The Ultimate Brand Strategy.

How to develop a brand that stands up, so your customer will stand up for you.

Centuries of Commitment

Johann Adam Birkenstock started making shoes at least as far back as 1774 in Langen-Bergheim, Germany, according to available records. He passed on his craft to the next generation, and the tradition continued.

In 1896, Master Cobbler Konrad Birkenstock started manufacturing and selling flexible footbed insoles, and in 1904, he developed the first contoured arch support.

Their commitment, for centuries, has been to the fine art of crafting premium quality shoes that are good for you. As generations carried on the business and, with it, the brand promise, they developed insoles and training courses and the first sandal with a deep, flexible footbed.

What Does Your Brand Stand For?

Birkenstock has always stood for the same values; ironically, values focused on how their customers stand for them.

In modern times, at least in the USA, Birkenstock is known for its ugly appearance, if also for creating a product that is good for your feet. Some may avoid the ugly appearance in their wardrobe, but no one can deny the German engineering and quality materials deliver on its promise–to treat your feet the best they can be treated as the cork insoles shaped to fit you personally.

Birkenstock has stuck to this message and showcased it in its advertising. In their first global campaign, they lead with the statement "Ugly For A Reason." The campaign consisted of several videos with the voices of scientists highlighting the evolutionary marvel of the human foot and the need for good footwear for life.

Credit: Birkenstock Group B.B & Co. KG

Last week, the Birkenstock went public. The brand, long-held closely by people who protected its values, Birkenstockholders if you will, is now going to the Birkenstock market. It will now be a publicly traded company after an initial public offering which raised $1.48 billion.

Finding Your Footing

It's vital for the health of a brand to plant its foot firmly in a set of brand values that can guide a company through centuries of change. In order to do so, a brand needs a foundation to offer the support it needs as time passes, molding to the needs of the organization but protecting its vital features.

For brand managers like you, this can be captured in a guiding statement reflecting the most important concerns of the organization. Usually, there is more than one thing that is important to a company. It could be the brand image, profit, quality expectations, company culture, and any number of other things, but few brands can cover them all successfully. It's important to narrow in on one thing that guides them all, and then identify where each supporting message fits. I call this a messaging architecture.

First, start with the leading message. You may call it a prime directive, a mission, or a brand essence. Start with this central theme. You'll have to be ruthless to determine this one theme in your messaging. This requires you to rule out noise. Natural leather? Cork footbeds? Durable construction? Long lifespan? None of it makes the cut.

Second, once you identify this leading message, select three of the key values that you set aside. Some people call these brand pillars. Consider them supporting characters. They never lead the show, but they support the leading message. You may think of these like the legs of a stool. The seat is the focus point, and it depends on these supporting elements.

Third, if you're adventurous, develop a set of supporting points that reinforce each of those key values. These are features or benefits. Think of them like the hardware and glue that holds the stool assembly together. Yes, they are vital, but you rarely focus attention on them.

Finally, build a matrix that systematically captures each of these values. Use them to guide copywriting, campaign goals, and other marketing decisions. If you do this well, this should align not just across marketing, but with your business operations.

Prioritize Ruthlessly

Let's consider Birkenstock's example. They decided to prioritize the message that focused on the business's priorities and the customer's concerns. They didn't flood us with information that would distract us because perhaps it goes without saying. They let their reputation precede them by accepting the "ugly" notion, but Birkenstock didn't even let that deter them.

They could have talked about the quality of their materials, their years in business, and the durability of their product. But they chose to focus on one thing—the human foot. They've kept the focus of their message narrow. It reflects a priority in their business that has been in place for no less than hundreds of years. Birkenstock is very lucky to be known for something so well that it affords them the ability to be uncompromising in the consistency of their product and their business decisions. Not every company is lucky enough to have the kind of values that outlive the test of time. However, not many brands stick to their values without wavering.

But you can.

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