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Turning Brand Strategy Upside Down

The traditional approach to building a brand strategy platform is to start with the vision, add the mission, and build up from there. That makes sense and it’s how we usually approach strategy development. It’s the vision that sets the course. And it’s the mission that guides how the vision will be delivered. But is that really the heart of the brand? We believe there may be a case for 3 other elements to brand strategy that could be equally if not more important than vision and mission.

1. A Case For Culture

Vision and mission are always going to be important. Better products and services certainly matter. But it’s likely going to be the company culture that is what ultimately delivers on the brand promise. So what is culture and why is it important? According to an article in Harvard Business Review – The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture:

Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.

Basically, culture is about behavior. It is about how people work together, share ideas, take direction, and ultimately perform better. In fact, there is undeniable evidence that a healthy culture equates to superior company performance. According to McKinsey’s research across 1000 organizations, “those with top quartile cultures post a return to shareholders 60 percent higher than median companies and 200 percent higher than those in the bottom quartile.”

Culture is also nearly impossible to copy. Companies struggle to find a true competitive advantage through traditional means – products, services, price, convenience, etc. Culture can be that essential point of distinction that attracts and keeps the best people.

Culture won’t replace vision. But vision without culture is a brand without a heart that would otherwise enable it to thrive.

2. A Case For Values

Shared values inspire a healthy and productive culture. It’s values that shape and guide behavior. Shared values are also what customers look for in companies that they feel connected with. They can be the brand distinction that creates a competitive advantage. But values need to be meaningful and relevant to the brand. Unfortunately, many companies fail on both accounts.

80% of the Fortune 100 tout their values publicly—values that too often stand for nothing but a desire to be au courant or, worse still, politically correct

For Values to inspire a healthy culture they need to be embraced by the organization to reflect what makes the brand special and distinctive. This is where the difference between universal values and core values comes in. Universal values, like honesty and reliability, are what any company would want to instill in staff just to stay in business. But they are not distinctive. Core values are unique to what the company does. For example one of the core values of Patagonia is “cause no unnecessary harm.” It is a value that reflects their responsibility to the environment in what they do. And is what creates a meaningful connection with their customers.

Values won’t replace the company’s vision. But vision without values is a brand without a conscious that fails to inspire and motivate.

3. A Case For Brand Character

Culture and Values shape why and how the organization delivers on brand strategy. But it’s brand character that connects, engages, and builds relationships with customers. It’s not vision and mission. Nor is it the role of vision and mission.

Brand Character is often defined in terms of personality, voice, experience, and expression. It is what makes the brand relatable through human-like characteristics. It’s also what makes a brand distinctive and memorable. The Apple brand character can be described in terms of cool, fun, stylish, innovative, accessible, and adaptable. These are characteristics that have meaning to its customers. And builds long-term loyalty. Brand character is the bridge between strategy and real-life experience.

Brand character won’t replace vision. But vision without character is an unemotional brand that fails to connect with its customers.

Bottom Line

It’s not that vision and mission don’t matter. They do. But they may not be what establishes a sustainable competitive advantage. Values provide a shared sense of purpose that drives behavior. Brand character creates brands that are relatable and relevant. And it’s culture that is at the heart of how an organization works. As the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker once put it:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The goal of How Brand Works is to share our experience, perspectives and philosophy on the different facets of branding intended to enable an effective brand management strategy.

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bringing knowledge, insight, and experience
to help advance businesses of all sizes.