Brand vision

The year is 1996 and the place is Stanford University. Two young men are discussing ideas in a dorm room. It’s an ordinary room, decorated with typical minimalist wooden furniture buried under a mess of papers, clothes, computer parts, and dust. Amidst all this chaos, a vision is born – “to provide access to the world’s information in one click”.

This idea gave birth to BackRub – a revolutionary search engine that would later become better known by another name: Google.

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin set off to create their search engine, they didn’t know they would change the world. All they wanted to do was organize the world’s information and make it accessible to everyone. But their vision, as well as hard work and relentless pursuit helped them accomplish the journey from the dorm rooms of Stanford to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California.

This is the power of a vision and for the sake of your brand and business, you should have one, too. Your business might not end up changing the world, but it might change the world for your customers. It’s important to guide this change in a direction you desire.

And it all starts with you and your vision.

What is a brand vision?

Your brand vision is a panoramic view of the way your business is trying to shape the world. It’s a simple, concrete, ambitious idea that encapsulates your brand’s core.

A clear vision paints the picture of  how the world will change because your business exists. It’s the beautiful future you’re trying to create.

The mission and business goals are derived from the brand vision. It delineates your aspirations for the brand and tells both your customers and employees where you want to go.

A clearly articulated vision becomes the north star for your brand. Business decisions, values, culture, and customer-facing practices should all be in line with the north star. It should shine brightly and guide you even when you’re not entirely sure what you want to do next.

Henry Ford’s vision of “a car in every garage” was at the core of the Ford brand from the start. At the time, this vision was wildly ambitious but was quickly validated by the market. Many of the production and management decisions the company took were built on top of it.

How to create a brand vision that changes the world.

Most brand visions floating around company websites on the Internet are sleep-inducing cringe fests. They aren’t even bad enough to mock – they’re about as bland as vanilla ice-cream.

Sure, vanilla is safe. But no one likes vanilla. People eat vanilla when they don’t feel like taking a risk (although, in what universe is mint chocolate chip ice-cream with brownie topping classified as a risk?).

You don’t want to be vanilla – bland, boring, and unmemorable. Vanilla is OK, but is an OK business what you really want? So let’s see how we can craft a brand vision that doesn’t cause your customers to slip into a coma.

An effective brand vision has several important characteristics. You want to tick most of the boxes to create a vision that will work for you and stick into the minds of your customers.

It’s specific.

Your vision of changing the world should be specific. There’s a reason you’ve taken the risk of opening your own business instead of holding onto a 9 to 5. Make sure that reason isn’t something vague like, “to be the best online retailer” or “to be the most successful entrepreneur”. While these statements are ambitious, they’re about as useful as a white crayon on a white paper.

What would it mean for the rest of the world if you’re the best online retailer? How would the world change if you’re the most successful entrepreneur?

Be specific.

It’s distinctive.

If I can take your brand vision and slap it onto literally any other brand, then you don’t have a brand vision. A vision should be distinctive enough that it’s unique for your own business, reflects your own goals, and wouldn’t work for other businesses.

It should also differentiate you from others in your space. What makes your business unique? Why should anyone care about your business? Your vision will give you a sense of direction.

Make it distinctive.  

It’s bold.

Most brand visions are dull, bland, and uninspiring for one simple reason – they’re made by committee. And nothing good has ever come out of a committee.

Your vision has to be bold. You’re trying to change the world, for Pete’s sake! Don’t be afraid to be bold. It’s OK to risk offending some people – if they take offense, they’re not your target audience, anyway.

Be bold.

It’s inspiring.

If your vision is less inspiring than a motivational post on your Aunt Gertrude’s Facebook wall, it’s not a good vision. Your brand vision is there to inspire you when the going gets tough. It’s there to inspire your employees when they need to do extra work to meet their targets. It’s there to assure your customers their hard-earned cash is doing something more than buying your CEO another yacht.

Of course, businesses need revenue and they need to be profitable to stay afloat. I’m not some economically challenged idealist suggesting otherwise. What I’m saying is if you want to have a strong brand, your vision needs to inspire. It needs to be about something more than money.

Be inspiring.

It’s easy to communicate.

Your brand vision should be easy to communicate. No one is going to read your 5-page PDF manifesto about where you’re going with your business. No, not even your Aunt Gertrude.

One or two sentences should be enough. Ideally, you can leave yourself some space to expand in case someone actually starts asking about your vision.

Make it easy to communicate.

Focus on the problem you’re trying to solve.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – every business solves a problem. This problem should be at the core of your brand vision. Paint the picture of a world where that problem is already solved and apply guidelines above. You may not get it perfect on the first try, but I guarantee you, your brand vision will be better than most if you follow these simple principles.

Brand vision mistakes you should avoid like your creepy uncle’s basement.

A well-crafted brand vision can help you launch your business into the stratosphere. But that doesn’t mean brand vision doesn’t have a Dark Side.

Like anything else, vision can be corrupted. Here are some common pitfalls you need to avoid like your business depends on it (because it does).

Being blind to market change.

Henry Ford’s vision catapulted the Ford Motor Company to the top of the automobile industry in the early 20th century. Because of his vision of a car in every garage, he adapted the moving assembly line process to car manufacturing. This enabled his company to make, market, and sell their crown jewel – the Model T at a significantly lower price than any of their competitors. For a while, Ford was the face of innovation.

But like a boulder catapulted at an impregnable wall, it all came crashing down when the market began to change. What was initially unique to the Ford brand, all of a sudden became commonplace.

That was just the beginning. To keep the Model T at a low cost, Henry Ford stifled innovation. The Ford Motor Company perfected manufacturing, but their flagship product remained largely the same for years.

Furthermore, Ford was deaf to consumer demands, while his biggest competitor GM was relentless in doing consumer research. As a result, GM came up with a much better business model.

In the end, consumers were becoming wealthier and more sophisticated – a fact Henry Ford was blind to. Because of his lack of flexibility, his company lost a huge advantage. At one point, the Ford Motor Company had almost 70% market share. With some innovation and clever marketing on part of the competition, that percentage fell to 15% within a few short years.

While it initially gave him an edge, Henry Ford’s vision blinded him in the end.

Your brand vision should be flexible enough to accomodate market change. While vision is fundamental, it should never be too rigid to evolve.

Confusing vision and mission.

To the uninitiated, vision and mission are harder to tell apart than the Olsen twins in a dimly-lit nightclub. After a few drinks, no one can tell you the difference between mission and vision. Which is a real problem because they’re not the same thing.

While vision deals with the future of where you want to go, mission is more focused on how you’re going to get there and where you are now. 

The mission statement typically provides an overview of what the company does, how they do it, and whom they do it for.

In essence, your mission is the yellow brick road, while your vision is the Emerald City. You cannot forge a powerful brand without clearly distinguishing between the two.

Seeing only dollar signs.

Every commercial enterprise under the sun is in business to make money. But profit should come as a result of providing value. To put moolah at the center of your brand vision only makes you seem like a greedy asshole who lights his cigars with 100-dollar bills.

Gordon Gecko may think greed is good, but that’s not what the math shows. The most successful businesses were created by people with a real vision that changed the world in some way.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs – all of them had a hand in shaping the world we live in today (for better or worse), and were handsomely rewarded for it. None of them set out to make billions. Their billions came from their contributions. And their contribution was a result of their vision.

Conclusion

A brand vision isn’t easy to craft (need help?), but it’s the first step toward changing the world. Whether you launch a global brand or improve the lives of a few people locally, your business has the power to change lives when you approach it with the right mindset.

While vision is important, beware the pitfalls. Do not become a slave to your vision and do not stifle innovation because of it. Your vision should be moving you forward. It should be an engine, not an anchor. So what’s your vision?

Till next time.

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