Much of the lexicon of branding, from mission statements to company values, and from visions to manifestos, suggests terms from religion, philosophy, and politics. What do brands have in common with these more typical examples of belief systems?

Essentially, a brand is a form of shared understanding. It is a perception that stands for the entire idea one has about a company (for example, its products, people, and services). Pictures and logos, taglines and content, can communicate a company’s brand, but the heart of the brand itself beats behind all of these things, and brings them to life.

A brand, then, is clearly a kind of credo, or belief system. First, there is an idea a company has about the world, its vision. Its mission is to bring that vision to life through products, services, and other company activities. Finally, this mission benefits people in some specific, tangible way that has personal meaning for each group.

Let’s look at this idea of a ‘brand as a belief system’ from the perspective of the two core groups: a company and its customers.

In the Beginning

Nearly every company was started by founders who were animated by some core idea: a way that anyone could afford a car, a PC that would be easy to use, appliances and devices that had beauty as well as function, or just a quick moment of satisfying refreshment.

Regardless of how companies change and develop over time, the basic principle at the heart of their activities really remain the same. And, going forward, tapping into that principle unlocks future possibilities for growth and innovation. Perhaps even more importantly for the culture, it excites employees and potential recruits about why they want to contribute their skills to the company in the first place.

We The People

Every successful new brand is a kind of revolution. People get swept up in an exciting new idea, or a new way to engage with the world. In this way, brands, as belief systems, can resemble political and popular movements. Even the famous opening lines of the Declaration of Independence can be read as a kind of brand positioning. To paraphrase those famous words: we, this group, believe that the world should be like this, and this is what we are going to do to make it happen. The preamble is a classic positioning statement: solidly phrased, forward-looking, and bold—and one that inspires people to take action.

And Now Abideth These Three…

An idea about the world, a way in which that is brought to life, and clear articulation of why it matters: these are the ‘holy trinity’ of positioning, and the essence of what good brand strategy is all about. What religion, politics, and—yes—branding all have in common is that heartfelt idea, shared by a community of believers, about how the world should be.

Sean Ketchem, PhD

Sean Ketchem, PhD, is a branding and content strategy consultant based in San Francisco. You can reach him at csketchem@gmail.com.

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