By Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster
You always have to know more about where your brand is going than the marketplace. This is the role of vision for your brand.
Vision prevents reactiveness. And reactiveness is the enemy of great branding. Reactiveness as a brand dilutes your ability to be memorable, to have a sustained impact or result and it wastes your time and energy. Without vision, you overreact to a price change from a competitor. You over-pivot to grasp at a new trend. You obsess over a decision that is not mission-critical. Biologically, all of this reacting is leading in survival mode – which inevitability causes short-term thinking, impulsiveness and paranoia and erodes your brand.
A vision comes from conviction. It looks like knowing where you are headed, what your future state (as a human, as a company, as a brand) looks like and feels like. A vision, properly rendered, addresses what you are known for in your industry, your market, the world. It incorporates who you are, what you have created and the new space you have defined through your work. A vision is not a specific set of instructions on how you will get there — but instead illustrates the space of “there” itself.
Defining your vision for your brand answers three essential questions.
Who are we?
Without vision, you drift from identity crisis to identity crisis. Knowing who you are as a leader, an organization and a brand allows you to boldly move forward, while remaining flexible for transformation.
Who are we for?
Vision is about inspiration. A vision will inspire you to serve an audience. And it will inspire the audience to support you. It will come from planting your flag into an idea bigger than yourself; an idea that somehow contributes to humanity.
How will others benefit?
No one executes a vision alone. Achieving the vision will require the efforts of thousands of people giving their energy, effort, creativity and resources to make it real. In return, this audience — and perhaps others — will enjoy an improved experience, result or product.
Many leaders think that vision is internal only, addressing a very big picture and an ephemeral, private ambition. That it needs to be closely guarded, quietly held and privately discussed. We disagree.
Instead, a vision, once created, is known within your culture and in the market. It is ambitious but not untouchable in the daily course of events. It is present and regularly motivating. It is openly discussed. Everyone should know the vision, including customers. And everyone should be able to see how they can contribute to the vision and how they will benefit.
Elon Musk creates no obstruction to his vision — always giving people a view of where he’s headed, and leaving the instruction manual behind for others to follow.
As a company, Root + River is working to inspire defiantly driven leaders every day to brand from the inside out. That is what we will be known for, in a smaller sense today, and in the long term, it is the mark we will make in our industry and in broader society. This vision is present for us, it is known and articulated and real in daily discussions, in goal-setting, in the initiatives we undertake. We see it off in the distance, but we also see it right next to us as we go about our daily activities.
In fact, vision propels daily activities. And it acts as a frequent recalibration point for attention and resources. Vision informs the direction you take at every intersection you come to in your life and work. Knowing your vision empowers you to ask the right questions when faced with decisions, including: Is this supportive of the vision? Does this take me toward the vision or away? Is this a detour or a whole new path to another reality?
It’s important to remember that the vision is not fixed. It is to be held with a blend of confidence and humility: enough confidence to propel you forward and enough humility to keep you grounded. Practically, it should be reviewed at least annually and adjusted to present realities, or new epiphanies and opportunities. As you pursue the vision, you will learn about it, and these learnings inform the vision itself. Frequent reviews of the vision allow you to incorporate what you are learning into your vision.
You are the shepherd for the collective consciousness of the brand.
You are the conduit for the muse of inspiration from whence all great ideas come from.
It’s your responsibility as the leader of your brand to become intimately acquainted with the vision. You need to understand it deeply, feel emotional about it and be committed to it. You need to place it above all other of-the-moment trends and distractions. It’s a marriage, not a hook-up.
In doing so, you and your company will enjoy the benefits — differentiation, space in the mind and heart of your audience and a sense of purpose that fuels sustained growth.
Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.