Demystifying the brand manifesto

In all of my years working with brands, I have found few things to be as mysterious to clients as the brand manifesto.

Unlike its cousins, the vision, mission and corporate value statements, the manifesto behaves more like the family member that shirks business school in favor of an art degree.

It’s inspired. It’s creative. It’s motivating, and it makes you think.

When properly executed, it infuses the emotional “why?” into a brand. That is the role of the brand manifesto.

The manifesto is a versatile tool designed to clearly articulate what the brand stands for – what is it that gets its employees out of bed every morning and motivates them every day to deliver on the brand’s vision. It is explicitly NOT about a brand’s product or service, but rather speaks to the heart of why they sell it in the first place.

The brand manifesto is an important cultural cornerstone for any brand. In a perfect world, it should resonate, in a personal way, with the internal stakeholders of the brand. It should inspire them and lay the groundwork for why they want to work hard to deliver upon the brand’s value proposition and create an exceptional customer experience.

A brand manifesto is always an internally-facing statement. But it can be more.

Many companies use the brand manifesto externally to offer a glimpse into the cultural mindset of the organization – to help consumers connect, not with a product, but with a set of values and beliefs. Creating an emotional connection to a brand, instead of what it sells.

Increasingly, brands are turning to manifesto marketing – using the brand manifesto to feed into the consumer-facing brand story. Using advertising, communications, packaging and even thought leadership, brands are tapping into the values of their target personas and letting them know what they stand for.

This can be risky, and the rewards can be tremendous or the fallout catastrophic.

Case in point: Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. The ad features a closeup of Kaepernick with the caption, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

Naturally, the piece inspired widespread praise as well as vocal disapproval, including boycotts of the brand and pockets of consumers burning their Nike gear.

Politics aside, it was a bold move for a brand seeking renewed relevance in a politically-charged climate, and it definitely did what a good brand manifesto should: it sparked an emotional response.

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