Perhaps you have a start-up company, and you want to determine what you stand for. Or you have a company with many product categories, but you still want to find some common dimensions to characterize the various products.

What you're seeking is often called a "brand platform" or what has been traditionally called a "corporate image." In essence, the platform or image is really about the corporate (or brand) name. It's important for a company to have a strong brand name that stands for something. That's because if your name doesn't stand for something that you determine, the market and your competitors will do it for you!

But how do you determine this brand platform? That's the subject of this tutorial. We'll start with the fundamental ideas, and then talk about how you might put this into practice.


Brands or companies have names that customers associate with different things. Some of these things may be quite obvious and strong, like the brand Volvo is associated with safety. In other cases, the associations can be weak, like BMW may be associated with safety but only in a very weak manner. To learn more about these associations, see our tutorial on branding.

The possible associations that a brand may want to have actually comes from many sources. For example, it may come from the benefits the customers in a target market may care the most about. But it can also come from various descriptors or the self-image of the target audience. Finally, it can also come from a company's history or core competency.


Since we're often talking about a corporate brand platform, it may be that there are many target groups for the image. For example, you may want an image to portray to end customers, employees, and investors. If it's just to one group, determining an image is easier than if you have many groups.

You may have to prioritize the target groups for the brand platform, but often you can't. One thing to note. The more target groups you must have, the more abstract the brand platform will need to be in order to accommodate the various target groups. That's because one group (say investors, interested in "profit") may be interested in different things from another group (like customers, interested in "service"), but they may all be interested in a more abstract concept (like "caring").


A good brand platform has three characteristics. First, it is clear. That will require a balance between abstract ideas and specific ones. Second, it requires consistency of theme and exposure. That is, once it is determined what the platform is, every communication must be consistent with that platform. Finally, a good brand platform is usually creative, cut's through the clutter and touches a nerve. This last point is the job of a good advertising company. Everything else is the responsibility of marketing.


As a practical manner, determining your brand platform might be implemented by having everyone responsible for the brand perform the first four steps individually. Then, come together as a group to do Step 5. Alternatively, you can do all Steps together - but it helps if you have someone impartial to the final decision present to lead the discussion.

Step 1: Start by first listing all of the benefits that any target group of the brand platform cares about. For example, a big insurance company might have several target groups, including brokers, employees and investors. When thinking about the brokers, they might obtain a list that includes such things as "range of services", "geographic coverage", "ease of doing business with" etc. They would then do the same for employees, then investors, etc.

For each group, determine their two or three "hot buttons", or those that really mean a lot to that group. Hold on to this final list.

Step 2: Now you're going to focus on the affective dimensions of a platform. This helps to go beyond the basic benefits you identified in Step 1.

One fun way to do this is to ask if your company were a person, what type of person would the various target groups perceive it to be? For example, you might be perceived as either sincere, exciting, competent, sophisticated, or rugged.

You might do the same for what type of animal the company would be. For example, different companies may be perceived as elephants, gorillas, deer, sharks, or wolves. Do the same for each of the competitors in the market. Write these down.

Step 3: Now ask, how do the various target groups perceive themselves, or what does the target audience want most for itself? Write these down as well.

Step 4: Finally, look at the competencies of your company. Start by naming any key aspects of your company's legacy (assuming you have one), history or any weaknesses that could be used as a strength (like we're small, but agile).

Finally, think about any "core competencies" your company might have (something that is hard for a competitor to copy and can't be erased by another competency).

Step 5: By now you've collected a lot of information. You now need to summarize that information and look for any common dimensions. This is not a simple task, but it is a worthwhile one.

You are looking for 2 or 3 ideas among the mass of information you gathered that have the following characteristics:

  • most closely identifies what all the target groups care about, and wouldn't alienate any target group
  • is consistent (or at least is not inconsistent) with your company's history or competencies
  • would be sufficiently differentiated from your competition

You might try sorting the information into different categorizes or systematic elimination of ideas that don't work. And remember, you may need to look for more abstract ideas if you're targeting many groups. In any event, with time you will hit on the 2 or 3 ideas that succinctly summarize your brand platform - what you want your brand to stand for.

Finally, don't confuse these three ideas with a tag line. That's the job of the ad agency - to translate the core ideas into a catchy and, hopefully, long-lasting phrase. With luck and hard work you might end up with 2 or 3 ideas that lead to such a phrase as "GE - brings good things to life".

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is founder, CEO, and Positioning Practice Lead at MarketingProfs. Over the years he has worked with companies such as Texas Instruments, Informix, Vanafi, and EMI Music Distribution to help them position their products defensively in a competitive environment. He is also the founder of Insight4Peace and the former director of Mindful USC.