Ranting about brand models and calling for clarity

When working on a recent brand development project, I had to come up with a brand essence, vision, purpose, foundation, proposition and belief, using a brand model which the client handed around. Of course, none of these concepts are the same thing. Are they?

I’ve seen the same model in a slice shape, an onion, a key, a pyramid, circles and squares… but my issue here isn’t with the shape – it’s with the content within it.

A brand is the foundation for a business to behave cohesively and consistently, connect with consumers and ultimately generate trust. So when developing or refreshing a brand positioning, I’m aware I need to make the guidelines clear enough so that everyone responsible for the growth of the brand gets it. Because of this, I’m reluctant to use a brand model that has seemingly infinite boxes, as the outcome is usually confusing and lacks clarity.

I do understand why clients ask for them though; they are well established models, recognised amongst all marketers and have been proven to ‘do the job’ countless times. Clients invest a considerable amount of money in getting their brands right and naturally, they only want to do it once. So, why would they take a risk and go with a different, unheard of approach?

As Rory Sutherland said in this TED Talk, sometimes we feel that “big important problems need to have big important, and most of all expensive, solutions attached to them”, and organisations that have a lot of money to spend are uncomfortable with simple solutions.

So unsurprisingly, summarising what a company is about in just three sentences can sometimes make marketers uncomfortable. Often, they’d rather add all the detail in there, so it reflects the amount of money spent, and the time and effort that has gone into it. I totally empathise, particularly when there are investors, shareholders, and board members to report back to. But what is the most likely outcome if we do that? Probably lots of nonsense – you’ve just said the same thing in lots of slightly different ways.

I believe simplicity is in fact, harder. But if you manage to do it, it’s much more powerful and rewarding.

I’ve been using our 3-circle model for the past couple of years, and I do so because it works. Not because of the circles, but because it states what’s needed to define the brand in a clear way that leaves little doubt as to what it means: the Promise a brand makes to consumers, the Proof that backs that up and its Personality.

I’m not necessarily urging everyone to use our model (although it does work – in fact we’re so confident about our brand model that we created one for a colleague to help him find love!), nor encouraging every agency to develop a different brand model. I am however advocating simplicity and clarity, and to stop ‘box filling’, as diluting a clear brand proposition in order for it to fit into a way-too-long brand model is ultimately a waste of time, resource, and money.

What you create needs to be understandable for every single staff member – both in the businesses offices and in those of all the agencies they will be using – and not just the few people undertaking the brand development project who have been shut in a room for too many hours.

After all, is it not our job to improve what doesn’t work? To make it more usable and relevant? Are we moving our field into the direction we want it to be? Are we behaving like experts and leading the change? Or should we keep doing the same we’ve been doing for years without questioning it?

I believe we’re the ones responsible for the change. Let’s keep the relevant stuff and scratch all that doesn’t add value. Let’s not be stagnant. Let’s not be lazy. We’re problem solvers constantly looking for creative solutions for brands. Can’t we solve ours?

Written by:

Barry Bell


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