Driving Brand Identity Through a Clearly Defined Purpose Most organizations spend months devising predictable, and often garbled, mission or vision statements that employees ignore and that fail to guide decision-making in both day-to-day management and big-picture strategic planning. The Urban Institute builds knowledge about the nation's social and fiscal challenges, practicing open-minded, evidence-based research to diagnose problems and figure out which policies and programs work best for whom, and how." The Urban Institute's cogent new expression of its purpose -- its essence -- resonated deeply with all stakeholders. "Fierce Advocates for Justice," the highly effective positioning that Siegelvision developed for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, provided the touchstone for an aggressive campaign to change the public's perception of the school as a "cop college" into a view of it as a comprehensive educational institution, one that boasts a liberal arts curriculum coupled with world-class criminal justice courses for undergraduate and graduate students alike. Defining and Implementing Your Brand Voice We define "brand voice" as the distinctive tone and style of an organization's communications, which should reflect its personality and positioning and provide coherence for its brand across all communications platforms. Driven by the College Board's dynamic purpose statement, "Challenging All Students to Own Their Future," we defined its voice as: Refreshingly clear Credible Supportive Galvanizing Forward-thinking Each of these terms was then defined to reflect the College Board’s messaging and public persona. We challenge students to persevere and make the most of their education. Wells Fargo, today a textbook case of poor corporate culture, communicates a vision and values that are shockingly discordant with its recent behavior. A positive, top-down culture is crucial to the success of your organization and the people who work for it. ROI (Return on Investment), a conventional measure of impact, may work well in measuring tangible outcomes but does little to predict the effect of a product or program on an intended audience.
Economic disruptions produced by the ongoing technological revolution, rising uncertainty in global markets, and crises of complexity generated by social media all make this an exceptionally challenging time for organizations seeking to create or refine their brand identities.
Explored in what follows are critical issues to address in assembling a comprehensive branding program, based on challenges and opportunities that we at Siegelvision consistently encounter with clients.
The Inside-Out Approach
Henry Ford is often quoted as having said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether the words were his or not, they reflect what we call the “outside-in” approach — trusting customers to provide critical insights to help define a brand identity. But relying on customer feedback alone is akin to treating symptoms rather than the underlying illness.
While customers may be able to pinpoint certain problems they would like to see addressed, they rarely have enough information to understand the organization in sufficient detail.
An “inside-out” approach, on the other hand, helps achieve a distinctive and credible branding program by tapping insights that emerge from within the organization itself — a process largely contingent upon leadership support.
Validation research is then conducted, bringing employees and outside audiences together to react to concrete ideas, and helping ensure that the resulting strategy will be clear, compelling, and relevant.
Driving Brand Identity Through a Clearly Defined Purpose
Most organizations spend months devising predictable, and often garbled, mission or vision statements that employees ignore and that fail to guide decision-making in both day-to-day management and big-picture strategic planning.
An effective purpose statement defines your reason for being in business, the calling your organization aims to answer in the marketplace, and the problems you strive to solve.
Moreover, defining a clear and concise purpose statement creates coherence for your employees — coherence about what your company stands for and what inspires its work, beyond just the pursuit of money. Effectively crafted, it should be the driving force behind strategic decisions, investments, and other critical matters.
The Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to “help solve the problem” of inner-city poverty. Over the years, it’s become a respected source for intelligent, accessible analyses of economic and social policies. But despite the institute’s admirable aims, its impact was long undermined by a verbose and confusing mission statement, which read:
“The Urban Institute gathers data, conducts research, evaluates programs, offers technical assistance overseas, and educates Americans on social and economic issues — to foster sound public policy and effective government.
The Urban Institute builds knowledge about the nation’s social and fiscal challenges, practicing open-minded, evidence-based research to diagnose problems and figure out which policies and programs work best for whom, and how.”
The Urban Institute certainly does all of those things, but, as we learned during our immersive branding project, they do not comprise the organization’s core purpose. We replaced the institute’s lengthy and impractical mission statement with a powerful three-word purpose statement:
“ELEVATE THE DEBATE.”
The Urban Institute’s cogent new expression of its purpose — its essence — resonated deeply with all stakeholders. Defining the organization’s role in simple, concrete terms provides a strong guide for decision-making and acts as a beacon for employees at every level.
Creating Bold, Action-Driving Positioning
Americans are daily bombarded by vague, generic taglines that masquerade as brand positioning. Such identity imprecision appears everywhere, including among institutions of higher education.
“Fierce Advocates for Justice,” the highly effective positioning that Siegelvision developed for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, provided the touchstone for an aggressive campaign to change the public’s perception of the school as a “cop college” into a view of it as a comprehensive educational institution, one that boasts a liberal arts curriculum coupled with world-class criminal justice courses for undergraduate and graduate students alike.
In a 2012 conversation, Jeremy Travis, the college’s current president, told me that the “Fierce Advocates for Justice” positioning “has allowed every member of our community to see a place for his or her interests in the brand of the college. The language we now use … [reflects] who they are and want to be. When we first put up [signage with our new tagline,] a student told me: ‘That wakes me up when I come to school every…