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Reviving a Stale Brand -- The 7 Pillars of a Modern Brand, Updated

It’s day one. You are now responsible for a brand you inherited. Year-over-year transactions are down, your team has been discounting to stimulate sales, and you’re not sure your customer understands how your brand is differentiated from its peers. Your brand is stale.

So, where do you start?

First, get to know your business, brand and team, writ large. Learn their strengths and weaknesses while optimizing your marketing plan's easy, tactical components. You may be tempted to tackle your brand first, but wait. Learn your business while earning those small wins that strengthen credibility with your stakeholders. Then build your brand, starting with the end in mind – a modern, relevant, brand. I developed a cheat sheet to guide you. See the 7 Pillars of the Modern Brand below.

As you optimize your marketing plan, you will find opportunities to make your brand more relevant. That means it’s time for Pillar 1, your brand promise. There are different names for a Brand Promise: A benefit, point of difference, unique value proposition, unique selling proposition, what’s-in-it-for-the-customer, or in the world in which I grew up, a brand positioning. A brand promise that’s clear, meaningful, believable, and own-able will make you stand out in the minds of the customer to win hearts and markets. It’s the single most important lever you have in driving sustainable growth.

Plan on tacking pillars 1 through 3 in your first year.



1. A BRAND PROMISE – A modern brand promise has a clear, meaningful, and own-able benefit to your customers. It’s clear because it’s easily understood and can be articulated by all stakeholders. It’s meaningful because it genuinely solves customers' problems or fulfills their aspirations -- it’s relevant to their lives. It’s ownable because the brand promise and proof are unique. The organization is uniquely qualified to deliver on its promise and has engineered its operations to own this benefit.

Hints: Consider using my Brand Promise Template for crafting a brand promise. Note that your brand promise is in context. It must be relevant to a group of people, a target. Does everyone understand it? Your front-line needs to be able to explain it without reading it from a document.

Examples: Geico, Amazon, Southwest, Apple

2. FUNCTIONAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS – A modern brand has a functional benefit that speaks to the minds of customers and an emotional benefit that speaks to their hearts. The functional benefit is usually the reason customers try you; the emotional benefit is the reason they stay. Often, the emotional benefit is not overtly communicated, but that doesn’t lessen its importance in driving deep, abiding preference and loyalty.

Hints: The emotional benefit is best expressed as an aspiration; it’s how the purchase and consumption of your product make your customer FEEL. Avoid complex benefit laddering diagrams. Keep it simple so everyone in your organization can explain it.

Examples: Tesla, Nike, Starbucks­­, Disney

3. COMPELLING PROOF – A modern brand demonstrates clear, compelling proof that it delivers on its brand promise. Proof is transparent, concrete. Brand owners reinforce this proof through feature sets, storefronts or package design -- all customer touch-points.

Hints: Make your proof concrete, and build it into the product if you can. One-click buying was and still is Amazon’s perfect proof point for a frictionless shopping experience.

Examples: Apple, Trader Joe's, uber, Amazon


4. CONSISTENT EXECUTION – A modern brand consistently delivers on its promise. It lets customers know what to expect every time they experience your brand. This consistency is not vanity – it simplifies your customers’ lives. It also breeds trust and recall. If you message every touchpoint differently, the customer won’t remember what you’ve said. Worse, they won’t trust you. Consistency builds trust.

Hints: Include every customer touchpoint. Develop a common creative brief so that all departments are working from the same blueprint.

Examples: Amazon, Taco Bell, Sequoia Capital, Tim Ferriss

5. ELEVATED DESIGN – A modern brand has a simple but powerful aesthetic sensibility. Brand owners elevate design because they know the unconscious pleasure we get from it. They understand that design enables an upstart to win against entrenched competition, engender intractable loyalty, and drive market cap. They treat design as a strategic asset and not as a me-too-make-it-look-like-Apple mandate.

Hints: wait until your brand promise is defined, so you’re elevating your design to fit your brand promise. Your design should amplify the uniqueness of your brand.

Examples: Apple, Method, Tesla

6. A MEMORABLE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE – the customer experience for a modern brand is proof of the brand promise, so it’s not a cookie-cutter experience that any brand can have. It’s intentional, so high-value moments in the customer journey are leveraged and made memorable, and low-value moments are streamlined, digitized, or eliminated.

Hints: Create a Value Irritant Matrix by asking yourself 2 questions of every type of contact: is this contact of value to my customer, is this contact of value to me. Then organize your contacts into a 2x2 matrix based on how you answered these questions. Leverage the contacts that both groups value; streamline, digitize or eliminate those of minimal value. See The Value Irritant Matrix (Basic model). The Frictionless Organization is a great resource for a more thorough methodology for optimizing your customer experience.

Examples: Disney, Zappos, Virgin, uber.

7. A PURPOSE – A modern brand aims to improve the well-being of people and our planet beyond just the purchase transaction. Brand owners inspire and empower us to join their tribe in making a difference in the world because they understand our need for meaning and belonging in an increasingly impersonal world. It’s Simon Sinek’s “Why."

Hints: It’s last on the list because it’s the most difficult to pull off unless it’s built into your CEO or founder’s DNA. Mine your company and founder history to start. Starting from scratch? Jeff Fromm has a great how-to book on this topic.

Examples: 7th Generation, Toms, Tesla, Patagonia, and AllBirds

I’ve condensed decades worth of experience into 1 document. It’s a lot to digest. Do you need a modern brand that drives sustainable growth? We’ve been there.


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