THE ACTUALIZED BRAND
THE TOP 5 CHARACTERISTICS OF ACTUALIZED BRANDS
06 DECEMBER 2016
SENIOR STRATEGIST | MANIFESTO
I believe in the power of brand. This shouldn’t be surprising as I’ve spent most of my adult life working in and around branding and communications, but I’m not talking about impactful logos and good ads here. Brands are more than that. Brands aren’t just a clever arrangement of symbols and words used to connect with an audience. Brands communicate the personality of a business internally and externally. Brands are the manifestation of an organization’s purpose, intention, and values. They tell the story of who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. For these stories to be impactful, they must be authentic. Not only must they be authentic, they must conjure up something authentic within us, the viewer, as well.
BRANDS ARE PEOPLE, TOO
So what makes a powerful brand? I like to think of brands as people, each with its own unique personality and set of attributes. The brands that drive loyalty are like a friend you’d invite over to a dinner party. Someone that you know everyone would love, regardless if they’ve met the attending guests or not. We trust these people to be interesting, considerate, real, and honest among other qualities. Like great brands, we’re willing to invite them into our homes again and again.
Our work at Manifesto is generally geared toward empowering brands to be their best, most authentic selves and helping them internalize and communicate these strengths. We work with organizations to energize their workforce AND connect with their audience. At our core, we believe in brand actualization – the ability for a brand to live creatively and genuinely, and to fully realize their potential.
Much of our perspective around branding has been extrapolated from Abraham Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In this work he set out a list of characteristics of self-actualized people, drawn from the careful study of people like Albert Einstein and Henry David Thoreau. While these attributes may come naturally to some of the more gifted people and brands in the world, Maslow believed that they could be cultivated through intentional living and self-discovery through the process of self-reflection, self-realization, and self-exploration.
Actualized brands find real-world benefit in several ways from increased market share, to brand loyalty, to efficiencies in operations. To give you a taste of what I mean, I’d like to present a short list of the qualities that turn brands into powerhouses.
THE TOP FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF ACTUALIZED BRANDS
1. THEY'RE REAL
Much like self-actualized people, actualized brands have healthy, accurate perceptions of reality. This means they have a realistic and balanced understanding of market factors, their customers, their competition, and even themselves. Their vision of who they are and where they’re going is unencumbered by the clouded or distorted thinking that stems from doubt and being overly self-conscious. This is not to say that they are purely self-interested. They continually seek out the truth, however difficult it may be to face. They pursue integration of their external and internal realities and become seen as leaders in the process.
Example: Dove’s (i.e., Unilever’s) “True Beauty” campaign did a fantastic job of tuning into a deeper cultural conversation around modern beauty standards. They weren’t afraid to take a long look at what they were preaching and what they were selling. In the process they came up with a campaign that empowered women to be themselves. In doing so they further differentiated the brand from competitors by exploring the essence of our changing perceptions. By challenging the industry standard in the context of cultural awareness, they found a truer and more powerful brand center that helped to shape the conversation.
2. THEY'RE PLAYFUL
They don’t take themselves too seriously, and instead embrace their shortcomings. When brands have a healthy sense of self and reality, they’re more nimble. They are able to join the conversation instead of being dictated by it or trying to force it in their direction. Instead of being authoritative in their communications, they find and embrace ways to create connection. In these brands, humility and purpose shine through in everything they do. Being comfortable with themselves makes these brands more approachable and lively in their conversations.
Example: Arby’s did a brilliant job of showing their stripes when they advertised a self-effacing ad during the Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s final episode. The late-night comedian had made Arby’s the brunt of several jokes over the course of his career. However, Arby’s took the opportunity to compile a collection of the host’s insults and run it as a spot that said, at its end, “Not sure why, but we’ll miss you” over a low quality rendition of the Golden Girls theme song, “Thank you for being a friend.” The brand continues to demonstrate playfulness on their social media handles including Twitter, where they feature irreverent, tongue-in-cheek posts. Another great example is when they launched their pumpkin cheesecake shake with the headline: “It’s official. We’re Basic.”
3. THEY'RE UNIQUE
Brands that pursue actualization become more unique in that they discover and elevate their idiosyncrasies and quirks. They feel into the edges of their individuality and find their authentic attributes. This kind of self-awareness has the added benefit of further differentiating these in the marketplace.
Example: Lego is a brand that enables their users to share their creations and love of building. They are constantly creating new toy experiences while showing up in culture in their own unique way. Their vision statement, “Inventing the future of play,” shines through in the way they design novel and culturally relevant Lego sets that allow users young and old to create their own scenes. From their creative localized installations in Lego stores around the world, to their Lego-ified caricature recreations (e.g., Batman, the Simpsons, etc.) for mass market, the company has been able to take part in and influence cultural conversations around the world. The company is also creative with the way they market. They’re not afraid to use their social media channels to showcase smaller brands who create fun and interesting Lego based content. In this way they continually press against their mission statement to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow” using whatever means they have.
4. THEY'RE ALIVE
Brands that seek out actualization are vibrant. They have a spring in their step. They are open to spontaneity in that they engage culture and community on- and offline. They have healthy self-regulation and know how to participate in culture. In short, they’re good conversationalists who contain the ability to listen and respond without monopolizing the conversation or making it all about themselves.
Examples: Ritz Carlton is supremely dedicated to customer service. Upon leaving a vacation rental, two parents realized that their small son’s beloved stuffed giraffe “Joshie” had been left behind. He was in panic mode. Ritz Carlton empowers their employees to go above and beyond in the name of customer service at times like these. Knowing there was no way to get the toy to the traveling family en route, customer service reps orchestrated a full mini vacation for Joshie by texting the traveling parents pictures of Joshie at the resort getting a spa treatment, making friends, lounging by the pool, and driving a golf cart around in order to put their son’s mind at ease.
Perhaps even more surprising is that this story was actually relayed to me from an Airbnb manager during a recent tour of one of their state-of-the-art customer service centers. This story has become the rally cry of superior customer service.
5. THEY'RE COMPLETE
Brands are more than the sum of their parts. Brands in pursuit of actualization seek out integration from the inside out. They rally their organizations around shared purpose and maxims to promote unity and they facilitate interconnectedness through simplicity and optimal organization. The structure of a company around their manifesto or purpose statement catalyzes order and builds synergy so the company is experienced similarly if you’re working from within or interacting with it as a consumer.
Example: Working at Nike feels like playing a team sport. Their core tenets, or “maxims” as they are called, are designed to enable and empower their employee base. This aura of empowerment extends to their stores and their messaging. It is all geared to empower you, the athlete. Nike is one of the rare birds that has been able to activate their core in everything they say and do – and it shows. Just walk into a Nike flagship store and you will certainly feel it.
HOW BRANDS ACTUALIZE
Brands who seek out truer, more authentic versions of themselves are the ones who are able to distinguish themselves in the market place. They win because of their convictions. They are mobilized through every strata of the organization to be their best, but here’s the tricky part: There is no finish line. Brands that walk the line of actualization have a clear calling. They tend to their business and brand health with the utmost intention.
As any business leader can tell you, it’s easy to get distracted and for operations to run off course. Marketing and communications are an especially difficult beast to tame. Brands that carefully articulate their intentions and vision are the ones likely to succeed. However, this is easier said than done. Many small business owners have a feeling of who they want to be and where they want to go, but struggle to make it a reality. It helps to have a guide. This is one place where our agency has been able to provide a lot of support to brands of all sizes.
Manifesto, as our name might connote, helps executive teams build their own internal guiding documents that propel business and move marketing forward. Through the process of co-creation and deep brand immersion, we co-create manifestos that brands employ as a foundation for communications, initiatives, and building healthy self-awareness. Albeit a critical one, this is only a first step.
Manifestos provide a north star to guide brands in the tireless pursuit of actualization. They offer a high water mark for brands to aspire to, but also help the leaders of an organization reaffirm their purpose in the dogged marathon of understanding and activating their purpose. Manifestos are a kind of launchpad for future growth. They are a point of inspiration from which intention can be continually reassessed as they chart unknown waters into new horizons.
Manifestos help brands stand for something. If you’re interested to learn how your brand can start (or continue) down the path of actualization, feel free to give us a call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always up for a good conversation.