Super models — everything you always wanted to know about brand frameworks (but were afraid ask).
Let’s be honest. Sometimes, no matter how long you’ve been in your field, you need to do a secret Google-of-shame. “What is a brand proposition?”. “Workshop template”. “Marketing metrics good”. Not because you don’t know, but because you’re deep in a project, and you feel lost and unsure. It’s like WebMD for work — sometimes you just need to double-check that all is well and you aren’t losing your mind.
Recently, I’ve had a few people (clients and strategists alike) ask me in hushed tones about brand models as if they were some kind of magic, mystical thing. Well, they’re not so let’s all just calm down and take a big deep breath.
My understanding of a brand model/framework is that it acts as a neat way of explaining the different components of a brand strategy, whilst also showing those components relationship to each other. A model is purposefully simplified and intentionally minimalist — acting as an overview of much wider thinking and far deeper understanding.
Famous, or “super”, models include…
- Keller’s Brand Equity Model aka The Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model
- Kapferer’s Brand Prism
- The BCG Matrix
- The Business Model Canvas
- The Brand Key (mostly attributed to Unilever)
- The Brand Onion
And they’re all valid and helpful in a variety of different contexts and situations. Which is why they’ve endured.
Nevertheless, it can be easy to feel confused when faced with a pre-defined model or when needing to choose a framework for a complex strategy. I’ve often been told which framework the client wants to use, and then tied myself in knots attempting to make it work for the thinking. So, I want to go on the record as stating that this is a backwards way of going about strategy. A model is a tool, not a lever. There’s really no ‘one’ or ‘set’ way to approach or communicate a strategy, but there can be a ‘right’ way.
To dig into it all further, I decided to get in touch with Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and creator of the MSc Brand Leadership programme at UEA. He’s very good at keeping things simple and clear.
“Models are useful when they explain something complicated, and help people decide what to do” — Robert Jones
At Wolff Olins, there’s a few models they turn to. There’s The Butterfly for brand purpose, there’s The Quadrant for brand proposition, and 360 which unpacks all the aspects of designing a brand identity. Other agencies have similar models and call them different things. But, as Robert says, “They’re successful because they’re simple and encourage really deep and comprehensive thinking”.
This concept alone is hugely helpful. It urges us all to keep things in perspective when we’re sweating over onions, prisms, keys, pyramids, or that square one you saw in that deck that time. At the end of the day, if it makes something clear, it’s working. You can call it whatever you like.
Personally, and because my work often straddles both brand and marketing, I use different models at different stages. The Butterfly (which is basically a venn covering external needs/interests and internal skills/attributes) is adaptable enough to be relevant, simple enough to get to something quickly, and open enough to dream big. I find The Business Model Canvas comes in handy when clients seem to be in a bit of a muddle about what they’re actually doing. The BMC offers no hiding places, and really forces a business to identify each and every aspect of its world. So much so, that I’ve also made a tweaked version of the BMC to look at marketing. And I think there’s a lot to be said for getting everything onto a page — be it in a grid or a pyramid, or even just as text — to show how positioning, proposition, values and target audience, etc all ladder up to the main purpose.
And, say what you will about motivational speaker Tony Robbins, his view that “Questions control what you focus on. What you focus on is what you feel. What you feel is your experience of life”, has provided a useful framework I’ve used a couple of times now for ambition and objective setting. Others I know have looked to the ways and modes of Navy Seals, the military and even sports teams. Models, it seems, can be found it the most unlikely of places!
In a strategist’s utopia, all organisations will have a useful and actionable brand strategy — one that is meaningful to everyone in the business at all levels, and in all functions. That strategy would have the strength and clarity to be captured succinctly on a page (in a model if necessary) and then be pinned up on walls, set as desktops, and jauntily printed on mouse mats*. Each day, in this utopia, everyone from the CEO to the intern would be able to glance at this 1-pager and be sure of their role in that vision or objective, and see how what they were working on upheld and progressed it.
The reality is, though, that we don’t live in a strategist’s utopia where everything is structured. We live in a messy world, where even the most organised business is still just a group of people doing their best and looking forward to the weekend. So let’s not add to the mess by worrying about finding the perfect, all-encompassing, magic Super Model. Let’s just seek to offer a glimmer of clarity and a moment of focus as the world continues to spin around us.
*We’re strategists, not interior decorators. Mouse mats ftw.
If you have a model or framework that you find useful, I’d love to know. Please add it in the comments.
If you’re having a bit of a panic about your brand strategy and how to approach it, don’t worry, get in touch via my site and we’ll figure it out.
And, if you liked this post and think it may help other strategists doing secret Google searches on the subject, hit the heart button, or clap icon, or whatever it is Medium are currently experimenting with. Cheers!