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How to write an effective brand manifesto

Richard Spencer

A Thousand Monkeys

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg posted what was described as a ‘manifesto for privacy’ on Facebook.

Headlines and comments duly followed. But how many people actually read his 3000-word post?

Judging by the likes, not many. 39,000 out of Facebook’s 1 billion users. That’s 0.0039%.

Zuck’s not the only one whose manifesto has fallen on deaf ears.

There’s been a bit of turmoil at Westminster, if you hadn’t noticed. Politicians of all shades are denying plotting for an election, which means they’re drafting manifestos. But while politicians love a manifesto, elections are won by soundbites.

Artistic movements love a manifesto, but people buy paintings.

Brands love manifestos, but people buy trainers.

So why post? Why publish a manifesto at all?

In the old days, you gave people a sign.

A big sign, up above your shop door that said: ‘Established 1876’ or similar. You didn’t need a manifesto, longevity was enough.

But those days are gone. Now the most successful businesses on the planet have only been around for five minutes, a sign saying ‘established 3 months ago’ isn’t going to cut it.

So modern brands love manifestos. A set of beliefs that capture its purpose, its spirit, and its culture. And instead of a shop front, it has a website.

And on the site there’s an ‘about us’ page which is where you put your manifesto. But don’t expect customers to read it.

Who’s your manifesto really for?

You. Well, you and the brand team. We work with teams to create short, inspirational pieces of writing that help them summarise the brand purpose, values, mission and culture in one go. A lot of what one commercials director described to me as ‘brand wank’ is talked along the way. But distilling the meaning and removing the jargon is an extremely useful way to focus everyone’s minds on what the brand is about.

Everyone else in the business. Once you have a manifesto, you need to get it out there to the people who really matter. The entire staff. One of the most effective tools for this is your Tone of Voice guide (assuming you have one, and if not, why not!?). Writing is an integral part of any brand culture and putting your manifesto at the intro to writing guidelines helps folk understand why you do what you do.

Your clients. I’ve chosen to say clients rather than customers because a manifesto is a useful presentation tool for B2B prospects. Before they peer into the technical detail of your proposal, a scene-setting manifesto is a great way to create an emotional connection with your clients. It could be the start of a presentation, or a brochure, and of course the website.

Manifestos are useful because they help everyone in the business understand what the brand is about. And, if everyone understands what the brand means, the brand becomes stronger. It’s a chance to do all the boring brand vision stuff with some emotion.

How do you write a manifesto?

1. Identify the problem.

It’s impossible to be brilliant and relevant in a vacuum. Your brand success depends on helping your customers overcome a problem.

Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto kept it pretty broad: ‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’.

Simple Shoes are a bit more down to earth:

2. Say what you aim to do.

The manifesto is your opportunity to offer a more emotional version of your brand vision, to help people connect. BrewDog are beer revolutionaries with a clear goal.

Google’s original ‘Ten things we know to be true’ was refreshingly honest and direct – shame they couldn’t live up to it in the long run.

3. Write it out. Then add rhythm.

Once you’ve nailed the meaning and purpose of your brand you take people with you.

A little rhythm goes a long way. Simple rhetorical devices make your brand sound more inspiring.

The American Declaration of Independence loves a rule of three: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Other rhythms are available – see our post on the subject: To dee-dum, dee-dum, ker-ching’

4. Ok, not too much rhythm. Avoid Kumquat.

Don’t overdo the rhythm. Too many brand manifestos sound like this piss-take by US copywriter Kim Mok:

5. Believe it. Without saying believe.

Research shows that 87.9%* of brand manifestos start every other sentence with ‘We believe’. Avoid this. It’s been done to death. It sounds hollow. And you’ve called it a manifesto – which means it’s something you believe in.

Decades ago, Avis avoided the ‘We believe’ trap by creating a concept based on a truth, ‘No. 2ism’. ‘No. 2s of the world arise!’

*or something like that.

6. Be passionate. Without saying you’re passionate.

Of course, you’re passionate about your brand. But avoid saying it. Demonstrate it. Check out the Italian Futurists:

If that doesn’t sound passionate, I don’t know what does. Brands probably won’t manage anything as strong as ‘stinking canker’. But you can say what it means to belong to the brand culture and keep it pretty upbeat – like sportswear brand, UnderArmour.

7. Keep it short.

Aim for 100 words or less to avoid disappearing up your own fundament. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only 3000-word manifesto writer in town. Urban-chic slipper creators, Mahabis, has a manifesto that runs to over 3000 words covering life, society and personal freedom, oh and slippers. You could say they lost their way a bit (readers certainly have).

Mahabis is now in administration.

But with the right blend of meaning, uplifting tone and genuine belief in what you do, a brand manifesto is a great way to help make an emotional connection with your teams. Just don’t expect your customers to read it.

 

Originally published on the A Thousand Monkeys blog.

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