Navigating the world of brand messaging can be daunting. There are so many thought leaders, frameworks, methodologies…
It helps to have friends in marketing to chat with along the way.
Like Todd Jones, who replied to one of my broadcast emails years ago, and we’ve been virtual friends ever since.
Mind you, I think Todd is a friend to everyone online and in his state of Arkansas.
If you don’t know Todd yet, you should get to know him.
It was hard to get a screenshot where Todd is smiling. Which is funny because he’s such a warm person.
We talked about Nina Simone, red wine, “signature songs”.
But mostly, we talked about brand manifestos, including…
- Where a manifesto might fit in your brand messaging…
- Whether you even need to call it a manifesto (or if that’s tainted now)…
- How to balance the negative (the urge to destroy) with the positive (the future you’ll create)…
- Strong opinions, maturity + what makes a manifesto meaningful…
- And what type of brand should have a manifesto.
My very lightly edited show notes are below:
What Is A Brand Manifesto?
It’s essentially a distillation of your purpose, your vision, your mission, but it’s a customer-facing expression. It’s advertising. It’s creative.
The manifesto as a form has a long history in art and politics. See this Atlantic article for interesting points on what defines a manifesto.
In the sense that a brand manifesto permeates all aspects of your brand, it’s like a big idea.
In fact, it can be the expression of your big idea. (Ami Williamson of Damn Write has a great post on the Big Idea)
It’s often a more artful expression of the Big Idea — possibly it sounds poetic.
I’m certainly not an expert in poetry, but I have passing familiarity, and when I wrote the UXReactor manifesto, I joked that it was a sort of Ginsbergian Howl for B2B.
If you search, you’ll see the examples —- Hubspot, for one, has a list. You’ll notice that the words are very carefully chosen in these examples. It’s not like ordinary prose or conversational copy, exactly. They apply some type of poetic device.
Those techniques are what make a brand manifesto readable and memorable. So, if you’re going to write a brand manifesto, do it with style.
A Brand Manifesto Can Make Your Brand Famous
I became interested in manifestos through Blair Enns. His Win Without Pitching Manifesto is largely what made Blair famous. It also became his positioning: what his firm does for who. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a directive.
I’ve read maybe one reviewer (the exception) who didn’t like the style of Blair’s Manifesto — maybe they thought it was directive, formal, I can’t remember. But a manifesto often IS a statement of “this is what you shall do”.
Actually, I have a Walt Whitman poem here in my office and I can’t remember when I picked it up, but could be 20 years ago. It’s the intro to Leaves of Grass. For decades I’ve kept this poem because I was always moved by the “this is what you shall do” opening… And this idea that if we just saw with new eyes and took a new path, the world would be transformed. That kind of formula almost hypnotizes me.
So, I’m also very interested in change and change-oriented brands and those are the sorts of brands that have a manifesto within.
…But You Don’t Have To Call It A “Brand Manifesto”
Now, not every brand manifesto is going to be called a manifesto. Sometimes your manifesto is woven into your About page, or it’s a campaign that you run in ads (like Apple’s Think Different campaign), or it’s part of your problem-agitate-solution formula in copy that you use anywhere you sell. The manifesto can be implicit or explicit, but it is a statement of what you believe needs to change in your industry.
A Brand Manifesto Is For Brands That Want To Drive Change
Important: you write a manifesto when you have a positive vision of change — not just a critique of what’s broken. I see a lot of marketers with very strong voices and incisive insights. They’re furious, for example, about what others in marketing say or how they behave. They are so focused on the critique that in some cases, I consume their content semi-regularly, and still don’t know what these people offer.
The Manifesto has AT LEAST two key components: what’s broken in your industry and what positive future you want to bring about. You challenge and provoke, as per the Atlantic article, but only towards positive action.
When we challenge and provoke, we focus on systems and power structures, for example… or just tired habits and ways of doing things… or old ways of seeing things in our industry. We don’t use manifestos to create more of an us vs. them environment.
The thing is that a manifesto can ride on kind of dark energy. It can channel our frustrations and the flip side of creativity: destruction. But if you want to destroy something, you have to replace it with something else.
So, Blair Enns, for example, wants to destroy the culture of pitching to win new business. The dog and pony show that agencies traditionally have put on for prospects. But he can tell you exactly what he wants to see in place of that pitch, and he spends more time on the solution than on the problem.
Of course, it does need an edge. It can’t be a Hallmark card of positive intentions. That edge comes from two places.
1) Specificity. So, for example, when I wrote the brand manifesto for UXReactor, I got very specific about how innovation was dying in enterprise organizations, and how people are losing sight of the user… the wellspring of innovation.
2) Agitation. This is kind of the same as the above but bears spelling out. So, don’t just state the problem. Explain it. (I sometimes skip over this part in my communications because once I see the problem, I assume everyone else does, too.)
If you’re familiar with the idea of your brand’s enemy, you’re already there, conceptually.
I first learned about this concept from a former P&G marketer who went on to build a $100M consumer brand in 3 years.
Suzie Yorke explained very simply that your brand enemy isn’t a person — it’s what your customer struggles with. In the case of her brand, which is a keto bar, the enemy is sugar.
That was a great enemy to choose when she launched a handful of years ago because there was enough awareness already in the market about sugar as bad for you, but not enough snack brands were solving this for consumers.
So, you might have to ask whether there’s enough awareness about the enemy or too much? If there’s not enough awareness, you have to work too hard to educate people. If there’s too much awareness, then the idea is old and taken.
So, how long will it take you to address what’s broken and set out a solution? As long as it takes. The UXReactor manifesto is long because that client has a lot to say and it’s a more complex purchase… But yours can be shorter.
How To Tell If A Brand Manifesto Is Right For Your Brand
A manifesto can work for B2B or B2C. But it probably won’t work for a “me too” brand — an undifferentiated brand without positioning.
Your POV should be unique. Ideally, your offers are also unique in a way that’s congruent with your POV. I wrote about this in my post on the 7 signs you should have a manifesto. https://www.brandmanifesto.co/articles/should-you-have-a-brand-manifesto
Early in my brand messaging days, I was more doctrinaire in that I expected every established business to create a brand book as soon as possible. I now realize that even some very successful brands never do — most brands are somewhere in the process of making messaging explicit. If you can agree as a team on the fundamentals of your message, then you may be ready for a manifesto.
Examples: I am terrible at remembering examples unless I see the brand every day. Obviously, Win Without Pitching is a brilliant example. The whole business is built around Blair Enns’ manifesto that is centered in the provocation that you should be able to win better business without giving your best work away for free in the pitch. Every offer is built around that thesis. All of the content sort of orbits that thesis.
There are other course creators and coaches who do this really well without necessarily having a manifesto. And there are some who could have more beloved brands if they brought that spirit and emotion and vision for change into their message.
Personally, I work with consumer brands, and there are a lot of DTCs now that exist because of a problem that they saw in the market. These are perfect manifesto brands, especially if there’s a greater good element to their brand — social or environmental good.
You can see how some of these B2C brands are extending their inner manifesto to their creative…
So, for example, there are a lot of women’s brands that are standing up to idealized body image standards, ageism, ableism, and heteronormativity…
They’re saying, “You don’t have to look like Kate Moss (who was the ideal when I was a teenager) to be beautiful, sexy, self-expressive, uninhibited,” etc.
But it wouldn’t work if they only said it, right?
So you also see it in their photography, hear it in their social commentary, etc. Your manifesto has to permeate your brand at every layer.
A Brand Manifesto Is About Your Customer
Your manifesto doesn’t just have to be exclusively about the consumer, but it can’t forget the consumer.
For example, you could first notice that the way products in your category are made is wasteful or harmful. Start there. Dig into what’s wrong with that and how you can change the manufacturing process so it’s cleaner, more humane…
Then ask why your consumers should care — aside from the fact that they’re caring people.
Be idealistic in your message, for sure, but remember that people buy products to solve their own problems.
If they want to be purely altruistic, they can donate to a charity. (And research backs this up.)
How much should the manifesto be personal expression? E.g. about who you are as a brand?
I’d say, as much as it serves the customer. You have to pull up short of indulging in self-expression for the sake of it.
That’s where having a skilled external copywriter helps because they’ll be able to tell you what’s just your pet idea and what could resonate with your audience.
A manifesto sort of sits between these three things:
1) what you do best/your POV, your unique perspective
2) what your audience needs to hear
3) what your competitors or industry aren’t yet saying.
If you need help defining your brand manifesto and writing it, book a consultation.
And you can learn more about Todd at Copyflight. Follow him for fascinating content on story-based brand messaging.