Identifying your North Star

Definition of a company or product can sometimes take on multiple interpretations. These inconsistent elevator pitches often lead to conflicting brand statements as well as confusion for both staff and the marketplace.

Along your journey toward brand development, you may have come across the term North Star. This is a tool used in brand and creative development that points the organization and those working with it in a single direction.

The tool that I've created for myself and my clients looks something like this:


The structure is a simple chart with a few embellishments that aid in the overall structure of the brand's definition.

At the top of the graphic is the company/product name or logo. This element should be supported by a short sentence that explains what the name actually stands for or what its intended meaning is. This piece of the North Star establishes who and what this diagram is representing.

The body is divided into three equal pieces. Each piece is defined by a trait that makes the brand stand out. When united, they make up the brand DNA as a whole. These are single words that identify the true strength of the brand. They are emotional attributes that reflect the brand's expertise and aspirations.

Stay away from tactical traits such as Product Specific Names, Benefits and Offers when determining these elements.

For example, a fictitious auto dealer, Joe's Automotive, uses emotional attributes such as Flexible, Modern and Trustworthy. Joe's avoided tactical attributes such as New Chevys, Open Late and Free Oil Changes. This is because tactical attributes rarely represent the foundation that a company is built upon or offer a window into its future.

Each trait should be supported by a single sentence that explains how each word is representative of the brand.

Sitting at the base of the North Star are the employee strengths. This could represent the vision of leadership or the enthusiasm of the staff. Keep in mind they do not represent the brand's consumer or audience. They are the people who make up the organization and reflect its human attributes.

These strengths should not represent a single individual but the collective make up of the staff and/or culture. Joe's Automotive's employee strengths would be GM Certified and Neighborly.

Defining the internal team in a human way puts a face behind the business – making it more accessible for its audience.

The final element in this structure is what I call the force field or overarching strength. It's the attribute that surrounds the entire North Star and enables the brand to stand out from the competition. This should be driven by concepts such as company history, partner alliances or a claim that others in your category are unable to make.

The example below shows how the North Star translates for Joe's Automotive:



Although it's mainly used inside an organization, this device is extremely helpful when developing marketing materials, creating a tag line or establishing an elevator pitch. It sets the tone for language, imagery and content. It's also a useful tool to support an overall creative direction.

The North Star goes beyond creative development and has become a useful communications device for human resources as well as investors. It points everyone in the same direction when asked, "What does your company or product stand for?"

If your communications consistently embody the content of your brand's North Star, then you're well on your way to clearly defining your company both internally and to your audiences.

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