Wear Your Manifesto On Your Sleeve, Or Get Rid of It

Companies that care about creating a powerful brand work hard to stand for something in the customer’s mind. It’s critical that it’s something bigger and broader than the product or service being offered. This is, after all, why brands exist—to help people differentiate between similar offerings.

There are lots of ways for a company to live its truth today, and many companies are busy doing exactly that. Earlier this week, I came across an Austin company that has well-conceived and perfectly articulated values. The company, Skills Fund, is not shy at all about laying them all out for the world to see.

Skills Fund is a team of higher ed, consumer protection, and student loan professionals, committed to revolutionizing higher education. If you want to join the company, the first thing they ask you to do is read their Skills Code and Talent Enhancement Philosophy. This is how their Skills Code begins:

Own the Truth
We confront reality head on – both the good and the brutal facts about our company and our own performance. We pay attention to our instincts and conduct disciplined, fact-based analyses to verify those instincts. We ask questions to create clarity. We speak up when we’ve earned the right to do so and marshal evidence to support our opinions. We debate with an open mind until we identify root causes and drivers.

“We ask questions to create clarity.” I’m spellbound.

As someone who has spent two decades plus asking the hard questions of clients, I can relate, and I support the need to affirm this value in print. Tough or persistent questions tend to put people on their heels. And a client on his or her heels is not a client who feels the love from the agency or consulting partner. In other words, it’s a problem in need of an instant remedy.

Ideally, the agency-client relationship is one where coordinated dance partners move gracefully across the floor. To do this dance requires everyone to be on their toes, not their heels. There’s no other way to keep time.

Manifesto Maker Reporting for Duty

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to write two different brand manifestos—one for a political candidate and the other for the Oracle Careers brand.

The Oracle manifesto was part of a consulting engagement that came through Point B in Seattle. Therefore, I can’t share any of the deliverables, but I will share this whiteboard concept that didn’t make it into the final presentation. It’s all about the candidate’s journey and how it’s the brand’s job to assist at every touchpoint along the way.

Hat Tip to Joseph Campbell

The other brand manifesto that I wrote this spring is for Marque Snow, president of the Omaha Public School board and candidate for Nebraska State Legislature in 2020. Marque is just now rolling out his campaign materials, which I will begin to share in this space in the coming days.

Here’s a small slice of his developing “Marquifesto” for your consideration:

Send me to Lincoln and I will be accountable to you and to my own high standards for public servants. The “Good Life” that our parents and grandparents enjoyed is fast fading to memory, but we can restore this real-life dream. Help me heal the rifts, cross the divides, and make things right again. I know how to do this. Progress comes through immense and coordinated effort. Right now, I’m asking you to push hard with me so we can make real and lasting progress.

With a candidate for public office, the language can be lofty and believable at the same time. Corporate manifestos are a different beast. In both cases, the recipient or reader will likely be reticent to believe and slow to buy, unless, like Skills Fund and other manifesto-first brands, the ideas that are forwarded are truly rich in nutrients and naturally intoxicating upon discovery.

Step 1: Make Me A Believer

I let clients and prospective clients know that I need to believe in what they’re doing. It’s easy enough to convince me. All it takes is proof that the product or service is beneficial to mankind.

Once I’m a believer, then I become a powerful advocate.

As a brand advocate, my job is to enter into the heart and soul of the brand community by “walking a mile in the customer’s shoes.” In other words, I need to take my own journey of discovery on my client’s behalf. When this works as planned, I return from “the wilderness” with findings that we can all learn from and begin to work into the company’s brand communications.

For Oracle, we began to add definition and dimension to their candidate personas. For Marque Snow for A New Nebraska, Cathy Solarana and I are talking to people in the district to hear what matters most to them.

We want Marque to win and we hope to see him gain momentum for his progressive policies. We are thus invested at the right level as business partners because we believe.

We’re Hunter Gatherers Who Fish for Our Dinners

Bonehook is the brand messaging specialist for people-positive companies, campaigns, and causes.

When I was growing up, my grandpa and I loved to go fishing together. It turns out, fishing teaches a kid important lessons. The importance of preparation, the need for patience, skill, and respect for all living things—these are all part of the fishing experience.

I used to watch my grandpa, Eldon Burn, pull in one fish after the next, while my line was mostly inactive and often picked clean without my knowledge. I did not relish these moments of not catching, but looking back I can see the lessons.

Abundance was all around us. Fish were everywhere under the boat. But I couldn’t sense them or catch them until I got in touch with the environment, the tackle, the bait (minnow and worms), the boat, the lake, the weather, the fish, my grandpa’s war stories, all of it.

Give your team a fighting chance, consult with the local outfitter and guide.

When brand teams prepare for an expedition into customer waters today, there’s a real need for maps, tidal reports and weather conditions, plus all the right gear, the right bait, the right boat, a trusted captain and a dedicated crew.

Bonehook is the brand messaging outfitter for these customer-seeking teams. Teams who prepare before they head out. In specific terms, we provide the strategic insights, go-to-market plans, and latest tools that clients need to survive and eventually thrive. 

Here, put this worm on.

Worms are nasty and threading a hook through their wormy body is gross. But that’s how you catch fish. Likewise, there are aspects to working in brand marketing that are tough to handle, like hearing from customers and prospective customers that the product or service in question doesn’t live up to the claims being made in the advertising. 

Cognitive dissonance is never good. In marketing communications, it’s an unnatural disaster. A brand’s message can’t just be quirky, or clever, or smart today. The messaging has to make perfect sense in the real world, or whatever claims the company makes will be instantly rejected, or worse, ridiculed by volunteer members of a snarky, social-media empowered public. 

Now cast your line…

When you’re fishing the right spot at the right time of day with the right bait, there will be times when time stands still. Times when it seems that nothing at all is happening. A new level of patience is needed. Fish don’t care about your career or your company’s key performance indicators. Fish care about eating. 

Once you understand that smart marketing is all about placing something of value, something easily consumable, in front of an audience that you care about and understand deeply, the fish will bite. This is where most marketers go wrong…they believe that what the brand wants/needs to say is the valued, consumable thing, a.k.a. the shimmering lure. Wrong! We’re fishing with live bait.  

For sport or for sustenance? 

There are all kinds of anglers in the world. For some, it’s an expensive sport with elaborate gear. For others, it’s a nice way to spend a summer morning along the shore of a river of lake—when the hatchery trout cooperate, all the better. 

Bonehook clients enjoy the pursuit, strategic planning, and the skill that makes fishing fruitful. That’s a bonus because in marketing we either feed ourselves and our tribes, or we go hungry. Therefore, our work with clients is all about creating sustainable fisheries that will feed future generations. You can’t do this with trickery or short cuts.

Brands that are built to last are crafted carefully, hand-to-hand, in the wild.

Give Bonehook a call if that is what you’re after.