PROOF | change communication & employee alignment

5 Ways to Grow a Brand Without Using Words

by Ben Wickham

When you look at the world’s most successful brands there is one that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. One brand that has outlasted any other. That has done more to shape cultures, cities, lifestyle and the arts.

Love it or loathe it, the expansion of the Catholic church and its ability to stand the test of time is something that no organisation has been able to replicate.

What is fascinating is not what they did, but what they didn’t do.

16th Century Europe was a complex, feudal world with clashes of culture, language, tribes, history and politics.

The Catholic Church saw rapid growth during the 16th century as missionaries branched overseas to various European and pre-European colonies. But there was one consistent challenge that these brand ambassadors faced: language. Their brand language was Latin – a language very few people spoke.

How do you tell your story without speaking? How do you build a brand with out telling people what you do, believe and live for?

Avoiding force which ultimately doesn’t build a lasting brand – the church did five things really successfully.

  1. They believed with unbounded passion their story, purpose and vision – their why.
  2. They used architecture and space to reinforce it
  3. They visualised their story and used 12 images that clearly outlined the narrative
  4. They used the 16th Century equivalent of film – stained glass windows to reflect the wider story, hero’s and case studies
  5. They established genuine community around music, food and being together on a regular basis

During the services the brand consumers would be invited to take part in communion. The priest would stand up before the breaking of the bread and say, in Latin, ‘Hoc est corpus’… or as the people who didn’t speak the brand language heard – hocus pocus.

It was only about 3800 years ago that we started to write things down; text really took it’s turn in the spotlight around 1450 when Guttenberg launched his printing career. Before then, predominantly all communication was visual and story based: from the cave paintings of Lascaux to the Cathedrals of Lourdes – we told and visualised stories – text sparsely used.

Professor Albert Mehrabian stated back in the seventies that 93% of our communication is non-verbal. Further studies have discovered that our brains process multiple images simultaneously and 60,000x faster than words. Words on the hand are processed in a linear fashion and can only cope with a single source. How do you read a book v’s how do you look at a painting?

The most successful brand in the world told stories, created an experience and visualised/dramatized everything.

The one time they used words – it was translated as hocus pocus. Magic. Unbelievable.

So what does that mean for 21st Century brands? Well perhaps its worth considering the following questions?

  1. What does your space say about your brand?
  2. How do you tell your story without using words?
  3. What are you Hocus Pocus – where if you’re honest you’re going through the motions without the community fully understanding?
  4. What do you do to build genuine community with the people that consume your brand?
  5. Who are you brand missionaries – how are you equipping them to tell your story and carry it in to new lands where they speak a different language?
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