New businesses and tech startups are slowly waking up to the idea of their internal and external brand helping their businesses grow. They now know it is the sticky glue that makes employees and customers belong to this unsaid faith called brand.

But most of you founders and entrepreneurs still think a brand is ‘touchy feely’ concept and not really relevant to the business. For those, I thought I should hook you through some populist concept and related framework. And I went with religion, as it is about belief or faith and it is a connected system of behaviors – like in a brand.

Religion is, unfortunately, a ‘far right’ bad word in India. So from here on, we will not call it the r-word (Let me save myself from getting lynched). We will call it a belief system or faith. And in my opinion, startups can be born into a belief system called brand. Let us look at how.

Before we begin you should know your business –
Customer: Who needs what I am building? What is the defining spirit of target consumers, and how does your business resonate with them?
Context: Why do they need it and what is out there? What are the key trends in the category and how can we use them to build our brand?
Competitors: Whom are we fighting against? How are competitor brands behaving today and how can we stand out?
Company: What exactly am I building? What will make the brand resonate the core values and how can we use it to promote our growth?

Now let us draw the belief system that you need to start and mark its parts. The basic ingredients to start a faith or a brand are:

Philosophy: Systematic formulation of belief as teachings in an intellectually coherent form – The WHY of your business or brand
To start with we need a deeper understanding of what your business and so your brand stands for – a doctrine or a philosophy.
Here is where I mention Simon Sinek’s golden circle – the why, the how and the what. His TED video below is one of the most watched and he explains ‘Starting with Why’. Watch it.

For example, for a food tech startup, the ‘WHY’ cannot be ‘deliver food on time’. It probably can be ‘because all of us have the right to enjoy the goodness in life, not an exclusive few’ or similar.

Ethics: What are the rules of interaction between your business and all engagements? Rules about human behavior. In the brand world, these are more like the terms of engagement. For example, in a ride-hailing business, wishful thinking is it can be ‘Never ask a passenger where the destination is and never refuse a ride’. What are the ten commandments of your business or your brand? Do not forget that these ethics can be your differentiator if you stringently govern them.

Experience: How do you want the people to feel about your brand? With some brands, you can feel the dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace or bliss. Apple was plain devotion that is wearing off now and so was Samsung till it burst in someone’s pocket. Uber is about liberation at least in Bangalore – freedom from traffic and parking. In some utilitarian products or services brand, there is a minimal reminder of an experience until something goes wrong, like in credit cards or a phone/web services provider. Like Maya Angelou says, your audience will remember what they experienced more than what your brand said.

Narratives: What do you want your team and customers to hear about and believe? Create stories that work on several levels. Most often narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe or context and your place in it. We need to cite legends and epics about this belief system. ‘I wanted to get my house done up and realized that there is not a single place that collates all needs’ or ‘Three of us started this out of our hostel room because we believed we can make a change’ or ‘we lived on bananas and chai to solve a critical problem’. Narratives make your brand honest and you passionate. You will realize that the valley comes with some readymade ones. Bangalore has a few of these legendary stories. Later these can extend into testimonials or emotive use cases.

Commune: How do you create shared values and behavior to create a commune? In a business, brand as a belief system is shared attitudes practiced by a group. This is often a set of rules for identifying community membership and participation. Internally this works to bond and creates a culture – the glue. Externally to your customers and partners, this can be most compelling reason to engage/buy/use your product and service. Indigo seems to have got this right as a brand with the crew, ground staff and all engagements rallying behind ‘on time’. So all behaviors point to the true north of keeping time.

Ritual: What do you do as processes and practices that are repeatable and bind your brand to your business? These are forms and orders of ceremonies in traditional belief systems – lighting camphor or joss sticks is a perfect example. In defining a brand, these are step-by-step workflows of engaging with everybody involved. These can be unique methods of appraisal, meeting protocols etc. as internal rituals. Have you ever realized that the Chinese fortune cookie was an invented ritual to sell a brand experience? Collecting messages behind bottle crowns, DIY toys in candies, selfie walls, even standard user experience pieces like a button that says ‘I am feeling lucky’ or a set of SKUs that say ‘People who bought this also bought’ indicate this ritual. When you do not find them, you miss them. This becomes the unsaid ‘oomph’ in your product or service or delivery method.

Objects: What are the symbols that signify your brand? In religion or faith ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural like a candelabra or a David star or an Om or camphor. In a brand, these are the true manifestations of communication like the logos or symbols, tonality, and voice, imagery, color palette and typography. These objects make the final frontier between the audience or user and the brand, which is unfortunately misunderstood solely as design.

From these, you can derive the Minimum Viable Brand (or Belief) that is necessary to ensure internal focus and alignment as well as external relevance and differentiation. A framework for defining and developing an MVB is the “Six Whats”:
what we stand for – our brand essence
what we believe in – our defining values
what people we seek to engage – our target audience(s)
what distinguishes us – our key differentiators
what we offer – our overarching experience
what we say and show – our logo, look, and lines (messaging)

I will expand on the Six Whats in another post soon. Till then, start your faith.