Intentionally Aligning your Brand


Written by

Martin Sully

white text on a blue patterned background, reading episode 002 - intentionally aligning your brand

Creating a thoughtful brand that gets to the heart of what customers want is called intentional alignment. It aligns your reputation, values, mission + vision statements and your brand's promise – to make an emotional connection to your customers.

All my career steps have been intentional, even if the odd one's been wrong. They all gave me the knowledge I needed to position Snapper Studio to help solve brand problems. 

I spent four years working in a creative design studio for a publishing company. Designing limited-edition, 40kg books. These mammoth tomes were for brands like Manchester United, Ferrari, Arsenal Football Club and Major League Baseball. I semi-finished one for the Queen - I spent two years working on that before the company went bust. This taught me how to create books, brand and market them. That was really critical for me.

Next, I moved into a role with a marketing department for a university in the UK. I worked on major advertising campaigns for two years and controlled the brand identity. Together with 20 marketing people, seven designers, a photographer and a videography team, we shifted the university's positioning and reputation from mediocre to one of the top universities in the country. That is no small feat, considering the monopoly Cambridge and Oxford have on the top home and international students. 

In early 2015, I left that role, moved to New Zealand and spent a year freelancing around Auckland. Working across a vast range of branding projects. A couple of freelance roles correlate to the experience I try to create for customers. Whilst negative experiences, the learning experience I took from it was positive. It taught me how I wanted to prepare things and communicate with my clients. 

That's my intentional alignment. I wanted to build my brand values and make an emotional connection to my customers. 

Making an emotional connection to customers

Here's a great example of how simple it is to align your brand.

If I start writing about Pepsi or Coke, or McDonald's and KFC, instantly, you'll start making a judgment about my brand. When you align with a brand, even in passing, you start forming an opinion. 

This is crucial because that emotional connection will drive people's views of your brand. 

Now, people's views are turned into a reputation. One of the main goals of branding is to build and uphold great reputations. 

Going back to Coke, they have ruled the roost of the advertising world, to the point where Pepsi don't try to compete with them. In a blind tasting of Pepsi and Coke, people preferred Pepsi. 

But, people loved Coke more when told which drink they were drinking. It's a mixture of reputation and people aligning to that brand experience of Coke. It takes them back to hot summer days, that iconic bottle and Christmas Holiday adverts.  

That psychological association, the emotional bond to the drink, and long-term loyal customers have positively affected the brand.

Coke allegedly has a $6 billion marketing budget every year! So how do people with small budgets do the same?

Well, we need to get into the heart and soul of our brand and customers. We must build a brand that tells the truth and stands for authenticity and originality without diminishing its values.

It's the values, mission, and vision for your long-term plan.

Audit your existing brand

We must look at brands that are getting it all wrong. We're gonna get all negative and list all the bad brands. Think of brands that you perceive negatively. List as many as you want. 

Start with brands whose values don't align with yours. For example, if you are a gym owner, you're gonna be putting fast-food brands.

Then look at brands with a bad rap. Brands that friends, family or whoever has told you was a bad experience. 

Next, you want to write down brands with lousy press. Brands that you may not know the backstory of, but you're aware there's a general consensus that people don't like them.

Finally, it's a bad or poor experience. So this is someone that's given you shocking service or completely under-delivered on a promise or someone you feel you've been ripped off by.

Enough negativity! I've got a plant in the corner that's flopping around, all sad and weepy. Let's move on to something positive. 

Think of some positive testimonials: 

  • What are the positive things that people have said about you? 
  • Which ones do you want people to say more of? 
  • What do you hope people are saying about your brand? 

Why is this all linked? 

That emotional connection and finding out the values you don't align with help you write the values you do align with. 

How to find your brand values

Brand values are your core values, your non-negotiables, your boundaries! They're not there to tie your hands behind your back. 

They're aspirational and give you space to grow. Providing structure to your brand so that you don't wander off track (they're also super useful for helping you create content). 

First, gather all the people around you, your leadership, team, staff, partners, business coaches, and dogs. And I want you to brand-storm (see what I did there) words and phrases that you happily associate with your business. 

Get your Sharpie out, put on some music, and scribble down anything that you feel is relevant. 

To help, here are two of my values, so you understand the depth you need to go into.

I'm always hands-on – I want to be an integral part of your team and understand your business so that I can give you what you need. 

If you're a restaurant, I will come in and chop up onions. Put me through my paces at your gym. When I fully understand the customer experience and how your business works, I can offer the best solutions to fit your needs.

Ingenuity over normality. Individualised designs and original conceptual thinking shapes my world. 

Hopefully, you can see how we can start creating content from values. There's a million ways I can show being hands-on. Every brand and business I work with is entirely different.

They're two simple values I use to help create content that keeps things on brand. We've just got to find those bits for you. 

Speaking to customers as well as your team is an invaluable resource. Ask them why they chose your products and services instead of competitors? What do they think you do well?

Again a brand audit is essential here – think about those negative experiences people had with a competitor. How did that experience make them feel? What can you do to ensure you don't deliver that experience to your customers? 

Reflect on things you're already doing. Reflecting on how you're communicating with customers, and whether you can do anything better. Is there something you can do to ensure that products/services are delivered earlier? Do people value timeliness? What do they value? What do they want to see reflected in your brand? 

How to write brand values

You need to write 3-5 actionable brand values. Your core values are not just words that sit on a piece of paper or your website. You want your employees to live by these values. You need to document them, so they prompt action. A single word like diversity or innovation isn't enough. You need to use words like respect, strive and recognise. 

You need to:

  • Make them short – employees are likelier to act on brand values when they're easy to remember (this is also why you only need three to five).
  • Make them unique – your brand is unique. They should reflect what makes you special. 
  • Make them fit your brand's voice.
  • Make them specific – don't leave room for vagueness or interpretation. 
  • Make them meaningful – words have power when they're authentic. Don't choose adjectives that sound good. Make sure they are deep in meaning for you and your business. 
  • Make them accessible – your values must be easy for employees, partners and customers to find. Pop them on your about page and in your brand guidelines. Put them in a central place that everyone can access and see.

Write a mission and vision statement

We need to define a mission and vision. They're like little mini statements of what your goals and objectives are for your business. Some people see these as a little bit old-fashioned. But I still see so much value in them.

It's imperative to have clear statements that provide direction and clarity for where you're heading, especially if you're unifying a growing or uninspired team. 

If your business's culture is out of whack, and you struggle to inspire people to do amazing work every day. I would get them involved in writing these statements. 

What do they want to see, and where do they think the brand direction should go?

A mission statement is more about what your company actually does. So it's short and concise, specific to what you offer and how you're different or better than the rest.

A vision statement outlines what a company wants to be in the future. It's a source of inspiration and motivation. You can use it to describe the future brand, the future of your industry. And! the society that your brand wants to change.

One thing that's always stuck with me has been the impact designers can have on environmental effects. How we can influence society. 

If you are going for a zero carbon footprint – and need to print something – you can use Algae ink, which is carbon negative. 

Who Gives a Crap donates 50% of profits towards making toilets and improving conditions in third world countries. Everyone deserves access to this. And that is the essence of a good vision statement. 

Brand Promises

A brand promise tells everyone what the customer experience should feel like. Warning! Be careful with a brand promise – if customers know the promise is empty, they'll see a disconnect between the message and the customer experience. 

For Success, it needs to be two things actionable and measurable. The secret is to limit yourself to something simple to achieve, which is dynamic. 

Apple's brand promise, Think Different, is more like a cross between a tagline and a brand promise. But for me, Apple can pull this off. To think differently is their guarantee to create products based on seeing products differently. They promise to inspire customers to create differently. It's actionable - It's what they promised to do. And measurable - it's what the customers get from it. 

McDonald's, Simple, Easy Enjoyment. McDonald's kept it simple without overcommitting to what they can do. Ensuring that they can actually deliver what they promise.

Nike's is great. To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. So they Asterixed athlete and added a footnote to say, if you have a body, you're an athlete. This is great. It's actionable and measurable, and inclusive as well. So they're thinking about their diverse customer base.


This is so valuable to think about, when you start building an intentional brand. Consider the broader effect your brand can have.

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