Building a Brand Core | Elevation's Guide to Brand Building Part 1
A skyscraper needs a sturdy foundation. A towering oak needs deep roots. A Crunchwrap Supreme needs a crispy tostada.
And a great brand needs a great core.
As we covered in our Elevation’s Guide to Brand Building overview, the core is the most important element of your brand. It’s what everything else revolves around. Your brand’s core guides your business decisions, visual identity, marketing strategy, and pretty much anything else your company does. It provides the touchstones that attract brand ambassadors and turn customers into advocates.
If you do nothing else, focusing on your core can transform the way you approach branding, product development, and even your company culture.
But building a brand is a little like getting washboard abs: you have to put in work to have a great core.
So, how do you make a core that’s not just solid, but amazing?
In this part of Elevation’s Guide to Brand Building, we’re going to deep dive into every element of your brand’s core. We’ll let you know what your brand’s core is, provide examples of companies with amazing cores, and give you an exercise on how to better define your core to build a strong and meaningful brand.
What is your brand’s core?
Your brand’s core is a combination of your brand’s mission, vision, purpose, values, and point of view. It is the reason your brand exists. It is the very essence of a brand.
Whether you know it or not, your brand's core influences everything you do now and provides a roadmap for where you're headed.
The core is the foundation around which everything is built. It’s essential for growing a sustainable brand with a strong audience orbit. The stronger the core, the stronger the pull a brand will have.
A brand’s core isn’t a product, a name, or a logo. It’s a set of ideals that every employee and brand ambassador can embrace. A strong foundational core is woven into company culture and all brand decision making. It’s reflected in the people you hire, the messages you send, and the ways in which your brand affects the world.
Needless to say, the core is the most crucial part of your brand.
The importance of a good brand core
A planet is nothing without a strong core. Neither is a brand. A planet with no core is just space dust, aimlessly drifting until it’s pulled into another’s gravitational pull. This is what happens to brands that only focus on surface level aesthetics. They endlessly chase trends without establishing a solid identity.
You could have a million followers on social media and a logo created by the top designers in the world, but you will still be adrift if your brand core isn’t well defined. Even if you have success now, it will be temporary if it isn’t built around your core. Brands with strong cores know how to react to dramatic shifts in the market and how to adapt to new trends while staying true to their mission. A strong core gives you the ability to play the long game and remain successful over time.
It is critical to work on your core, as it influences everything you do. It has a direct relationship with your atmosphere (visual and verbal elements) and your orbiters (marketing content and loyal fans), as outlined in the other sections of Elevation's Brand Building Guide.
A strong core can also help you differentiate yourself from competitors. It can be the difference between a brand being seen as a commodity, or being seen as a valuable and trusted partner. People want to align themselves with brands that share their values and beliefs, and a good brand core can help you build relationships with customers who will buy into your mission.
The elements of a brand’s core
What are the elements of a brand’s core?
- Mission: Your brand’s overall goal. What do you seek to accomplish? We’ll get more into crafting an effective mission statement below.
- Vision: What do you believe about the future and what’s possible? What do you want the world to look like? A brand’s vision is its long-term aspirations, typically in terms of how it will impact the world or its industry. It is a more ambitious statement than the mission and sets the direction for the company's growth.
- Purpose: The reason why your brand exists and the why behind your mission. How is your brand making the world a better place? What gets you excited about what you do? When considering your purpose, think in terms of impact, rather than literal services. For example, an accountant could describe their purpose as “Provide financial guidance and maximize tax returns” Or they could describe their purpose as “To give my clients their time back and provide financial peace of mind so they sleep better at night.” While both are accurate, the latter example is more meaningful.
- Values: What does your brand believe in? What qualities do you want to exude as you operate? Essentially, these are the ethics of your brand. A few examples: Integrity, innovation, social responsibility, respect, equality, education, work-life balance. What you believe in will inform how you operate and create a cohesive company culture.
- Point of View: This is how your brand sees the world and its industry. Everyone has a unique perspective, and so does your brand. Are you optimistic? Do you see things with a sense of humor? What about the world needs to be improved? Essentially, these are your opinions about the world. A point of view should reflect the company's values and can be used to differentiate it from competitors.
Think of your brand in terms of personality
To put it another way, the core elements make up a brand’s personality. Just like our own personalities, a brand is best served to be an honest representation of itself, so an audience can perceive who a brand truly is.
A good personality doesn’t have to be one thing in particular. Variety of personality is key for brands. Knowing your brand’s personality and promoting its best traits builds a relationship with your audience. Like in movies or stories in the stars, a brand can benefit from finding an archetype (not a stereotype) that helps to shape how the brand communicates and how brand decisions are made.
Here a few keywords to consider when thinking about your brand’s personality:
None of these keywords are inherently better than the others. For example, cozy and sleek are polar opposites. Cozy is great if you’re a bed and breakfast. And sleek is great for a tech company. But these brands wouldn’t be well served to swap keywords. Your brand’s personality needs to be in alignment with your mission, vision, purpose, values, and point of view.
Most importantly, it must be inspired and authentic.
Are you unsure what your brand's personality is? To help you get started, let’s look at a few examples of brands that have successfully built their core.
Core Case Study 1: Patagonia
Mission: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Vision: "A world where people live in harmony with nature."
Purpose: "To use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis"
Values: Authenticity, Environmentalism, Quality
While Patagonia is known for making high-quality clothes and gear for outdoor enthusiasts, the true value in the brand lies in the fact that millions of Patagonia fans connect with and extend the brand over a shared sense of purpose to save the planet. This is one reason why the brand is so special - it has a deeper purpose that resonates with its customers.
And hey, if you can look good and feel comfortable while doing it… then bonus, Patagonia has some jackets you might be interested in.
Case Study 2: LinkedIn
Mission: “To connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
Vision: “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce."
Purpose: “To help people make the most of their professional lives.”
Values: Relationships, Integrity, Collaboration
LinkedIn has become the go-to network for our professional personas. While many other social networks are currently adding support for trendy features that undercut their original purpose, LinkedIn stays focused on their mission through a feature set targeted to professionals, such as creating resume-like professional profiles and connecting employers with potential hires
Their core guides and shapes their product, and it’s why our Director of Strategy Brett knows to put his thoughts on the future of technology and creativity on LinkedIn and keep his viral dance routines on his super-secret TikTok account.
Case study 3: Kickstarter
Mission: “To help bring creative projects to life.”
Vision: A world where every creative idea has the opportunity to become a reality
Purpose: Empower people to bring their creative projects to life by connecting creators to their most ardent fans
Values: Creativity, Community, Opportunity
While there are many crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter has differentiated itself as a major financial resource for creative projects. The platform gives creators an opportunity to bring their ideas to life by connecting them with a large pool of potential backers. This has resulted in the creation of countless projects, from board games to major motion pictures.
Kickstarter has enabled a new era of creative collaboration and innovation through making creativity a cornerstone of their brand. Writers, filmmakers, podcasters, arists, and other creative individuals are drawn to the platform because their values are in total alignment with Kickstarter.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and you should), is to write a great mission statement for your brand. If you’re building a new brand, it’s where you should start to form your core, as it will inform the rest of your brand’s elements. If you are working on an existing brand, it’s always worth revisiting your mission statement to see if it could be elevated in some way.
A great mission statement should outline the goals of the brand with a point of view, while defining how the brand will benefit society or its audience. Your mission statement should be clear and concise, but try to avoid specific product details or financial goals with the mission statement.
The exercise in the next section can help start the conversation around what your brand mission could be.
Core Exercise: In a World
Imagine your brand is the hero in a movie, out to solve a problem in the world. This exercise will help you define the problem and your approach to solving it.
Give each decision maker 10 minutes to fill out their responses to these prompts. Then share everyone’s answers, combining the best, or choosing one as a basis to begin crafting a meaningful mission statement for your brand.
“In a world where…” Outline the problem you are trying to solve. Consider individual pain points as well as larger societal impacts.
“You need…” Define what the audience needs in order to solve the problem.
“We are…” Define your organization and what you do.
“We can help with/provide you with…” How do you solve the problem, bring value to your audience, and differentiate your brand?
”Making your future/world better by/through…” How will life be better for your audience?
Brand Core Summary
Like a planet, a brand needs a strong core to hold everything together. The core elements of a brand are its mission, vision, purpose, values, and point of view. These elements inform every single decision your company makes, and it will determine what kind of brand ambassadors you will attract.
Before you do anything else, make sure your brand core is rock solid by defining these elements. Start with our “In A World” exercise, then write a mission statement, and figure out your other elements.
Now that you core is in place, it’s time to work on your atmosphere and orbiters. Be sure to check out the rest of Elevation’s Guide to Brand Building for all the details on how to do just that.
Topics: rebrand/refresh development, brands