How to describe your brand in a few words.
How to make it really, properly, actually different.
How to sell it in.
We can’t really show you a lot of the work we do because so much of it is hush-hush. But we can tell you the sort of things we get up to and how we do them. We’re often asked to sum up a brand in a sentence. Some call it a ‘positioning’ statement, a ‘purpose’ statement or a ‘core thought’. Whatever the label du jour, it’s not easy to do, especially when it’s for a big company with lots of people, in an ‘increasingly competitive marketplace’ (as briefs really shouldn’t say). We’ve been tackling these one-liner projects for Carluccio’s, Molton Brown and a TV company in the past few months, and while we can’t show you our answers in all their wordy glory, we can tell you what we’ve learnt along the way.
Rewinding to the SOS phone call at the start, we’re often asked to help when a company is completely stuck. Which usually means one of two things. Either they’re trying to work from a brand diagram like this:
Or they’ve got a line and they’re dissecting every word like this:
Either way, it all adds up to the same problem. They’re struggling to sum up their brand without it a) sounding wishy-washy and b) sounding like everyone else.
Why? We think the words themselves are only half of the problem. To crack this sort of job you need to be really clear about what you want you want to say in the first place.
1. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE LINE YET
Really. You don’t need to worry about it until the very end.
2. DO YOUR THINKING AND RESEARCH BEFORE YOU PUT PEN TO PAPER
We covered some of this before. Start wide and think big: don’t edit or rule out thoughts too quickly. Try to record as many different angles or ways of summing up or looking at your brand. Look at the research but don’t rely on it. Speak to anyone and everyone who has something to say or might want a say later.
3. DON’T COME UP WITH IDEAS IN WORKSHOPS
Controversial. But we’ve only ever seen diluted brand ideas come out of workshops because too much by committee weirdness and politics gets in the way. Use workshops and interviews to get overall opinions, not to come up with ideas.
4. WRITE UP THE BEST IDEAS LONG-HAND
Once you’ve spoken to the right people and done your research, write up lots of different little ‘stories’ to describe the brand. Aim to write at least a couple of paragraphs, but no more than a page for each one. These ideas and stories should be rooted in your brand and what it’s about. They shouldn’t be so much of a stretch (or ‘aspirational’ as the brand robots say) that they feel disconnected or out of reach. And the golden rule? Write things long-hand. Don’t say you’re innovative, write about the innovative things you do. Be as opinionated as you can too: think about the main thing you want to say (if you say everything or be all things to all people it’ll turn into mush). Keep working on these little stories until they feel really tight. If any ideas feel a bit same-y, merge or cut them.
5. SHORTLIST THE ONES THAT WORK THE BEST
Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?
6. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
(If the ideas are good to start with, that is.) People are pretty good at picking an overall story that feels right and true. At first. But then there’s a tendency to over-think the words and settle on something a bit blah. First instincts (the overall ideas that most people are drawn to) are nearly always right.
7. HOLD ON TO THE OPINION
Lead with one idea and make it as bold and clear as you can. Never merge two good ideas. If you want to say other things, still lead with an overall thought.
8. DON’T BE TOO BROAD
Don’t rule out a strong route because it feels too narrow, because, say, some of your products don’t fit neatly with it. It might be that your products don’t sit comfortably for a reason: they aren’t a good fit with your brand. Think of what happens when brands do something out of character, e.g. when McDonalds does healthy salads. Likewise, Innocent could make a chocolate bar, but it’d be just plain (chocolate) wrong.
9. WORK ON MORE ROUTES IF IT HELPS
But in the end pick one overall idea and stick to it.
10. THEN, AND ONLY THEN, WORK ON THE LINE
Write a line to go with the overall idea in lots of different ways. It’ll probably help to write it as a sentence, at least to start with. Shortlist the best ones and only put forward lines that clearly sum up the idea.
11. ET VOILA: YOUR BRAND LINE
If only it were that easy. Things are still prone to go wonky. So don’t leave anything to chance. Remind everyone making the decision to think about the line strategically: does it sum up the overall brand idea well? Could other brands use the same line or claim to say the same thing? Will it make a splash and last. Resist the temptation to go for a line that sounds catchy but doesn’t mean very much (this is not a jingle). And don’t even think of testing the line in research.
12. AND IF ALL ELSE FAILS
A line isn’t the be-all and end-all. A few lines, or a longer story that works, are far better than a line that doesn’t.