There are rules to great brand strategy. One of them is that you don’t have to follow all the rules.
If brand strategy were simply about following a checklist, every competent organization would have a well executed brand. And if following the checklist were all that mattered, each precisely executed brand would have a predictable number of loyal brand followers. Mission statement? Check. Logo and snappy tagline? Check. Differentiated product message; staff consisting entirely of amazing brand ambassadors and talented innovators; committed vendors and partnerships? Check, check, check.
Brand Strategy is both a science and an art form. Human behaviour has patterns; cultures have expectations; our senses trigger subconscious reactions—there are many predictable outcomes that we can draw from as we build our brand. The science of relationships and interactions is deep, and we are wise to use what we know is true.
But only to a point.
Brand strategy is also about telling stories and creating experiences that connect human beings. It’s about building relationships through moments of inspiration.
A great brand strategy will shatter the status-quo. A great brand strategy will twist expectations, shifting experiences into a comfortable relationship—a relationship that welcomes stakeholders with a common purpose and a shared attitude.
How we break a rule reveals our culture, and an awareness of the problem we’re crushing. It could be rooted in “where have you been all my life” or “why hasn’t anyone thought of this before” or “wow, this is what it should be” or (the monopoly killer) “well, finally someone is thinking about us”. Whatever the motivation, the result will be a deeper connection; an experience that has no substitutions.
There are certainly some things that stakeholders expect from your brand. No question—when developing your brand strategy we use a checklist of initiatives and tactics to assess your competency against the opportunity. After all, nobody likes a brand that recklessly ignores common sense or form that ignores function.
We’re not auditing your brand for compliance. The most important thing we will be looking to reveal is the thing that breaks the rules; the one thing that breaks from convention and says to your stakeholders, “yeah, we know this matters.” Because it’s the thing that makes all the difference.
UPDATE: (August 9, 2013): A Twitter friend, Harvey Briggs (OBX_Harvey), offered a nice twist on this rule, and I’ll paraphrase: “You only get to break the rules if you know which rule you are breaking.” Great point about being purposeful, not accidental. He has other great thoughts on brand and strategy.