Why Core Ideology Is the Signature Your Brand Needs

At Skyrocket, our Corporate Brand Development Framework includes defining the Core Ideology of an organization. Think of Core Ideology as the DNA that makes up a team or organization. It helps shape how a brand shows up for its customers, employees, stakeholders, and partners while providing a cultural context and key differentiators. We define Core Ideology as the sum of an organization’s Core Purpose and Core Values. Together, these two concepts create a company’s essence, influencing who they involve in their team and how they show up for each other every day. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of Core Ideology and provide examples to help you understand its relevance.

Signpost showing vision, mission, and values
Core Ideology can help your brand find its direction.

Where does Core Ideology come from?

The concept of Core Ideology comes from a framework designed by Jim Collins, a business researcher and consultant. Core Ideology encapsulates a company’s purpose (their why) and their values (the principles they work by every day). In the 1994 book, Built to Last, Collins and co-author, Jerry Porras argued that “the very act of stating a core ideology… influences behaviour toward consistency with that ideology”. Collins and Porras also remarked that visionary companies do not simply declare an ideology, but also make it a priority to engrain that ideology throughout their organization to transcend leadership.

Creating the Brand DNA

Developing Core Ideology is like creating a distinctive DNA sequence. It’s the crucial combination of everything that makes a company unique along with the specific reason they exist in the world. Core Ideology represents the countless perspectives and unique values that make up the brand and shape its identity, not unlike how DNA gives genetic instructions to inform cellular growth and development. Without defining these things, a company and its culture may be uninteresting or dull. Core Ideology injects excitement, interest, value, and longevity into your brand that can be recognized by anyone who interacts with it.

Establishing a strong Core Ideology can:

  • Make it easier to attract customers
  • Appeal to the right kind of talent
  • Ensure consistency across other brand processes and strategies
  • Help define your organization from your competition
  • Allow you to align your brand with a higher purpose

“Core Ideology guides many of the smaller decisions we make on a day-to-day basis ⁠—decisions that don’t show up in a business plan or strategy document. A business strategy might outline strategic goals and how to get there, but whether that strategy succeeds or not is often predicated on the underlying culture, the Core Ideology of the group.” - Mo Dhaliwal, Director of Strategy

Successful modern brands use Core Ideology to create meaning

One great example of a contemporary brand with a strong Core Ideology is the New Zealand-American footwear company, Allbirds. Allbirds isn’t your ordinary shoe manufacturer, they use environmentally considerate materials and sustainable practices to create comfortable and practical footwear solutions for all types of people. Allbirds strategically use their Core Purpose, ”make the most sustainable footwear they can - shoes people feel good in and good about - using the world’s best natural materials” to align themselves with a larger cause (environmentalism), while expressing their desire to bring comfort and care to their community. The Allbirds Core Values include: “simplicity in design”, “confidence in comfort”, and “made from nature”. The influence of these three guiding principles can be seen in various aspects of the Allbirds brand strategy. Their visual identity is modern and laid-back, evoking a cool factor that draws upon the beauty of nature and the people that enjoy it. Their verbal identity, like their image, is minimalistic, friendly, clever, and emphasizes notions of sustainability. This is a prime example of how a strong Core Ideology can infiltrate the rest of the brand identity to create a more impactful and unique expression of the brand’s DNA.

Screenshot of mission from "Our Story" on Allbirds.com
Allbirds closely identifies with their Core Values ("Our Story" on Allbirds.com)

How do you determine Core Ideology?

When we approach a new brand project, one of the first steps we take is to glean the brand’s Core Ideology. For some companies, the Core Ideology is already well-established and engrained in their culture. For others, determining Core Ideology becomes a process of self discovery.

Steps in Skyrocket's brand development process to the final Core Ideology
Skyrocket's brand development process has clear steps to arriving at a brand's Core Ideology.

During the Discovery phase of our corporate brand development framework, we conduct interviews with the client to learn everything we can about their work, their history, their vision and more. During these sessions, our account strategists take care to note the feelings or emotions they get from stakeholders. With the emotional context in place, we are able to extract the brand’s Core Values and a Core Purpose turning them into short, revealing statements. Often, these are a starting point for discussion with the client—branding is highly-collaborative, highly-iterative work. After review, discussion, and contemplation, we arrive at a Core Ideology. The Core Ideology becomes part of the Verbal Identity, the brand’s guide to messaging, voice, and tone based on the brand’s positioning and target audience.

Because Core Ideology is an intangible asset and, for many, a spiritual exercise, the time it takes to solidify an organization’s Core Ideology varies. However, it is always worth the time and energy. In our work over the years, we’ve seen how organizations feel a sense of freedom once they have a Core Ideology dialed in. This process results in some of the most wonderful a-ha moments we see with clients. It aligns stakeholders and unblocks progress. Once we understand a brand’s purpose and values, the subsequent work we do in marketing, advertising, user experience or visual design will all be aligned with the brand’s essence—further reinforcing and strengthening who they are and how they show up in the world.

Putting Core Ideology into practice

An example of how we use Core Ideology can be seen in our brand development work with Maple Organics. Maple Organics is an organic skincare and skin therapy company striving to eliminate harmful chemicals and additives from skincare and body care. In Discovery, we were able to pinpoint two distinct audience personas. We noted recurring themes and messages, paying attention to the emotional context. Next, we refined these themes and key concepts and developed a Core Purpose statement for Maple Organics and four Core Values that will guide the brand as it continues to grow. “Family” was a common theme and we used it to inform Core Ideology. To form the brand’s Core Purpose, we connected the emotional value and the functional offering. We used these same principles to develop the Core Values, adding heritage, community, and nature. This Core Ideology informed the messaging, tone, and other brand components that we would create for Maple Organics later on.

By connecting to the emotional significance of what an organization does, we’re able to pull key insights from our clients, helping them to develop their brand DNA to be built upon and passed down to generations to come. If you’re ready to take your brand to the next level and develop a first-class Core Ideology of your own, contact us today to get started.

Man sitting on a mountain looking out at a view
Brands can benefit from a distanced perspective when it comes to direction.

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