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The Murmur Method – An Applied-Values Approach to Branding

“Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.”

– Steve Jobs


At Murmur we employ what we call an “applied-values” approach to branding. We call this “The Murmur Method.” It’s a relatively simple concept, but to give it a little context I’m going to begin at the beginning.

Are we talking “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” beginning or “Branding 101” beginning?

It’s more the latter than the former. (I’ll try to be brief.) We know that branding is super powerful, right? Without it, Coca-Cola would just be sugar water and Nike would be … shoes.

But is branding really as important as everybody says it is?

Depends who you ask. If you are the only business on the block selling sugar water, then you don’t necessarily need to create a brand. You just need sugar and water.

Brand building matters if you want to actively and intentionally grow. It matters if you want to increase profits or earn market share.

So we need really good design to grow?

Well, branding and design are different. Branding is what happens in people’s minds. It’s an experience. It’s not a logo, a mascot, a product, or a cheeky sense of humor. It’s everything an organization does and how it is perceived by others.

If branding is everything, how do you create it?

I’m glad you asked this question right before I wrote this paragraph! Doing branding work is the act of curating the experience that people have when they encounter your organization.

We often judge a company’s branding on how well the design is executed across various mediums–because this is easy to recognize.
But the same principles of good brand design (consistency of character, voice, style, etc.) can be applied to all aspects of an organization.

Does this mean a branding company can do my taxes too?

No, but we could probably make some recommendations on how to do them on-brand.

Your products and services and relationships all produce brand experiences. Your website is a brand experience. What your employees wear and how they answer the phone are brand experiences.

Got it. Make everything consistent.

It’s more than that though. “Inconsistency” can be a brand quality. “Surprise” can be a brand quality.

The important question is: What informs this consistency? How does one go about doing brand work?

I have a feeling you are going to tell me …

It’s often somewhat organic in the beginning. Businesses grow up like vines on a terrace wall. Some vines catch enough sunlight and water to survive and others wither. The most successful parts of a business will flourish and others will die off.

So now you’re a poet?

(Maybe?) Once an organization becomes intentional about branding, they need to decide on branding goals. And there are basically two paths.

Does one path lead to certain doom?

No. But, here at Murmur, we do have a preference. The two paths are:

The Corporate Approach:
For the corporate approach, we must answer the question: How do we want to be perceived?

and (drum-roll . . .)

The Applied-Values Approach:
The applied-values approach asks the question: How do we articulate who we really are in a way that resonates with our audience?
If you can answer either of these questions unequivocally, then you can start your branding journey.

Easy peasey. See ya!

Hold your horses! There is a subtle difference here that I want to point out. Who an organization is and how they want to be perceived are not always the same.

Oh, like how oil companies try to act like environmental organizations?

Exactly. Branding can be artificial. It doesn’t need to be true. But we at Murmur think it’s more effective when it is (or strives to be).

But my company is already values-based. We got that dialed.

You don’t. Not really. No one has it dialed. That’s like saying “I’m a perfect person. I have it all figured out.” You don’t have it all figured out. No one does.

Being values-based is a goal that can always move forward. There is no end to the journey. There is always further to go. At Murmur we can help you move down that path in leaps and bounds, but there is no arrival. There is only progress.

Do customers really care about applied-values versus the corporate approach?

Yes! The byproduct of a values-applied business is integrity. And customers love integrity! Integrity is simply doing things that align with your values. Walking the walk and talking the talk! People respect it tremendously.

Why do they care? Don’t they just want your widgets?

They do care. Because people like to know what to expect. People love what they know, and they fear what they don’t. That’s why Starbucks and McDonalds exist: familiar and consistent comforts no matter where you are. Familiar feels easy. Unfamiliar takes work. When businesses act according to their values the world becomes more knowable, more predictable, and more accountable.

OK. Sold. So I should make a list of values?

Listing your values is great, but articulating them in a succinct way is very important. You can’t run a company on 36 different values. Nobody will remember them. It will be too hard to act on them.

Is this where you come in?

Sometimes, yes. We can help at many different stages. We can help you articulate or evolve your values, for sure.

OK. So we articulate our values and then design stuff?

Kinda. But your articulated values should be known and understood at every level of your business and that’s why the word “Applied” is so important in our approach. Values are nothing if they are not applied (and that takes ongoing work).

How do you apply values to design?

Well, there’s lots of ways. We create pillars.

Makes perfect sense. What are pillars?

Pillars are values-based instructions for creatives who are going to work on your brand. They are simple. We usually create 3 or 4.
We also create other guidance like brandbooks, voice and tone style guides, mission, vision, positioning, and more. These are all arrows in your quiver for applying your values every day. And it’s all based on our approach.

What about my competitors? How will my values help gain market share?

Every business is unique–like a snowflake (maybe I’m not a poet). So being true to your values can also distinguish your organization. Also, positioning is still important! Emphasize the authentic parts of your brand that are unique and valuable to your audience and you will go far!

Sweet. Can you design my logo and website now?

You’re an impatient headline, aren’t you? Of course, we can. But it’s also a lot of work on your side too. Values work is hard work. And if we create a values system and then you tuck it away in some folder for posterity, you will lose the benefit of being an applied-values business. You’ve gotta live it!

It sounds like you’re saying that this approach could transform my business?

Bingo! And the cool thing about Murmur is we can extend your applied-values branding through logo, packaging, website, print materials, event booths, in-store displays, and much more!

Though, YOU will be in charge of extending it through your company culture.

(Hot tips! Give your organization a yearly values quiz. Create a mural of your values. Put your values on T-Shirts! There are lots of ways to integrate your values into your culture.)

Groovy. I’m on board!

Awesome! But you’re just a headline. Do you even have a business?

I’ve been working on some ideas …

Ok. Great. Well, let us know if you need help! (Not sure how that would work, actually.)

Just write another blog post one of these days and we’ll talk more

Fair enough! Happy headlining!