Writing Your Brand T-Shirt (Brand Vision, Part 4)

Whilst you need a fleshed out vision and positioning for your brand, having a simple summary can be very useful.

Along these lines, I was trained to create "essence statements" that were 1-2 words that distill what the brand is all about. We used an exercise about how BMW was more about "Ambition", and Mercedes about "Success". This is in line with Ries and Trout’s stuff on positioning, and Maurice Saatchi’s suggestion last year about brands having to own a single word.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe this approach is flawed at several levels. First, its backward looking, and often an intellectual exercise in figuring out what made the brand famous in the past. Second, these statements tend to be dry and unexciting: "Caring Cleaning", "Everyday enjoyment" and the like; they push simplicity too far to the point of making things banal. Finally, they are hard to execute. All to often, months after the visioning work is over agencies and brand teams are still struggling to execute them.

Some of these concerns were shared by John at Brand Tarrot last year, when he commented on Saatchi’s "one-word equity" concept:

"But I guess that whether the brand essence idea is three words or one
word… many of us are going to have a problem
with the ruthless, powerful, sacrificing, brutal reduction to one word
of: 1. understanding brands, and 2. coming up with new ideas for them. It is
just too tidy. Too McCulture. Too plastic and corporate

After a lot of experimenting, we’ve found that "brand ideas" work better for us. Think of this as writing a T-Shirt slogan for your brand, that captures where you want to go in the future. I like ones that are "calls to action", especially when the rallying call works for people inside the business, not just consumers. The phrase needs to be simple and memorable, but don’t be tied down by the silly straight-jacket of it having to be 1 word.

I have no hang-ups about the brand idea being very close or even the same as the communication idea and/or end-line, as long as its also driven through the rest of the business, including product/service innovation. Not pure and tidy brand theory, but who cares if it works?

Oliver over at Brand Builder has also posted on the idea of being clear about your brand’s idea, and having a "mantra" you can put on a t-shirt. And Paul at Ideas Sandbox helps you write the 30 second pitch that can expand the brand idea.

Other good brand T-Shirts?