Do the count-test

To provide direction brands often use a model describing the ‘core brand values’, ‘brand concept’, ‘brand compass’, ‘brand key’, ‘brand DNA’, or whatever it is called. These documents describe the desired situation and are used as briefings. They can be very helpful, but most of the time the quality is very poor. The world record of strategic chaos, to our knowledge, is a brand strategy describing 11 ‘core values’, each of which could be interpreted in many different ways. It was a story of hope and being admired and loved by everybody, but there was no essence, no choice, no coherence, no difference. Probably it was an attempt to please everybody in the company. The document was produced by a high-end brand consultancy (see visual below).

Often these documents are interchangeable, very confusing and over ambitious. In the case above the ‘strategy’ document implied there were 39.916.800 (11 faculty) different possible combinations of values.

Do a simple count-test to start with. Count de number of values/benefits in your strategy document. It is a simple way of establishing if you have a strategy anyway.

Brand literacy

An increasing amount of advertising is being reviewed by technocrats who are brand illiterate. Brand literacy is a skill that can be learned, but some people simply cannot reach the parts other people can. One should never make these people the final judge of a proposal. Often they are the financial engineers or researchers in the company, that, rightly so, want to know why all this money is being spend, but often they do not understand communication nor branding. In the year 2015 one of the worst pieces of advertising was created with the aid of brain-scanners ( Of course, research is important and one can learn from it, but one should never make it the final judge.

A common mistake made by brand illiterate people is to take the type of person portrayed in the advertising too literal. They believe ‘what you see, is what you get’. But the brand personality can be ‘symbolic’, meaning many seemingly different people are able to relate to it.

According to a former CEO, Harley-Davidson ‘does not sell motorcycles. We sell 50 year old accountants the ability to wear black leather and ride through small towns frightening people.’ 50 is too old, but by the time Harley Davidson will portray accountants in the advertising, it will be dead.

The T-shirt Test

A simple equation of a brand is: Brand = Awareness x Meaning.

Awareness is not enough to be a strong brand. The strength of a brand depends to a large degree on the surrounding associations and the meaning they have. A brand name can carry a lot of positive meaning, but only a small amount of people are aware of it, or a brand can have a high awareness, but little meaning. The more a brand means to people and the more people are aware of it, the stronger the brand.

If you want to know what your brand currently stands for, do a T-shirt test. Write the name of your brand on a T-shirt and imagine a person wearing it while standing on a stage in front of 10.000 people. What will cross their minds? How many people will know the brand? What products will they link it to? What type of people? What price? What kind of benefits and values? Will the audience be proud or ashamed?