create and deliver positive experiences that deliver a sense of value to people, and have them wanting more?

Patrick Hanlon, author of “Primal Branding,” proposes that organizations must clearly identify 7 assets that are the essence of a brand belief system:

  1. Creation storyAnswers the question where you came from.  This lays the foundation for why people should care about you. Every organization has one. It can and should be crafted and shared with employees, customers and prospects so that they get a sense of the organization’s roots. Examples of brands with compelling creation stories include Coca-Cola, Facebook, and FC Barcelona.
  2. CreedAnswers what you want the person to believe in. It’s a mission statement or tagline that your audience can easily understand and embrace. Examples include, “Just do it” or “Soup is good food” or “Think different”.
  3. IconsAnswers the question how a person can recognize you in such a busy world. Icon’s are not only logos, but also can include uniforms (think of your favorite sports team) and designs like the shape of a VW bug.
  4. RitualsAnswer the question how people can interact with you and the community in a unique way. Consider what the NFL has done to Monday and Thursday nights. The NFL brand has created must-watch events during the fall and winter, where two nights a week (not to mention Sundays) people sit in front of the TV, or pull out their tablet/smartphone and watch a live football game.
  5. Pagans/non-believersAnswers the question of who doesn’t like you. Just like a superhero needs a supervillain, brands also have their “enemies” – and this is good as it helps you draw a line in the sand. Examples include Coke vs. Pepsi, Eagles vs. Cowboys, the Republicans vs. the Democrats. By identifying non-believers, you are likely better able to define/understand what you stand for.
  6. Sacred wordsLike rituals, these are special words and phrases that only those who “belong” know. Starbucks has it’s own language for ordering (check out the Huffington Post article, “The Most Obnoxious Starbucks Drink Orders” for a laugh). Universities too have a long history of “sacred words” – Seattle Sounders soccer fans all know the songs and chants that are becoming a part of the team’s tradition.
  7. LeaderAnswers the question of who people should follow. These can be the founder or CEO, or a strong person within the organization that is able to bring people together and create a sense of purpose and unity. Consider Richard Branson, Bill Gates, or the late, Steve Jobs.

Once identified, you need to actively manage and communicate the 7 brand belief assets through the channels that make the most sense for your organization and audiences.

Examples for communicating your brand belief framework include:

  • Using your website to tell the story of where you came from (video, text, old images, etc.);
  • Building a tagline and/or key brand words into all of the digital and print materials you develop and ensuring spokespeople incorporate this creed into their presentations;
  • Incorporating colors and key images throughout digital marketing efforts in order for people to immediately recognize the brand, without even having to read text;
  • Capitalizing on the Christmas holidays and delivering messages that tie your product/service directly into the holiday, like Stella Artois did in its 2012 holiday commercials;
  • Creating videos that demonstrate exactly who you are and who you are not so that it’s clear who the pagans are (remember the Mac v PC commercials);
  • Creating a webpage like the University of Georgia has where fans can listen to and learn your “battle hymn” and “fight song” and participate in the game-day experience; and
  • Having your leader use Twitter or a blog to share her/his vision and personal perspective like Bill Marriott’s “Marriott on the move” blog.

So, does your brand have a belief system? Are you actively managing the seven assets?

Take the time to understand the belief framework you have to work with. Build it out so you can better market your brand and build long lasting relationships with customers and members, and transform them into believers.


What comes first: the content or the design?


Unlike the circular debate about which comes first, the chicken or the egg, the “which comes first, content or design” question has a clear answer:


If you’re in marketing, communication or advertising, you’ve likely been on the receiving end of one or more of the following statements/questions:

  • “I need a brochure by the end of the week.”
  • “We need to create a new webpage for tomorrow.”
  • “Can you make an ad?”

If the statement is followed by something like, “Just start designing something and then we’ll give you the content later,” or “We can’t give you the content until we know what it’s going to look like,” just STOP!

That’s unless you’re ready to spend hours of your life going back and forth to deliver something that will likely disappoint you and your colleagues, and miss the mark with your target audience.

So where do you start if it’s not with crafting text or finding great imagery?

You begin by answering these four foundation-level questions before discussing any design or even messaging:

  1. Why you are designing something?
  2. Who needs to engage with message?
  3. What people should do or feel once they engage with the message?
  4. When and where (location, not platform or channel) people will experience what you are crafting?

With these answers, you can craft the basic message that you want to convey – I’m not talking great copywriting at this point; just defining in simplest terms what you want people to understand.

With the basic message identified, begin the conversation about the medium(s)/channel(s) that it will be delivered on.

You can now determine if you need something short and punchy for an ad on a search engine that people might see while researching. Or, maybe you realize that you need to provide more utility through a series of blog posts so you can begin to pull in new prospects. Whatever the medium or channel, the discussion on what you need to say and what it will look like is much easier when starting from a solid foundation, a foundation that is shared by the people you are working with.

Put a strong copywriter and creative director or designer together who both understand the answers to the four questions above, and you have the ingredients in place to deliver solid, and even amazing results.

The reality is, this process often has to take place in a matter of hours because of deadlines. But, it’s a process that can definitely make the final deliverable more effective, and at the same time, help you keep a little more sane.

What do you think? Share your perspective.