Want to build buy-in for your brand or ideas? Publicize your principles.
Why? Two reasons:
(1) Buy-in requires belief
For someone to be invested in your idea, they have to believe in the idea and what it will do for them.
But that’s not all. They also have to believe in why and how your idea achieves the promised or hoped-for outcome. The “why” comes from values and beliefs—what you and your audience see as important and true. The “how” comes from principles—how your values and beliefs get put in context as cause or effect to guide behavior.
In other words, to get buy-in, you and your audience need to share enough values and principles for them to, quite literally, feel ownership of the idea. They need to see your values and principles as theirs and vice versa.
Sure, they can infer that from their observations of you, your brand, and your idea over time. You can show them what your principles are. But time isn’t always a luxury you have, is it? Not to mention that different people can derive very different meanings from the same actions or interactions.
So if you want lasting buy-in quickly, you have to put your beliefs on display, both in deeds and words, which brings me to the second reason:
(2) Connection requires clarity
For people to align with your idea, they have to understand it first. It sounds obvious, but most of the errors of messaging (and everything a core message affects, from positioning all the way through to sales conversations) start with skipping the step of clarifying exactly how your beliefs and values look in practice.
For example, a lot of people value “partnership.” They see it as important to their lives or businesses. They believe that partnership delivers value in some way. But just saying “we believe in partnership” or “partnership is a core value for us” isn’t enough.
Different people may define the same word in different ways. Because of that, partnership could look and feel very different based on which definition is in play and who holds it. An organization living “partnership” based on their own (but silent) definition could appear as aspirational, hypocritical, or even dishonest to someone who defines partnership differently. Even though they “share” the value of partnership, they don’t share what that actually means.
Even if the definition of partnership were shared, though, there can still be trouble. It’s like when two people like each other but neither ever says something to the other. If I don’t know an organization and I share a definition of a particular belief or value, it could be a missed opportunity for both of us.
But imagine instead that an organization defines partnership this way:
“Partnership is the equal exchange of expertise,” (which is how my publisher, Page Two, and I worked together to articulate it).
See the difference? Now I’m clear on exactly what Page Two means by “partnership”—and so are they. The value is now stated as a principle that guides how they work with authors because it includes both cause (equal exchange of expertise) and effect (partnership). It also tells authors what to expect from the experience.
It’s the clarity of principle that lets me see if and how our beliefs and values overlap. But that can only happen if they say it—if they publicize it in the first place.
If you’re wondering, “how do I do this, too?” that’s what my new book will be about. You can get started today, though. Here’s how:
- Identify your beliefs and values. In my mind, there’s none better than Brant Menswar’s Black Sheep approach to this. Part of what I love about Brant’s approach is that he starts with what your values actually are, not what you wish they were. Brant’s approach will leave you with five words that represent your most core and unchanging values—“integrity,” “impact,” “respect,” etc.
- State your beliefs and values as principles. I’ll repeat this again: individual words are not enough. You have to know what they mean to you. So, define them, but not just a dictionary definition. Put them in a sentence that includes both cause and effect (or means and ends, if that’s clearer to you), like Page Two and I did with “partnership.” (“Integrity is….” “Impact is the intersection of….” “Respect means….”)
Play “spot the principle”
One of the best ways to see the effects of this in practice (and to inspire phrasing of your own principles) is to start looking for how and where others do it. I gave the example of Eileen Fisher’s “Circular by design” in my post on the problem with branding, but they’re all around if you look for them.
Here are three I spotted recently:
- “When farmers win, we all win.” Found on the back of a Land O’Lakes container! The “cause” (or “means”) is “when farmers win,” the “effect” or result is “we all win.” Those two parts show us we’re looking at the principle that defines a Land O’Lakes belief about the importance of farmers.
- “Democracy dies in darkness.” The Washington Post puts this both on the splash page as their app is starting up and as part of the masthead of their printed paper. In this case, it’s framing the cause and effect of the principle in the negative. “In darkness” is the cause; “democracy dies” is the effect. The audience can infer the Post’s intended behavior from that: bring the news “to light.”
- “Coffee is togetherness.” This one is literally built into the side of Boston’s Government Center location of Starbucks. You know it’s a principle because it has both cause (coffee) and effect (togetherness).
On that last one, a fun contrast with that principle is sitting just further along the row of storefronts at Dunkin’. Dunkin’s tagline is “America runs on Dunkin’.” Even though it has cause and effect, it doesn’t qualify as one of Dunkin’s principles—because it doesn’t guide Dunkin’s behavior—but it does reveal the underlying principle: “Coffee is fuel.” The contrast in those two core principles is an easy way to understand not only a key difference between the two brands, but also why people may feel more invested in one brand than the other.
What principles can you spot “in the wild”? Whether they’re in ads or apps, on buildings or in books, on paper or in the press, where do you see people or companies publicizing their principles and building buy-in (whether or not you agree!)?
Email me with what you find!It's the clarity of principle that lets me see if and how our beliefs and values overlap. Click To Tweet
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