How to write a winning brand manifesto
Let’s start where all good adventures do: on a pirate ship. Setting sail towards a watery horizon, Jolly Roger flapping in the wind, a rowdy rabble of rogues aboard. Off to find fresh ports to plunder, gold coins to clink between their teeth.
The only problem? The person in charge of the map with the big X lost it during a cutlass fight the night before. Now, our crew has no way of knowing how to get to their destination, or “where dragons be” (or krakens, or giant whirlpools, for that matter).
Once this indiscretion is discovered and the walking-the-plank stuff is done, our crew begins arguing over navigation.
“Follow this star, follow that star, head west, head east!”
Lost at sea with the simmering threat of a rum-fuelled mutiny on his hands, our captain (Blackbeard, obviously) wishes he was home in Bristol (yep, Google it).
Your business is probably not a pirate ship. But that doesn’t mean it can get by without a clear direction.
Every brand needs an X to sail towards. A firm destination that unifies its people. This is a brand manifesto.
Your brand manifesto is you nailing your brand colours to the mast of your mighty vessel. It’s your statement of intent. Because, unless your brand is just about making money, there’s a reason it exists. Something deeper than selling products or services. Think of it as a calling.
For Apple, their calling is to ‘The Crazy Ones’ – those unafraid to ‘think different’. The ‘troublemakers’ and ‘rebels’.
For Patagonia, it’s to planet-conscious consumers with their manifesto ‘Buy Less, Demand More’.
Both manifestos are different, but each shows clarity of purpose. A simple, powerful message that lets us know what these brands care about.
Sometimes manifestos sound a bit grandiose. There’s stuff about ‘changing the world’ and ‘bringing everyone together’. Depending on the brand, this can come off as cringeworthy, but the sentiment is there. Because brand manifestos don’t have to ground themselves. They’re free, creative pieces that present an ideal.
Brand manifestos say the big stuff. They inspire people and give a brand something to aspire to; they translate that intangible brilliance into something concrete you can share with the world.
Sometimes, manifestos transcend the boardrooms of their creation and become poetic narratives, capturing the essence of a cultural feeling. Like Levis’ ‘Go Forth’ campaign, which beautifully expresses the grit, determination, and landscapes of the American Dream. Where concrete imagery meets spiritual belonging.
You’re likely thinking, ‘brand manifestos sound cool, I want one’. They are cool. Or can be cool. But there are also practical reasons you need one.
Why do I need one?
For one, it helps you win customers. If you think of your brand like a person, imagine not having anything rousing to say. No strong thoughts or feelings. It wouldn’t help your brand make friends, would it? Because as people we gravitate towards others who think and feel the same as us. It’s no different with brands. Any brand that puts itself out there in a way that connects with people is bound to succeed over one that doesn’t.
Using a manifesto to get your brand out into the world is vital. Otherwise, how will your audience know what makes you special? Silence is never golden in marketing.
Manifestos are also a foundation for building up brand personality. Like a pandora’s box, manifestos (should) contain the core elements needed to develop a Tone of Voice. Are we bold, are we meek, are we just too damn funny, are we gentle? (You get the point). Considering how Tone of Voice is the backbone of every brand communication, internal and external, this makes manifestos invaluable. Essentially, they’re a cornerstone of brand culture and public perception.
How to write an awesome brand manifesto
First you need to know your brand like you know yourself. And you’re going to have to mine some real personality. Some brands are serious, others are carefree. Some are diplomatic, others are in your face. Regardless, good manifestos get right to the point and have a memorable tone. To get into all this you’ll need to ask questions like: what makes us happy? What makes us sad? How are we helping people? What inspires us? What type of future do we want to live in?
Only after the deep questions have been asked and answered truthfully can you write an authentic manifesto. And there’s no hard and fast format rules. You could write a long speech-style manifesto or a punchy micro-manifesto. What matters is that it encapsulates your brand. When people hear it or read it, they should instantly know what you’re about and be able to decide if they’re with you.
To begin with you could even try writing anything about your brand that comes to mind. A stream of consciousness exercise. This is a great way to unstick stuck thoughts, especially if you’re having trouble answering the questions above. To make your life easier we’ve included a quick-thinking framework below.
Fill in the blanks:
(FYI these don’t have to be exactly worded this way.)
Here’s what we know for sure:
We believe in:
We want to live in a world where:
We want nothing more than to:
We care deeply about:
We hope to one day:
We feed off:
We will be responsible for:
We will show the world:
And remember, writing a manifesto is not skippable when brand building. It might sound like a pretentious creative agency thing, but it’s much more than that. It’s not a nice to have, it’s an essential tool for ambitious brands to engage with customers and secure loyalty.
Having a manifesto will be your anchor. It might change over time, but by clearly stating your intentions, your mission, your values, your beliefs from day one, you cultivate confidence in what makes you brilliant. Don’t let it collect dust in a drawer. Put it on a poster so everyone can see. Make sure it’s used and championed in the business.
Get it right and your brand will never be adrift.