Developing a Useful Brand Framework
Before launching a brand, it’s vital to create a Brand Framework to guide your decisions. Put simply, a brand framework serves as a North Star which defines what the brand stands for, and acts as a guide to ensure all touchpoints with the market build on the brand.
For example, a brand framework provides guidance when developing positioning and messaging for sub-brands, when writing agency briefs, for creating field communications, and activities ranging from product planning through development and go-to-market planning.
The framework should be a concise distillation of the brand promise, personality, attributes, and position. It should fit on a single page. A framework is not a brand playbook, which contains detailed instructions and examples of how to use the brand in a variety of situations. Nor is it a visual style book, which details the use of logos and colors.
Why Have a Brand Framework
If you examine brand failures, you can trace the problem back to one of two reasons. Either the brand deviated from the existing framework, or there was never a framework to begin with.
For example, Windows Live never found any traction with, well, anyone because there obviously wasn’t a single, consistent framework used to guide product positioning, messaging, or development.
Another example: The Zippo lighters brand stands for reliable, sturdy ways to spark up a flame. However, these same attributes don’t translate very well to women’s perfume. I’m not kidding, someone thought that would be a logical extension of the Zippo brand.
Brand Framework Components
As mentioned, there are four essential tiers to the framework. Each level must be consistent with, and influenced by, the one above.
There are a variety of ways to visualize the brand framework. I prefer the inverted pyramid.
At the top of the order is the Brand Promise. This is the touchstone for everything else that will be developed. It should be a simple statement that guides everything beneath. This should be summed up in as few words as possible. Avoid dropping into corporate “mission statement” speak. Another way to think of this is that a successful brand promise should set customer expectations. Some marketers also refer to this as the brand’s position. For our purposes I will use “Promise,” and use “Position” in a different context which we’ll get to shortly. Bottom line: Over the long term, what do you want the brand to stand for in the hearts and minds of your target customer?
Let’s use Apple as an example going forward. I would describe Apple’s Brand Promise as “to delight through technology and design.”
Next comes Brand Personality. This is the brand’s distinctive, long-term personality expressed across all touch points – directing style, tone and manner. It builds emotional connections to the brand.
Put another way, “How do you want people to perceive the brand?”
Mountain Dew’s promise is built around “extreme, active, independent.” Its brand personality is not going to be the same as Apple’s, which I would describe as sophisticated yet approachable, even urbane. Your advertising copy, customer emails, website design, packaging, etc, all need to reflect the unique personality of the brand.
Supporting the Personality are the Brand Attributes. These are the desired functional and emotional associations of the brand.
This is where differentiation between brands really begins to accelerate and become more apparent. And where you can really make your brand stand out. You’ll use these attributes as litmus tests to ensure that every step of the customer journey is being true to the brand.
The way I like to approach this is to think “Word Association.” Choose feelings that you want to become synonymous with your brand.
Going back to the Apple example, here are the attributes for the brand, i.e. these are qualities people come to expect:
Functional Attributes: Easy, reliable, simple, powerful
Emotional Attributes: Fun, delightful, tasteful, empowering, approachable
As one moves down from the promise, each subsequent layer becomes more malleable. That’s to say that the top layers are more “evergreen.” The promise needs to stay consistent over time in order to be effective. After half a century, Maytag still stands for Dependability and Volvo still stands for Safety (check out their web sites). However, the personality and attributes have been allowed to evolve along with society to ensure they continue to convey the promise in terms that are relevant.
The most changeable tier of the Brand Framework is the specific Product Positioning. That’s because positioning, by definition, contrasts the brand promise against alternatives (usually but not always a competitor.) Positioning is paramount when it comes to executing a successful campaign in the marketplace. How your product is positioned against competitors will often be campaign-specific. However, that doesn’t mean the positioning is allowed to deviate from the Promise, Personality, or Attributes of the brand. Instead, each of these tiers needs to influence the positioning statement. (I’ll write more about how to create a compelling value proposition and positioning statement in a later post.)
You can see that Apple truly “lives their brand” in everything they do. The entire framework is reflected in all the company does, from their store layout and customer experience (open, airy, no standing in line at cash registers), to product design and user experience (plug and play or with simple wizards – no confusing jargon), to their clean, simple and elegant visuals, to their new sleek headquarters complete with curved windows.
Before you begin fleshing out your brand framework, you need to answer several important questions:
How does the company want the brand to be perceived now and in ten years? Why?
How can the company make this sustainable?
Based on the framework, what are the ideal market segments? Which segments are not my target and is the company willing to not pursue them?
Do the company’s core strengths make all of the above feasible? Can internal processes make good on the promise and meet the expectations reflected in the brand attributes?
If not, is the company willing to make the major changes necessary to support the brand at every level and every touchpoint with employees, customers, and prospects?
In a Nutshell
A brand framework is an important tool to provide guidance and guardrails for brand execution and stewardship.
The four levels of the framework provide all the information needed on which to build a brand.
Each level informs the level below it. Influence flows from the top downward.
No extra levels should be added. This only provides opportunity for confusion.
To be effective, the brand framework should fit on one page. The key is succinctness and simplification.
Avoid saying the same thing twice but stated differently in more than one tier. Strive to do the hard work and get to the core of each level.