There are too many Brands where what gets said inside the corporate office is completely different than what gets said in the marketplace. Moreover, there are brands who only view “messaging” as something Brand does in TV ads or through logos. At its most simple state, if you say “simple” on TV ads, then consumers should experience simplicity right away, your R&D people better be looking into new simple technologies, your technical service department should speak in simple common language, your payment check out better be simple and everyone in your entire company should be working towards simple. This is why Apple is such a great brand.
It starts with the Big Idea of your Brand
I’ve always heard how Brand is the hub of the organization and everything should revolve around the Brand. While it makes sense, it’s just talk unless you are managing your business based on your brand’s Big Idea throughout every inch of your organization. Everyone connected to the brand, should fully understand the brand’s Big Idea. And when I say “everyone”, I’m talking about everyone in the entire organization, including Sales, Finance, Production, R&D, HR and Marketing, as well as everyone outside the organization that’s agencies or employees at your retailers.
The Brand’s Big Idea (some call it the Brand Essence) is the most concise and inspiring definition of the Brand. For Volvo, it’s “Safety”, while BMW might be “Performance” and Mercedes is “Luxury”. Volvo has stood for safety for almost 60 years, long before safety even registered with consumers. Here is the Tool I use to figure out a Brand’s Big Idea. The model revolves around four quadrants that surround and yet help to define the Brand:
- Brand’s personality: human descriptors that express the brand’s style, tone and attitude.
- Products and Services: features, attributes, and functional characteristics that are embedded in what we sell.
- Internal Beacons: the internal views or purpose of the brand, why people believe their brand can win, what inspires, motivates and challenges.
- Consumer Views: honest assessment of how the consumer sees the brand, the good and bad.
How this tool works best with a team is that we normally brainstorm 3-4 words in each of the four quadrants and then try to form those words into a sentence for each quadrant. After all 4 quadrants are filled, we then looking collectively, we begin to frame the brand’s Big Idea with a phrase that embodies the entirety of the brand. As I facilitate sessions using this tool, it’s almost magical as we see the brand really come to life.
The Five Brand Connectors
Once you have your Big Idea, you should then use it to frame the 5 different connectors needed to set up a very strong bond between your brand and your consumers.
- The brand’s promise sets up the positioning, as you focus on a key target with one main benefit you offer. Brands need to be better, different or cheaper. Or else not around for very long. ”Me-too” brands have a short window before being squeezed out. How relevant, simple and compelling the brand positioning is impacts the potential love for the brand.
- The most beloved brands create an experience that over-delivers the promise. How your culture and organization sets up can make or break that experience. Hiring the best people, creating service values that employees can deliver against and having processes that end service leakage. The culture attacks the brand’s weaknesses and fixes them before the competition can attack. With a Beloved Brand, the culture and brand become one.
- Brands also make focused strategic choices that start with identifying where the brand is on the Brand Love Curve going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and all the way to Beloved status. Marketing is not just activity, but rather focused activity–based on strategy with an ROI mindset. Where you are on the curve might help you make strategic and tactical choices such as media, innovation and service levels.
- The most beloved brands have a freshness of innovation, staying one-step ahead of the consumers. The idea of the brand helps acting as an internal beacon to help frame the R&D. Every new product has to back that idea. At Apple, every new product must deliver simplicity and at Volvo, it must focus on safety.
- Beloved brands can tell the brand story through great advertising in paid media, through earned media either in the mainstream press or through social media. Beloved Brands use each of these media choices to connect with consumers and have a bit of magic to their work.
Using the Brand’s Big Idea to Create a Brand Strategic Road Map
Having the brand road map on one page can help align everyone that works on a brand. This is especially useful when managing a Branded House or Master Brand where there are various people in your organization that each run a small part of the brand. The road map helps guide everyone and keep everyone aligned. Here’s the one I use that has all the key elements that help define the brand, at the center-point is the Big Idea and the 5 key connectors we talked about—promise, strategy, story, freshness and experience.
Key Elements of the Brand Strategy Road Map
- Brand Vision: End in Mind Achievement. What do you want the brand to become? Think 10 years out: if you became this one thing, you would know that you are successful. Ideally it is Qualitative (yet grounded in something) and quantitative (measurable) it should be motivating and enticing to get people focused.
- Purpose: Start with what’s in you: Why do you exist? Why do you wake up in the morning? What’s your purpose or cause behind your brand? Very personal and connects to your own story. In the spirit of Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.
- Brand Values How do you want your people to show up? What type of service do you want? How much emphasis on innovation? What type of people do you want to hire? What behavior should be rewarded and what behavior is offside. Having the right Brand Values will help you answer these questions. The Brand Values become an extension of what the Brand Leader wants the brand to stand for.
- Goals: While the vision serves as a 10-year big goal, it’s also important to have annual goals to push and challenge everyone in the organization. It’s a great way to ensure milestones on the pathway to the vision are being hit. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive)
- Strategies: These are potential choices you must make in HOW to get to the vision. Good strategy has focus, early win, leverage and a gateway to something even bigger. There are four main types of strategy: 1) consumer oriented 2) competitive oriented 3) operational and 4) financial. My recommendation is that Master Brands have 3-5 key strategies, but never more. This forces you to focus.
- Tactics: Activities and executions that fit under the strategies. This could be advertising, media, sales, events, social media and professional influence. I recommend focusing on 3 key tactical areas per strategy, continuing to make sure that you focus.
The Big Idea helps Guide the Brand’s Management
The Big Idea should help frame
- Brand Plan that drives the business for the upcoming year or the next 5 years
- Brand Positioning that connects to the consumer through marketing communications
- Customer Value Proposition that links the consumer needs to the benefits of the brand
- Go-To-Market strategy that frames the distribution and the selling process
- Cultural Beacons that help define the brand internally through values, inspiration and challenge and finally
- Business Results, with each brand offering a unique way that it makes money.
So if the brand’s Big Idea really works well to drive the organization, then if you are in finance at Volvo, you should be thinking about how to make safe cars cheaper, if you are in HR at Starbucks, you should be hiring people that deliver moments and if you are working at the Genius Bar at Apple, you have to make sure your language choices are simple and easy for every type of consumer to understand. Taking this even beyond the organization, if you are working at Dick’s sporting goods, you should know what makes Taylor Made such a great golf club. Everything should float down and throughout every inch of the organization from the brand’s Big Idea.
When you begin to blow this out one step further, you can start to see where everyone in your organization should align and understand how they can deliver the brand’s Big Idea.
Telling the Brand’s Story Internally:
Use the Big Idea to set up the Culture through Brand Values
In managing your Brand’s Big Idea you must manage the Brand Story internally which helps creates the experience through the culture, innovation pathway, and service levels, and then manage the Brand Story externally establishing the brand’s positioning through advertising, logo/packaging and in-store.
Great Brand Leaders should be looking at the culture as an opportunity to win in the market place. No matter how good your promise is, if your company is not set up to deliver that promise, everything comes crashing down. The brand story told within the company is even more important than what you might tell the market through your advertising.
Managing organizational culture is very challenging. The Big Idea should provide an internal beacon for all the People in the organization to follow and deliver the brand promise. As you move along the Brand Love Curve from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and on to Beloved status, you need to make sure the culture keeps pace with where the brand is.
While the Big Idea can provide the internal beacon, it might not be enough to capture all the behaviors. Brand Values should come from the Big Idea, and act as guideposts to ensure that the behavior of everyone in the organization is set to deliver upon the Brand’s promise. How do you want your people to show up? What type of service do you want? How much emphasis on innovation? What type of people do you want to hire? What behavior should be rewarded and what behaviors are offside. Having the right Brand Values will help you answer these questions. The Brand Values become an extension of what the Brand Leader wants the brand to stand for.
A great example of Brand Values is the Virgin Group of Companies defines what each value is, but also what it shouldn’t be. I love that Fun means enjoyment but not incompetent and Value means simple but not cheap.
Having values is one thing, but the other component of Culture is the right people leadership. Use the values to help people deliver upon the right behaviors, skills and experiences. Leaders must embody the Brand’s DNA and live by the values. Employees will be watching the Leaders to ensure they are living up to the words on the wall. Leaders need to believe that by investing in their people, the business results will come. Better people produce better work and that drives better results. Talent management means hiring the right people and providing the right training. Too many companies are skimping on training and development, which is equivalent to cutting back on your Research and Development department.
Every communication to employees, whether in a speech or memo, should touch upon the Brand Values, by highlighting great examples of when employees have delivered upon a Brand Value. Leverage values, with inspirational touch points and processes to inspire and challenge them on achieving greatness. The culture will only change when everyone makes the decision to make the change.
Aligning brand with culture is essential for the long-term success of the brand. Brand Leaders should look to the overall Culture as an Asset to make your Brand Experience more powerful.
Telling the Brand’s Story Externally:
Use the Big Idea connect with consumers of the Brand
Once you have your Brand’s Big Idea, it should inspire you to seek out a Creative Idea, from which everything should come from. The best brands use a Master Brand anthemic spot to help tell the overall story of the Brand. But even more so, the Creative Idea should help with any specific product spots around the Innovation you’re bringing to the market.
Taking that a step further, you can use it to begin crafting your media plan, by launching with the Anthemic Spot, and layering in your specific product messages. As you look to continue to stay connected with your consumer, you should keep coming back to regular intervals of the Anthem spot. Too many brands, who are failing, try to do both at the same time. They try to create a lofty “Brand Spot” with their agency and just as they start to like it, they ask “can we jam in some news about our new faster widget” message in the middle, or maybe even do a 5 second tag with it.
As you look at the Creative Advertising you want to ensure you take the Big Idea into how the Advertising delivers the rand messaging. The best ads attract ATTENTION, tell the BRAND story, COMMUNICATE the main benefit of the brand and STICK over time. Leveraging the BIG IDEA and matching up a CREATIVE IDEA, you should make sure it’s the CREATIVE IDEA that does the hard work to a) Earn the consumers’ ATTENTION b) Draw and hold attention on the BRAND c) tells the brand story in a way that COMMUNICATES the benefit and s) STICKS with the consumer and builds consistency of brand experience over time. It’s the ABC’s of Good Advertising.
Once you align everything to the Brand’s BIG IDEA, you’ll create a strong bond with your consumers. That bond becomes a source of power for your brand, whether that power is with the very consumers who love your brand, versus retailers, suppliers, competitors, influencers, employees or even versus the media.
Once you’re able to generate power for your brand, you can then turn that into profit, whether driving price, cost control, market share or increasing the market size.
Use your Brand’s Big Idea to Align internal and external dimensions of your Brand
Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader? We can help you.
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*first exposed to the Big Idea and DNA concept at Level5