From the beginning of my career I’ve always been a huge believer in the importance of getting the fundamentals right in order to ensure brand success. It amazes me how many companies today, specially start-ups, seem to struggle with maintaining the integrity of their brand as they grow. I think one of the reasons for this is a failure to formalize their brand and messaging foundation from the very start. Often the core idea of the company lives in the head of the founders and is something everyone “just gets”.

This can work in a small organization, but as you grow the unwritten foundation will start to fragment. Formalizing it early will ensure focus and consistency as the company grows. I know that many companies start as one thing and morph into something else over time, and don’t want a brand foundation that limits them. I get it, believe me, but it is possible to build a strong foundation that is flexible enough to allow growth without limiting opportunity.

It all starts with the fundamentals.Vision, Mission, Values/Operating Principles. There are lots of different definitions of each if these, but for the sake of argument, here is how I define them:

  • Vision: The aspirational reason you started your company and where you want it to go.
    • Example: We help companies understand their customers better than they ever thought possible.
  • Mission: How you deliver on the Mission.
    • Example: We create the worlds best web analytics solutions that derive knowledge from data, allowing our customers to transform the way they do business and gives them a competitive edge.
  • Values/Operating Principles: What makes us special or unique.
    • Examples:
      • Ultimate Quality! – We release only the highest quality software and solutions possible, and provide world class services and support to insure ongoing success. We are proud of our ability to develop and deliver innovative software and solutions that are right from the first customer installation, and do this in a manner that is both timely for our customers and keeps us ahead of the market. We also believe it is critical for us to maintain the highest quality customer support as a means of delivering further value.
      • Pervasive Value! – We strive to help make our customers businesses more successful than they ever thought possible. Our ability to develop and deliver innovative world-class products and services that support our customer’s entire organization is vital in today’s business environment. We do this by delivering critical business intelligence when and where it is needed. In addition, our ability to develop, deliver and support these products helps insure our success today and in the future.

Once you have these fundamentals in place, it is easier to build out your core message, position and messaging framework. They give you context for developing the messaging and help maintain consistency as you go through the process of adapting the message to different audiences. With a strong Vision, Mission and Values in place your entire organization becomes focused on what you do and why you do it. And that kind of focus and alignment leads to better business results and clearer customer understanding.

NOTE: I generally am not a fan of having too many Values/Operating Principles since they can become difficult for employees to remember and fully embrace, but anywhere from 5-8 are not unusual and in some cases such as at Amazon, there are 14.

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