Why do certain brands connect with us better than others? What about them reaches out and touches our hearts in a significant, nearly human way?
Great brands communicate on a deeper level. They don’t just touch on the mundane aspects of life—what they do, or how they do it. They express why they do it. Who they do it for. What they believe makes life worth living.
Developing a thoughtful, sincere ideology for your brand creates a stronger bond with your audience. Peer Insight’s Tim Ogilvie advises that to attract the best employees and customers, businesses should promote themselves as “a cause—not just a company.”
In his book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets behind the Stuff We Buy, brand transformation expert Martin Lindstrom compares a brand’s story to religious doctrine. Like the Bible, Quran, or Torah, a brand’s story is deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of true believers: “A sense of belonging, a clear vision, enemies, evangelism, grandeur, storytelling, sensory appeal, rituals, symbols, and mystery.”
Brands like Disney, Whole Foods, Nike, Apple, and Jeep have a cult-like following because, to their fans, they represent far more than any single product. They aren’t just a company—they’re a way of life. They signify a certain perspective, a particular set of values and attitudes about life. They give people something to believe in, something to identify with.
High-performing brands don’t just sell a product—they sell an ethos.
Below, I’ve written out a series of thoughtful questions to consider which will allow you to arrive at a more meaningful set of values for your brand.
I strongly encourage you to take the time needed to tangibly answer each individual question before moving on to the next one (ideally with pen & paper, but even just speaking your answer out loud is great).
Chances are that you—and your team, if you have one—have already constructed a mission statement (or something of the sort) for your business. If so, pull it out and keep it on-hand as you read!
And if you haven’t written a mission statement yet, don’t worry your pretty little heart. You’d probably end up re-writing the whole thing after you finish this article anyway.
Quick note: this tutorial gives an overview of one of the 16 exercises that make up our Brand Development Workshops. Across 2 days of collaborative creative work, we coach clients of all sizes and industries as they turn their business into an unforgettable, charismatic brand. Please enjoy this free tutorial!
4 Questions to Build a Brand Philosophy:
1) What matters more than money?
It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you begin worrying too much about quarterly financials. All too often, I see brands making shady moves to grow their short-term profits while alienating customers as a result.
People aren’t stupid—they can tell when your company views them as a wallet on legs. You might get their business once, or maybe even twice, but you’ll never get their loyalty, or the business of their friends and family.
Remember: it’s vastly better (and more profitable) to have a repeat customer than a new customer.
Statistically, repeat customers spend more money, are easier to sell/market to, cost less to acquire, and promote your business.
Here are a few follow-up questions to answer as you consider this question.
- What is our purpose?
- What impact do we want to have on the world?
- How do we want to change peoples’ lives?
- Why do we do things the way we do them?
- What about our business, other than money, determines how well we sleep at night?
2) What is the compelling story behind our brand?
Human beings have been telling stories for nearly 100,000 years. At our core, we are hardwired to love a good story. It’s in our DNA.
A story gives significance to what would otherwise be seen as mundane.
That big rock in the backyard? Totally meaningless and uninteresting. No different than any other rock.
Until the day comes when you’re walking through the yard and you get a call out of nowhere saying that your best friend has unexpectedly passed away. Suddenly it becomes the rock where you sat in shock for over an hour, tears streaming down your cheeks as you remembered all the laughs and adventures you shared over the years.
No longer just a rock. Now it’s that rock—a rock with a story, a rock that fills you with emotional content every time you see it.
This is the core of your brand’s emotional content: the origin story.
Here are a few supplemental questions to answer as you build your brand’s origin story.
- Did we rise from humble beginnings?
- Did someone take a risk? What made us decide to roll the dice?
- Why did we start this business in particular, rather than literally any other alternative?
- Were there periods of hardship?
- What obstacles did we have to overcome to get to where we are today?
3) How can we experiment and grow in-line with our philosophy, moving forward?
AKA - How can we “walk the walk” better, rather than just “talking the talk”?
Savvy consumers won’t just take your word for it—they want to see you back it up with action.
Have you ever heard of signaling theory? I bring it up all the time to friends when they come to me for relationship advice.
Essentially, the most reliable indicator of someone’s true intentions is signaled through their actions. People have an innate desire to be loved and accepted which often leads them to tell other people what they think they want to hear when they’re face to face, rather than sharing the completely honest truth.
But people decide what to do, and how to act, while away from your watchful eye. These decisions are a much better indicator of their actual values than anything they would say to your face.
Side note: even if you operate a service-based business, I encourage you to think about your service as a product. This shift in perspective allows you to sell and innovate so much more easily.
Here are a few areas to consider as you explore ways to express your brand philosophy through action rather than just word.
- How we source our materials or resources
- How we create our product
- How we administer, distribute, or deliver our product
- How we select and interact with vendors
- How we run our business internally
- How we manage our employees
- Our hiring process
- How we interact with our customers
4) What does the world need that we are uniquely able to provide?
This final main question is all about the context for your brand. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything exists at a certain point in time, at a certain place. Near to this, far from that.
What is the context that surrounds your brand?
You can start by thinking about your marketplace with this question, but don’t stop there. Go further. Look outside the window of your office. Think about those you love. Think about your community, your country, your society, and your planet.
Look at the events unfolding around you. The themes you see arising in modern life.
Context is something that you have in common with your audience. This context we all live in is a shared experience, a place to begin the conversation. From there, it becomes much easier to get people to understand what makes your brand unique relative to what they already know.
Here are a few supplemental questions to answer as you consider how your business fits into the broader picture.
- What do we believe makes the world a better place?
- What are we willing to sacrifice?
- What do we stand against? How do we tangibly stand against it?
- Who do we stand with? How do we support them?
- Why is it impossible for anyone else to do exactly what we do, exactly how we do it?
Your Brand Philosophy is Everything.
I believe that how and why you do something is far more important than what you actually do. Our intentions are everything. They shape how we see the world and ultimately define our lives. We are little more than intentions given a temporary body.
The great value that philosophy brings to our lives isn’t about arriving at life’s great answers. It’s about finding the questions that matter most to each of us, deep down. By finding those questions, the great mysteries that capture our imagination and ignite our curiosity, we learn more about who we are—both as individuals and as a species.
If you want your brand to make a profound impact on the world, you must take the time to consider the right questions. If you want to live a life that goes beyond survival, you must dedicate energy to answering these questions for yourself. No one can answer them on your behalf. They must come from the soul.
Brand philosophy is only one piece of a charismatic brand platform. Through our brand development workshops, executives develop in-depth brand collateral including user profiles, core brand attributes & personification, brand positioning, philosophy, user journeys, marketing plans, brand colors & typography, and much, much more. If you think you're ready to grow your venture into a charismatic brand, please drop me a line!