Marty Neumeier is known for writing branding classics like The Brand Gap and Zag. In his 2016 book, The Brand Flip, Neumeier introduced his Brand Commitment Matrix, which he describes as a “basic contract” brand owners can create between their company or brand and its customers.
Keep it simple. Start with a document that maps out the basic contract between you and your customer. Then build it out element by element, move by move. With each new element or move, go back to the original contract and make sure you haven’t violated its terms. If your brand effort gets off course (and it probably will), go right back to the basics.”
Marty Neumeier, The Brand Flip
The matrix is organized into two columns, each containing three key statements. The lefthand column describes the brand’s customers with the following statements:
- Identity (who they are)
- Aims (what they want)
- Mores (how they belong)
These three words can be abbreviated as “IAM” (or “I am”).
The righthand side of the matrix is a column for the company or brand—it contains the following, parallel statements:
- Purpose (why we exist)
- Onlyness (what we offer)
- Values (how we behave)
The company column statements can be abbreviated as “POV”—a useful mnemonic device.
The two columns are purposely set up so that statements in each row align with one another or support each other. In other words, the company’s Purpose should relate to who the customers are (Identity), the brand’s “Onlyness” should speak to what customers want (Aims), and the company’s Values should align with the moral views of the customers’ tribe (Mores).
Let’s review each statement—each box in the Brand Commitment Matrix—in more detail.
The customer Identity statement, in Neumeier’s words, should answer questions like “Who are they? Who is that customer that you want? What are you going to do for them? How are you going to make their lives better? What do you want them to become as a result of you being in the world?” The identity statement is more of a conceptual description of the audience than a specific, demographic profile. For example, a brand of diaper bags for men might describe its customers as “On-the-go dads with very young kids.”
Below Identity are Aims, which are “the jobs that [customers are] trying to get done, the benefits that they need. It’s what they want.” Continuing the diaper-bag example, Aims for on-the-go dads might include convenience, everything in one place, and a bag that won’t make them feel like they’re carrying a purse.
“Mores” isn’t a word you see too often in marketing; Dictionary.com defines mores as “folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group.” In Brand Flip, Neumeier refers to the customer group as a “tribe,” which he defines (in The Dictionary of Brand) as “a community that professes similar values, views, and interests.”
One example of a tribe Marty Neumeier likes to reference is the Harley-Davidson tribe: “There’s a real strong tribal belonging … and there are all kinds of rules.”
For our diaper-bag dads, Mores might include a belief that fathers should shoulder as much of the child-rearing burden as mothers, a desire to be viewed as reliable, and a preference for more stylish clothes and accessories.
Moving to the company side of the Matrix, the first statement to fill in is Purpose. Neumeier compares Purpose to brand essence. On How Brands Are Built, he described it as follows:
Purpose is really the existential part of the whole branding thing. It’s at the very top of the strategic pyramid. It’s ‘Why are we in business beyond making money?’ … Purpose is usually lofty. It’s something about changing the world.”
Marty Neumeier, How Brands Are Built
The Purpose for our imaginary diaper-bag brand, which should align with our the Identity, might be something like “To make new dads feel confident.”
Neumeier has written a lot about his concept of “Onlyness” which he calls “by far the most powerful test of a strategic position.” To articulate a brand’s Onlyness, simply fill in the blanks in the statement “Our _____ is the only _____ that _____” with descriptions of the offering, category, and benefit, respectively. “Our burger patties are the only meat substitute that taste like real beef.” “Our accounting firm is the only personal financial services company that offers free bookkeeping.”
For our daddy diaper bags, we might write “Our diaper bags are the only parenting accessories that make dads feel cool and confident, even while they’re carrying diapers and baby wipes.” This Onlyness statement directly aligns with the Aims we defined above.
Values are the final component of the Brand Commitment Matrix. Values are words or phrases that speak to the company’s most deeply held beliefs—beliefs that inform the company’s culture and guide the behavior of leadership and employees. According to BusinessDictionary, “some common business values are fairness, innovation, and community involvement.” Rounding out the diaper-bag example with Values that speak to the customer Mores, we might list egalitarian, organized, and stylish.
Once completed, the Brand Commitment Matrix can serve as a blueprint or guide for building out a brand experience—perhaps including a name, visual identity, messaging, and advertisements—that all ties back to the same focused, strategic ideas.
Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, professional namer, and host of the How Brands Are Built podcast. He is also principal and founder of Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- The Brand Flip: Why customers now run companies and how to profit from it, Marty Neumeier
- “Marty Neumeier Wrote a Business Thriller,” How Brands Are Built (podcast episode)