The 80/20 Brand Rule

A strong brand is one that resonates. A brand you can feel, yes. But just as importantly, one that makes you want to jump from your chair and shout, “That’s true!”

Sustainability of brand requires authenticity. If you want your brand to last, it must be realistic and it must be true. You can be a flash in the pan by claiming to be something you’re not. But you can’t have long-term success and do the same.

Let’s say you open a coffee shop that sources delicious coffee from Ecuador. You love your coffee and you think the world should know how good it is. But you’re a rookie roaster, and some batches aren’t the best. Moreover, there’s some delicious coffee from Kenya served at the cafe down the street.

You decide to be aspirational in your branding and make the claim that you serve “The World’s Best Cup of Coffee.” But do you really serve the world’s best cup of coffee? You might someday, but you don’t today. And so your top-tier messaging is, if not a lie, 100% aspirational.

Image result for world's best cup of coffee elf gif

This makes for weak branding. The moment you gain a repeat customer, they’ll take a fateful sip of one of your over-roasted batches and find you failing to deliver on your brand promise. You can’t help but disappoint your audience. And word will get out.

The strongest, most sustainable brands–the ones that resonate–employ the 80/20 Brand Rule. This rule states that 80% of your brand identity must be actual and 20% can be aspirational.


This doesn’t have to be exact. It’s difficult to quantify the contribution of a headline vs. a design vs. a paragraph of copy. But when surveying your brand landscape, it should feel about 80% actual and 20% aspirational.

So what’s a better message for your coffee shop? Our killer Content & Brand Strategist, Natalie Harger, could help us craft a winner. But until we get her input for your hypothetical startup, something like “Sourcing quality beans in pursuit of the world’s best coffee” would resonate more.

We should never claim to be someone we clearly are not. This is (hopefully) obvious, right? Those claims are what we call lies.

But the less obvious pitfall is the temptation to claim you already are something you hope to become. While these may not be lies, they will fail to resonate with your audience when you deliver your brand experience.

So don’t be a church with a website proclaiming how welcoming you are when people can attend a service without being greeted by a single soul. Don’t be a college who touts the quality and intimacy of your teaching when 3/4 of your classes are taught by graduate assistants, not experienced faculty. Even if you’re headed in the direction of widespread hospitality in your church and better teaching in your college, you’re not there yet.

You don’t have to be someone else. Colour Outside can help you find a way to capture who you are now in compelling fashion and deliver it to the world. And while we’re at it, we’ll tell them a thing or two about where you’re headed. This is the 80/20 Brand Rule.

– Justin Schoonmaker

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