Do you remember in medieval times (me neither, but stick with me) when you were in battle, possibly losing or confused, and then someone would hoist your flag?
You’d get the urge to fight just a little harder and move toward that flag, hopefully with more soldiers on your side doing the same.
The flag became a beacon that instantly identified a common cause. Gotta make it to my flag, you’d think, and then you’d be surrounded by like minds (in this case, minds that didn’t want to kill you). And from there, you could further your common goal.
The idea of flags as broadcast messages and rallying points is as old as culture.
Flags are more than just well-designed fabric with nice logos. They proclaim an immediately identifiable idea. What they stand for is more important than what they look like. You either believe it and therefore stand behind it, or it doesn’t resonate and you know it’s not your flag. It’s a black-and-white, cut-and-dried sort of thing.
In those old times, everyone wore basically the same suit of armor, so it was hard to tell who you should help and who you should use a sword against. Flags were used to differentiate the two.
Even now, it can still be hard to tell who’s the right audience for your business versus who most certainly isn’t a good fit.
I like the idea of focusing your work around a “rallying point.” It’s more than simply branding, messaging, or even business goals. It’s a line in the sand, with your work and the values it represents on one side and everyone or everything else that doesn’t fit on the other side. It immediately illustrates who’s part of your small army, your audience, your followers.
It can be scary to draw that line in the sand–especially when it’s your business. Doing so immediately alienates certain people or entire groups. But raising a flag is important because it acts as a beacon for those individuals who are your people, your tribe, and your audience. You hoist it up and they know where to find you.
What would a rallying point look like for a non-medieval business? Think of the lululemon manifesto (or any other corporate manifesto). If you aren’t into yoga, sweating, and positivity, you won’t like what it says, but then you wouldn’t buy a pair of their pants anyway (unless you’re into see-through pants). But if you do, you might read it and think, “Heck yes! This!” And you’d probably already be wearing their logo.
A rallying point doesn’t need to be as specific as a manifesto, though. In my own business, it’s really just defining how I feel about design, SEO, and programming by writing lots of opinion pieces on my blog.
If someone wants to work with me and then reads what I think about my industry and disagrees . . . they probably wouldn’t have been the right fit and would make me want to pull my hair out.
But if someone finds me, digs what I have to say about what I do, and then we launch a project together, I guarantee it would at least start from common ground and understanding.
My logo has changed and even disappeared many times over the years, but what I stand for hasn’t budged. I’ve always been about simple and direct design that serves individuals more than a metrics calculator.
Rallying points can simply be your values, expressed in some form of content—writing, videos, photography, etc. Or it can even just be the tone in which you communicate. It’s whatever works to show your people that they are your people.
MailChimp’s “Voice & Tone” website is a great example of non-promotional rallying content. It’s not about one specific idea or value, but the company’s manifesto comes through anyway. A rallying point can simply be how you communicate with people on a one-to-one basis.
The best marketing always takes a stand. It’s not just about selling a product or service; it’s about showing an audience why they should believe in it enough to want it at any cost, simply because they agree with what you’re doing. Chipotle’s short film “The Scarecrow” was less about burritos and more about why the company sells them.
Goals can be reached or adjusted if they aren’t functioning, but rallying points align with the values and meaning behind what you do (not just the specifics of what you do). They’re clear and noticeable and impossible to ignore. They’re a bold statement that your work is more than the work, but also the reason why you’re doing it in the first place.
So what’s your rallying point? What does your flag look like when you raise it up–and who will be drawn toward it?
Excerpted with permission from Everything I Know.
Paul Jarvis is a web designer, author, and gentleman of adventure. He is the strategic and design talent behind some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and online businesses–including Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo, Yahoo, The High Line, and Mercedes. Follow him on Twitter at @pjrvs.