Want to Build Brand Character? Look to Benjamin Franklin

By the time Ben Franklin was 20 years old, he created a system of virtues to develop his personal character. The 13 virtues that he adhered to throughout his prosperous life would be practiced with religious devotion.

Character-building is essential — not only in our lives, but in the companies and brands we build. Ben Franklin was more than a fascinating historical figure, he was a scientist, journalist, entrepreneur, a true Renaissance man and incredibly influential. Some of his greatest work includes inventing bi-focals, lightning rods, and the Franklin Stove. He founded a library. He helped write the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

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In his autobiography, written towards the middle of his life, he accounts his struggles early in life and how he often felt confused and not all that satisfied. We’ve all experienced the feeling of being disconnected, unsure of our purpose, and question if we’re living up to our fullest potential. We can learn a thing or two from Ben’s commitment — the quest to lead a more meaningful life is often paved with self-prescribed, aspirational motivations. However we choose to motivate ourselves is up to us.

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In his pursuit of greatness, his virtues became the foundation from which he approached his life. He methodically concentrated on one virtue at time, striving for mastery over abundance. Ben was so committed to his virtues that he practiced a virtue each week for 13 weeks. After the 13 weeks, he would start the process again, so that in one year he would complete the course 4 times. His progress was tracked by a book of 13 charts. At the top of the page (seen below) there would be a virtue followed by columns for each day of the week and 13 rows marked with the first letter of each virtue. In the evenings, he would review the day and put a dot or mark next to the virtue for each fault he committed.

Ben’s Virtue Notebook


His virtues were:

1. Temperance — Eat not to dullness; drink not to elation.
2. Silence — Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. Order — Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. Resolution — Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. Frugality — Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; that is, wast nothing.
6. Industry — Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. Sincerity — Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; speak accordingly.
8. Justice — Wrong none by doing injuries; or omitting the benefits of your duty.
9. Moderation — Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness — Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. Tranquility — Be not disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. Chastity — Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. Humility — Emulate Christ and Socrates in all things.

At Motto, we work through a series of branding exercises with our clients, one exercise in particular is focused solely on discovering and articulating your core values. We’ve found that defining your core values is sometimes difficult to do and most companies default to generic words like, “integrity” or “quality.” Those words mean nothing, unless you can actually describe them and how they influence your decision-making.

In branding, there is so much power in knowing your virtues (or values) and practicing them in all that you do. Taking it a step further, being able to clearly articulate what the virtues actually mean to your company and how you will practice them is more important then simply having a list. By infusing your beliefs, values and aspirations into your culture and communicating them to the world through your message, visual voice and your ethos, you simultaneously build a greater brand.

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