working out loud

Developing a Brand Platform: Values for the Vision

I’ve been a part of several instances of brand development for different organizations, but this past year I’ve learned that they were all wrong. Scratch that…they weren’t totally wrong, they just didn’t start right.

Many brand conversations I’ve been a part of started with the mission statement, then quickly went into the details of the work and what the organization did, then a vision of the future. Pretty quickly after that came the designs, colors, fonts, and types of photos. And each time it seemed like a logical process.

But then something changed for me.

Over the past couple years we’ve been developing new web properties and revising old ones, and when we met with designers and developers, they really wanted to understand who we were and what we do. And I noticed that our team was often able to talk clearly about our work and what we do, but often we’d get a little pushback, “Okay, we think we get it,” they’d say, “but what makes you guys special?”

Our team would pause for a second and then launch into a pretty good explanation, but at the end of the meetings, I got the distinct feeling we hadn’t quite hit the nail square on the head—at least not for this new outside audience.

As I was explaining this to a friend, he asked if we had done any brand platform work. I said yeah, we have our color palette, fonts, what we like to show in our pictures, etc. and he said, “No, I mean your values.” He asked what the “magic” was that we bring to the world through what we do. As I asked more questions and learned more, I was pretty sure our organization hadn’t gone through this process, at least not since I’ve been contributing to and managing our communications.

It was clear this had to be our next step. Before we talked to another designer or made any other big pitches, we had to get our brand platform defined and articulated in a cohesive way. To be successful in conveying the importance of what we do, all our leaders had to understand our core values and be able to communicate them consistently. I was confident our management team and network leaders would talk about what makes us special in generally the same way, but I wasn’t so sure we all could narrow that down to the same set of 5-8 core values—and I knew everyone wouldn’t say them in the same way. When talking about our work and what makes us special, we all hit around the same area, but never quite at the center of the target.

So here we are: one step firmly taken towards naming and solidifying our brand values. We started working with an outside consultant last week who’s facilitating conversations with key leaders and others in outside organizations to help us name and categorize those Things that make us special. Here’s what we’ll get out of this process:

  • Brand values
  • Brand promise
  • Brand position
  • Brand personality

Even at this point I can see that much of the core pillars that we’ll arrive at will align with many of the ways we’ve already defined and positioned our brand in the world. And by taking the time to define this brand platform, we’ll be able to clearly and consistently communicate what makes us special, and have a solid foundation on which to build our voice and style.