Kick the Door Down with Your Brand Manifesto

Building a successful brand can feel like building a ship in a bottle. There are so many delicate and interlocking pieces to monitor and keep safe within a defined system. It’s a process that rewards research, meticulousness, measuring twice, and cutting once.

Yet in nearly every project I’ve been part of, there comes a time when the kid’s gloves come off. People get restless, get sick of being extra careful, and want to kick the door down with their idea. Maybe everything feels technically right, but nothing is resonating in an impactful way. The fact is, when it’s time to go to market, brands can’t afford to be a ship in a bottle. Eventually, they have to break out and stand for something – even if that means being vulnerable and inviting waves of criticism. Invariably, someone says, “We need a manifesto.”

What is a Brand Manifesto?

If a vision and mission steer your organization in the right direction, a brand manifesto is the incandescent energy source propelling you forward. It’s inspired, creative, motivating, an appeal to pathos. It infuses the emotional “why?” into a brand. Why do you matter? Why should we care?

As Chris Langathianos writes, “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.”

It’s Apple saying, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” It’s Nike saying, “If greatness doesn’t come knocking at your door, maybe you should go knock on its door.” The brand manifesto is a cultural cornerstone for the brand that resonates in a personal way. It should lay the groundwork for why employees should work hard to deliver upon the brand’s value proposition and create an exceptional customer experience.

In Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk “How great leaders inspire action,” he suggests that if your brand truly wants to inspire an audience to follow you, your core message should focus on your organization’s purpose. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” he says. “If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”

Internal vs. External Manifestos

Traditionally, a brand manifesto starts as an internally-facing document. But more and more, companies are using manifestos as external glimpses into the cultural mindset of the organization. Not only does this help potential customers connect with their values and beliefs, but it also attracts top talent to join a purposeful, inspired company. Think of it as manifesto marketing.

And it makes sense! If you’re able to distill everything your brand stands for into one concise, emotionally resonate paragraph, why wouldn’t you leverage that? Through advertising, communications, and packaging, brands are tapping into the values of their target personas and letting them know they stand for something real.

How to Write a Manifesto

How should a manifesto look and feel? I love this abstract checklist from Mark Di Somma, where he says it should have:

  • The anger of a placard
  • The commitment of a doctrine
  • The beauty of a story
  • The hope and excitement of a vivid dream
  • The sense of a philosophy
  • The call to action of a direct response ad

Obviously, every company is different with its own unique way of expressing itself. But in general, brand manifestos speak in a collective voice, an active tone, and are prompted by a burning desire to change the status quo. If you need help getting started, an easy fill-in-the-blank exercise is, “We are A, we believe in B, and that’s why we C.”

This is something that should be able to be read aloud with verve. The implicit danger here, of course, is sounding too hyperbolic, too chest-beating, too self-important. Why is a software company talking like they are about to storm the beaches of Normandy?

The key is to ground your manifesto in the reality of what you do – then examine the highest-level emotional impact of why that matters. What does the world look like if you realize your company’s vision and mission? It’s still ownable, it’s still you – it’s just the best, most impactful version of you possible.

Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California.

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