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Unlocking the power of the brand ‘how’

Alison Tilling

Chief Strategy Officer



Tangible, real, felt

Unlocking the power of the brand ‘how’

Kill your darlings.

That’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had, from a creative director who’d made darling-slaying an art form. The context then was their response to a creative brief, but killing your darlings is pretty good advice for all walks of life – bar parenthood.

Brand purpose, the “why” of a brand, has long been one of the darlings of our industry. While actually killing it is too harsh, it’s high time to turn some focus elsewhere: to “what” a brand or company does and, more importantly, “how” they do it.

The why, how and what need to work together because their power is born of their congruence. This is where the “how” can be powerful. At its best, it is the strategy and values that build the bridge between a brand’s purpose (usually more obvious to those who get to see the framed crafted statement in the boardroom than it is to the consumer) and what it actually does – the product people see on screen or shelf, and have in their home or life.

Patagonia is a great example. Its purpose is “to build the best product, while causing no unnecessary harm”, and this is passionately believed in by employees both top-down and bottom-up.

Patagonia’s “how” is the bridge that clearly and tangibly helps the company and its consumers work towards that goal. Its values are built on taking action and developing solutions to the environmental crisis. This is evidenced everywhere from their WornWear initiative, which repairs, repurposes and eventually recycles Patagonia clothing, to giving US$10 million saved in Trump’s tax cuts to environmental charities.

So, a brand’s “how” needs to speak as loud as its “why” – and can give that purpose some commercial rocket fuel.

How a brand or business does what it does can be much more distinctive than why it does what it does.

How is tangible. It is real, and it is felt, not just in the marketing bubble but in gloriously messy real life. I love theory as much as the next person, but “how” has a big advantage over “why”: it is more likely to be personally experienced. That means it is an asset more likely to build mental availability for the brand. Done well over time, this helps create a Meaningful Difference in consumers’ minds, which is one key part of what builds a brand.

How a brand does what it does is based on its values. The set of values a brand has, and how it acts on them – especially when it seems like no-one is watching – is part of what makes it trusted. BrandZ research in Australia highlights the importance of trust for brand growth, and this is especially because in today’s environment of radical transparency, someone is ALWAYS watching what a brand is doing … and then posting about it.

Internally, how a brand does what it does, how it says what it says, can be its calling card and the power that keeps employees motivated and happy. No customer will be happier than the happiest employee, so making sure employees are empowered to act on a brand’s “how”, its values, tone and sense of initiative, is key.

So, kill that “why” darling and make the “how” work harder.

Just if you’re a parent…don’t try this at home.