brand story & messaging

3 brand lessons from the resistance

Carolyn McMaster | December 14, 2017

Revolution! Fist in the air

The past year has been, um, trying. But along with the anxiety and anger, there’s also been action—a lot of action. Businesses are taking stands en bloc in favor of corporate and government action on climate change (the latest is the Climate Action 100+). Gov. Jerry Brown is holding his own (our own) climate summit next year. People are voting (yay, Alabama!) and voicing their opinions to their congressional representatives in record numbers.

All this has made me think about branding and the resistance. (One question on my mind is whether the Democratic party will ever build a brand. I digress.) What makes a movement work? The things that build a successful revolution are the same things that build a successful brand, especially for mission-driven companies and social enterprises. Here are three.

  1. Focus, focus, focus
    When everything you cherish is under attack, how do you figure out where to put your energy? Longtime activist Karen Topakian (who’s also the subject of a great short film, Arrested (Again)) advises concentrating your energy on one thing or organization you care about deeply. So too in building your brand. Businesses are complex—where to start? Branding starts with articulating the vision and mission for your business and using them as lodestones. As you begin to express your brand, building up messages and a visual vocabulary, don’t lose sight of the end goal or let others influence what you want to be.
  1. Tell your story (then tell it again)
    Resisters are telling their stories in the streets, in politicians’ offices and in town halls. Many DACA dreamers are risking everything to tell their stories and show the world they are not a faceless horde or mooching off the system. Like revolutionaries, brands are most effective when they have a story. And when they tell that story in many ways—in words, pictures and video, on their website, in ads, on Facebook and Twitter—and keep telling it over time.
  1. Don’t give up
    It can take a long time to effect change or even make a difference—look at LGBT civil rights and the women’s vote, for two. For almost the entire year, protesters gathered every Tuesday outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office to air their grievances—and she did something about some of them. It’s easy to give up and do nothing (most everyone I know is getting sick of contacting our representatives), but that’s not how movements or great brands are built. Keep at it. Be persistent, even if things aren’t going so well. To cite one over-cited example, think of Apple’s near-death in the late 1990s. They stayed true to their brand promise, and that’s one reason they survived.

Brand building is an iterative, organic process—in some sense, you’re never done. You need to adjust as you go, because designs go out of style, markets shift, audiences change. But, like a resister, successful brands never lose sight of their vision.


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