No matter how beautiful the logo or powerful the tagline, if a brand doesn’t know its core — who or what it truly is — it is pretty much impossible to build their brand and a headache to even try.
Having experienced this issue many times in our agency, I’ve learned firsthand that any branding project you undertake shouldn’t start with a kickoff or a creative brief. It starts with understanding a brand’s core identity.
What Is A Brand’s Core?
A Brand Core is a simple concept that sits at the heart of your business. It is the sum of your philosophy, your essence and your values that inspires everything you do. It is the reason your brand exists, it’s what drives you to deliver value to your customers every day. Here’s a breakdown of the 5 essential pieces that make up a Brand Core:
- Purpose: Why do they exist?
- Vision: What future do they want to help create?
- Mission: How do they create that future?
- Values: Who are they? How do they work?
- Objectives: What are your brand’s real-world business goals?
The distinction between purpose, vision, and mission is both critically important and widely disagreed upon. It seems like every article on the topic has a different definition of these terms. What’s imperative is that you know what each of them means for your brand. Here’s how we define them.
Purpose is the reason your company exists beyond making a profit. It’s the answer to the most profound question your organization faces: why? Your brand’s purpose should be dynamic and motivational. It should connect with the heart as well as the head. Your purpose encapsulates your brand’s impact on the lives of those you serve—be they customers, students, patients, or the community at large.
Questions to ask when formulating your brand’s purpose:
- Beyond making money, why do we do what we do?
- What do we value most?
- What are we most passionate about?
- What drives us as an organization?
- What does the world need most that we are uniquely able to provide?
Sample purpose statements:
- Dephlex Creatives: To make awesome digital solutions affordable and accessible to everyone.
- TED: Spreading ideas.
- Disney: To make people happy.
- Smithsonian: The increase and diffusion of knowledge.
- The Nature Conservancy: To leave a sustainable world for future generations.
- Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Your vision statement describes the desired end-state toward which your brand is headed. It’s the ideal world your brand hopes to bring about. Your vision should be lofty—even audacious. For nonprofits, a vision statement often describes a world in which their services are no longer necessary. If Oxfam was able to achieve their vision of “a just world without poverty,” they’d be out of business. But that’s the idea.
Think of your vision as an inspirational story your brand’s leader would tell to rally the troops. It should be clear and simple, avoiding elaborate language and buzzwords—a story that anyone associated with your brand could easily explain.
Questions to ask when setting your brand’s vision:
- What change do we hope to effect in the world?
- Whom does our organization serve?
- What problem are we looking to solve?
- What is our desired end-state?
- What would success look like?
Sample vision statements:
- Dephlex Creatives: A world of creativity without limits.
- Oxfam: A just world without poverty.
- Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live.
- IKEA: To create a better everyday life for many people.
- CVS Caremark: To improve the quality of human life.
Your mission statement is your brand’s roadmap. It charts the route to your vision by describing what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, whom you’re doing it for, and the values that motivate your actions.
Your mission should be a confident assertion of your plan and bolster confidence in your brand’s expertise. A mission statement elucidates the promise your brand makes to its customers. It defines both the product or service you provide and the level of quality with which your committed to providing it.
Questions to ask when formulating your brand’s mission:
- What do we do?
- How do we do it?
- Whom do we do it for?
- What value are we bringing?
Sample mission statements:
- Dephlex Creatives: Providing awesome and affordable digital solutions through a unique partner experience that doesn’t have to cost a fortune to achieve.
- Mayo Clinic: To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research.
- Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
- Feeding America: To feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.
- NPR: To work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.
Your brand’s values are the principles on which your company culture is founded. They outline what is most important to your organization—from a moral, ethical, and philosophical perspective.
It’s critical that your organization has consensus on what matters most—not only to its leadership and staff, but also to its customers. Alignment of internal and external values is paramount. After all, nothing is as important to the relationship between a brand and its customers as trust. And customers trust a brand that shares their values.
Questions to ask when formulating your values:
- What do we stand for?
- What are we most proud of?
- What are the principles we won’t sacrifice for anything?
- What is most important to those we serve?
- How would we like to be viewed by others?
The following are the values that inspire and motivate us here at Dephlex.
- WE ARE PASSIONATE: We pour our soul into everything we do, and take pride in ourselves and our visions. That’s why we create things in our own way, and add unexpected twists to every project. Working with Dephlex Creatives isn’t like working with any other creative agency. Throw out everything you think you know about working with brand strategists, designers, and developers. With our team, it’s a whole new ballgame.
- WE ARE CREATIVE: We resolve to continually feed our creatives superpowers and learn new concepts. We are always determined to be open-minded and explore new things. We refuse to rely on stock solutions to strategic planning and creative execution. Our efforts are inspired by boundless ingenuity and unconventional inventiveness.
- WE ARE TRANSPARENT: No secrets. No barriers. We work closely with our partners to create projects of value. When issues arise, we address it together and talk freely over anything, and everything. It’s not about what we like. It’s not about what clients want. It’s about what users need. And when it comes to users, we rely on data, not guesses.
- WE ARE COLLABORATIVE: Great ideas are only as good as their practical application, which in turn is only as good as the team behind it. We believe that close collaboration between our clients and our team of designers, developers, and strategists, encourages new ideas, shapes creative strategies, creates cohesive solutions, and pushes past traditional boundaries to create extraordinary results.
- WE ARE UNIQUE: With us, you get more than just a partner—you get a team who knows your first name, delivers more than expected, and treats you like part of the family. Whether you request a late-night change to your website or even send a 2 am WeChat text of a great idea for your project, you’ll get a swift response letting you know it’s been handled. Think of Dephlex team like your family; we’re here to guide you to the growth you deserve.
- WE ARE SMALL TEAM, BIG AGENCY EXPERIENCE: You don’t need an army to build a solution. Sometimes all it takes is just two crazy believers who think that they can change the world with their ideas. We’re a creative agency with a small, flexible, highly-adaptive team who values the personal communication and strong relationships formed with clients during the creative process, and by coming together to create something truly amazing.
Strategic objectives are your brand’s real-world business goals. They ground the loftier and more abstract language of your purpose, vision, and mission, by delineating the tangible milestones you plan to achieve.
Strategic objectives should be ambitious, and function as a beacon for the stages of growth on your road to success. They typically take the form of an inward-facing statement that encompasses your strategic plan, but they can also be a simple list of tangible objectives.
Questions to ask when formulating your strategic objectives:
- What is the tangible manifestation of our vision and mission?
- How will we know we have accomplished this goal?
- What milestones do we have to reach along the way?
- What’s the best way to strategically prioritize these milestones?
- Are all of our objectives aligned?
Sample strategic objectives:
- Be a global agency with virtual teams serving local clients.
- Develop the leadership abilities and potential of our team.
- Promote thought leadership through a commitment to education.
- Increase efficiencies through the use of cloud technology.
- Exceed $10M revenue in the next 3 years.
These seem like easy questions, but it’s surprising how challenging it can be for brands to answer (even your own). Unsurprisingly, many brands have never thought about it, much less documented it.
If you want to help a brand build a strong core, you need to help them articulate these answers — and understand why it’s necessary at all.
Why A Brand’s Core Matters
An articulated core identity helps a brand grow, both internally and externally. When a brand knows who it is, why it exists and what it’s trying to achieve, it has a singular vision that can become a tool to both guide and expand the brand in many ways:
- It’s a moral compass. Running a business is difficult, especially when a brand is facing challenging decisions that can affect its future, people or bottom line. But knowing its core identity, what it cares about and what it stands for provides much-needed clarity that makes decision making easier.
- It keeps the brand accountable. Accountability is crucial when you’re building trust with people, whether it’s employees or customers. A core identity is basically a set of guiding principles that serve as a public standard of behavior.
- It keeps everyone on the same page. In large companies, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of unity. Hence, departments can end up working in silos or making decisions that are counterproductive to each other. A core identity provides a touchstone to help everyone feel connected.
- It helps the brand attract the right kind of people. Publicizing values and beliefs helps a brand form stronger connections with customers who share its beliefs, and it helps attract and retain talent that is interested in that shared vision.
How A Strong Core Influences A Brand Identity
When undertaking a rebrand, whether it’s a logo update or total overhaul, the goal is to translate the brand’s internal core identity into an external brand identity — using every communication tool possible.
With an intimate understanding of a brand’s core, you can create a stronger, more cohesive brand in every aspect — from its website to product brochures to its Instagram presence. As you craft the identity, consider how the core may influence various elements.
A brand’s visual identity is powerful since it functions as the brand’s “face.” Things like logos, colors, fonts, images, icons, illustrations, data visualization, etc., should all reflect the brand’s personality in some way — a personality shaped around the brand’s core identity. As you design, consider how the brand’s purpose, vision, mission and values may be incorporated. Consider:
- Can the brand’s purpose be depicted through its logo, whether overtly or abstractly?
- Do images and illustrations reflect the brand’s values (e.g., diversity)?
- Does the color palette elicit certain emotions?
A verbal identity helps a brand communicate clearly and directly. Whereas a visual identity shows who you are, a verbal identity lets you say it. As such, the brand’s personality, tone and language carry great weight and go a long way toward expressing its core. Consider:
- What is the brand’s persona?
- What is the brand voice and tone? Does it align with its values?
- How do the brand’s values influence its language? What are words to avoid?
- How does the brand talk about the work it does?
A brand’s core identity is truly the foundation of its brand story. And that story is told in many ways, whether directly (e.g., through a blog post) or indirectly (e.g., through its customer service experience).
One of the greatest benefits of articulating a brand’s core identity is that it can become the source of many brand stories. For example, sharing the story of the latest product or offering a behind-the-scenes look at the company culture can be great content that resonates with people. As you design the identity, look for content opportunities that can bring the brand to life.
Do You Know Your Brand Core?
When you’re trying to help a brand find its core identity, it always helps to share your own. If you don’t have yours articulated or documented, gather your team and start the conversation. Best of all, you’ll learn how to move through the process and then be able to help your clients, too.