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Brand success can only be achieved if you create a clear verbal definition of your brand – what you stand for, why you matter and why your audiences should care about you.


It’s a new year, a new decade and of course, a year with memorable, numeric symmetry and embedded meaning: 2020.

We hear the terms “20/20 vision” or “20/20 hindsight” a lot –– often casually thrown around in conversation –– but how many people actually know what 20/20 means?

20/20 is known as a Snellen fraction named after Herman Snellen, the Dutch ophthalmologist who developed this measurement system in 1862.

In the Snellen visual acuity system, the top number of the Snellen fraction is the viewing distance between the patient and the eye chart. In the US, this distance typically is 20 feet; in metric countries, it’s 6 meters.

At this testing distance, the size of the letters on one of the smaller lines near the bottom of the eye chart has been standardized to correspond to “normal” visual acuity – this is the “20/20” line. If you can identify the letters on this line but none smaller, you have normal (20/20) visual acuity.


We know from our own conversations with clients that companies far and wide took time in 2019 (and years prior) to undertake “2020 Vision” exercises. These programs resulted in business plans that created ‘acuity’ around their long-term goals, strategies and objectives.

Some firms (but I would submit, far fewer) also used this time to think more strategically about brand and how to create clarity around their brand propositions for the new decade.


Instead, business and marketing folk have devoted vast amounts of time and money to what I call logo cleanups and simplifications. These rebrands have been driven by the need to simplify and optimize for apps and the digital world.

But Brand Clarity is only partly achieved through a cleaner visual identity;

Brand Clarity can only be accomplished around the verbal dimensions of brand.

Let’s call them the Fab Five:

  1. Brand Positioning Idea, 2. Brand Building Blocks 3. Brand Manifesto, 4. Brand Messaging Framework and 5. Tone of Voice guidelines.

1. Brand Positioning Idea

A brand positioning is the one-to-five words that define and sum up what you stand for and why people should care about you and your brand. A strong positioning reflects what you want people to think of when they see, hear or experience your brand. A brand positioning is not a tagline – taglines tend to change periodically (usually when a new ad agency gets hired) but a strong positioning can and should last forever.

Think BEST: Big–Extraordinary–Simple–True. Positioning is about finding a big, unique, idea that is simple in its expression and authentic in its truth.

Positioning is about your big idea – something that can be differentiating and meaningful to customers as well as employees. A strong positioning creates a common understanding of what the brand stands for so that everyone in a company can understand why the brand matters and then act to support it and enhance its performance.

Think Starbucks ‘Third Place’ – the ubiquitous coffee chain wants to be the ‘third place’ in your life (after work and home). Starbucks’ big idea becomes a purposeful, strategic driver that permeates everything the company does.

2. Brand Building Blocks

These are the 6-8 core attributes of the brand. They are verbal ideas that provide additional clarity, context and personality and help to add dimension to the brand positioning idea. These attributes can be simple and communicative like ‘Trust’ or ‘Engaging’ or more unique and dynamic such as ‘Powerful Partner’ or ‘Outcome oriented’. Of course, supporting copy and language should surround these words or phrases to clarify what they mean and how they add value to the brand’s meaning.

3. Brand Manifesto

A four to five paragraph narrative or manifesto should clarify the brand’s positioning and underlying meaning and help to amplify a brand’s purpose and underscore your value to your customers and stakeholders.

We’ve encouraged our clients to publish these brand narratives on posters in and around the office or in brand guidelines and employee handbooks to create wider visibility and ensure employees have a common understanding of the who/what/why of the brand.

4. Brand Messaging;

Messaging is about communicating the brand’s big idea and core benefits to key audiences.

Think of brand messaging as a matrix, on the ‘x’ axis are your different audiences to whom the brand should speak, and on the ‘y’ axis are the 4-6 core benefits which amplify the brand’s positioning. Using this matrix, you can then create and populate each individual brand message (benefit x audience) in usually 25-50 words.

5. Brand Tone of Voice

Just as a brand strives to have a consistent look and feel across all ‘touchpoints’, a consistent tone of voice should be created when communicating with key audiences. Tone of voice guidelines include recommendations on three tone of voice characteristics. For instance, Sprint has three tone of voice characteristics: Pioneering/Genuine/Clarity. These words are clarified, codified and articulated so these traits can be incorporated into copy and brand communications.

All communications should sound like they’re coming from the same source to ensure that messaging always complements the brand and works together to build a brand’s reputation and underscore its values. Flexibility is critical – communication to warn/say sorry/inform should be different from messages that aim to thank/sell/inspire & motivate.

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