June 29, 2010
How To

Creating Effective Brand Statements: 5 Insights to Improve Work from Agency Partners

SUMMARY: Your agency and consulting partners need to understand your brand before they can deliver valuable work. But how can you most clearly explain your brand's essence?

See how to create effective brand statements that will help your agencies, internal teams and other partners develop better campaigns. Includes tips on distilling your brand position into one powerful phrase.
by Adam T. Sutton, Reporter

Communication is a vital part of any relationship -- especially relationships with marketing agencies. The more clearly you can convey your company's values and needs, the better an agency can match those values and meet those needs.

Materials that explain your brand's key attributes are important to this relationship. Whether you call them brand statements, brand platforms, brand briefs or some other name, these documents steer business partners toward work that resonates with your audience in a valuable way.

"Whatever kind of agency it is -- it doesn't matter if it's an ad agency, a PR firm or a direct agency -- they should all start with a good understanding of what your brand stands for and what it means and what you're trying to communicate with your brand," says Patrick Di Chiro, Chairman and CEO, Thunder Factory, an integrated marketing agency. "That should be in the brand statement."

We spoke with Di Chiro and two client-side marketers from Reebok to learn how to develop better brand statements and use them effectively. Here are five insights:

Insight #1. Distill statements to bare essentials

You can use various graphs, data points and descriptions to convey your brand's meaning, but extremely short descriptions often are the most powerful.

Just how simple should you make it? Di Chiro suggests boiling it down to one or two words.

Volvo, for example, might be able to sum up its brand as "safety." Reebok summarizes its brand with the phrase "Having fun staying in shape," says Richard Prenderville, Head, Global Brand Marketing, Reebok International.

Of course, there is value in developing more in-depth descriptions, but short statements force you to identify your brand's core essence, and they're tremendously easy to communicate and remember.

"People don't have the capacity to remember books on brands," says Prenderville. "People have the capacity to remember one-pagers, two-pagers, quick statements about what your brand stands for."

Prenderville's team strives to whittle its brand statements down to a matter of pages. Amie Owens, Head, Brand Strategy, Reebok, remembers from her time working in agencies that "a great brand brief is one page," but also knows from her time on the client side that one page is something to strive for, even if it's not always achieved.

"I think working toward a one-page brand brief is something that challenges you to get as clear as possible," she says.

Insight #2. Send only what's necessary

Of course, you'll need to send an agency more than a single word to help steer its work -- but an ultra-distilled phrase, or your "brand's essence," should be included in the documents you send.

Slide decks are the most common platform Di Chiro uses to convey brand information. You might be tempted to create presentations with more than 100 slides, which include information on everything from a company's founding principles to deep analysis of the latest audience research.

Agencies working for your company, however, are unlikely to need -- or want -- that much information. Each marketer we spoke with emphasized that "less is more." Cut superfluous information and simplify your brand's description as much as possible.

Di Chiro typically sends agencies an abridged slide deck of about 20 to 30 slides, he says, to summarize a brand strategy's key points. The slides include:

- Key research summaries

The deck includes briefs of high-level findings from studies that have helped steer the brand's direction. This includes research on customer demographics and needs, competitors, product attributes and many other factors.

- Value chain

Di Chiro uses what he calls a "strategic value chain" to describe an audience's needs, how a brand meets them and how the audience benefits. This chain devotes one slide to each of the following:
o Audience needs
o Brand's core attributes
o How brand meets audience's needs
o Customers' rational benefits
o Customers' emotional benefits

- Brand statement and essence

These items are the brand's super-distilled descriptions. The positioning statement is typically one line, such as Reebok's "having fun staying in shape," and the essence is a one- or two-word description, such as the Volvo example, "safety."

- Key messages

Audiences are rarely homogenous. In this section, the deck provides examples of the types of messages that resonate with a brand's different audience segments. The brand stays the same in these messages, but how it is conveyed differs by segment.

- Tone of voice

Lastly, Di Chiro includes slides describing the "personality" and "tone of voice" a brand should convey through its messaging. For example, Disney's tone of voice is likely to differ from that of Goldman Sachs.

Insight #3. Reality is a requirement

A tremendous amount of research and thought goes into branding. Any information included in a brand brief should be supported by solid research. Dreaming up a description to send to an agency is not going to help your company.

"When you create a brand [statement], it's never in a vacuum. It's always related to what's happening in the marketplace," Di Chiro says. "You better have a good understanding of [your audience's] needs, because if you don't, your foundation is going to be shaky and everything is going to fall down."

- Avoid empty language

Brand descriptions are susceptible to the "gobbledygook" phrases that infect many press releases -- don't let them infect yours.

Empty superlative adjectives like "best," "top of the line," "market leading" and others should be eliminated for the sake of clarity and accuracy.

Even the smallest startups might describe themselves as a "leading provider of mission critical solutions that meet the challenges of the new Web economy, blah, blah, blah," Di Chiro says.

"The minute you start doing that stuff, people's eyes glaze over and you've lost your differentiation. When you do that, it doesn't mean anything to people anymore."

Instead, accurately and succinctly describe your target audience and how your company solves its real needs. Or, use quantifiable data to describe your market position.

Insight #4. Control access to documents

Documents describing your team's brand strategy are intended for partners and internal teams. They're not intended for public consumption -- they're a recipe for creating messages for public consumption.

"When you're making a cake, if you sample any ingredient, whether it's raw eggs or flour or sugar, it doesn't work on its own. They need to work together and it needs to be interpreted into a creative thought," Prenderville says.

Releasing documents that describe your brand exposes them to possible cherry picking by critics and the use of out-of-context quotations. They aren't designed to be read by your audience -- so don't release them.

Insight #5. Share brand statements throughout your company

Although you want your brand's in-depth descriptions to avoid public scrutiny, you should not hold back from sending them throughout your company or to your partners.

Your brand should permeate any outward-facing communications, so make sure strong descriptions are given to the following teams:
o Executives (who should be helping draft the documents)
o Public relations
o Customer service
o Product development

"People don't all row the boat the same way unless they know the way the boat is going," Prenderville says.

How much a company can integrate its brand depends on its priorities and available resources, but as Di Chiro suggests below, brands should be pervasive.

"If you're wondering 'What's our office space going to look like?' Well guess what? You should really sit down with the marketing people and the people that have really helped to nurture the brand internally and hopefully with the [brand documents]...because your interior design should reflect that in a big way."

Useful links related to this article

Members Library -- Improve Your Copywriting with Help from Social Media: 7 Tactics from David Meerman Scott

Members Library -- Create Brand Consistency for All Channels: 7 Strategies for Building a Brand Standards Website

Brain Sells: Helped Reebok conduct rebranding analysis


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