The Anatomy of the Business Manifesto
The manifesto was once only a political tool but the business world now uses the format. It can be a powerful content marketing asset. Amazon sells thousands of titles with the word "manifesto". Among them are The Checklist Manifesto and The Win Without Pitching Manifesto. Most of us on this list should read or re-read the latter from time to time.
If you have written about page copy, you might have explored mission, vision, and values. There you have the preliminary makings of a business manifesto. But there's one fundamental difference: universality.
You may share values with others in your industry - your competitors, your clients. And your vision maybe overlaps theirs. But your mission applies to your organization alone. Mission statements are single-organization things.
A business manifesto, in contrast, affects all organizations in an industry or audience.
Take the Win Without Pitching Manifesto (WWP), for example. It's for "designers, art directors, writers, and other creative professionals". It consists of 12 proclamations:
We Will Specialize
We Will Replace Presentations With Conversations
We Will Diagnose Before We Proscribe
We Will Rethink What It Means to Sell
We Will Do With Words What We Used to With Paper*
We Will Be Selective
We Will Build Expertise Rapidly
We Will Not Solve Problems Before We Are Paid
We Will Address Issues of Money Early
We Will Refuse to Work at a Loss
We Will Charge More
We Will Hold Our Heads High
The "We" in this manifesto applies to all creative agencies - it adopted this sense of universality from the political manifesto.
That's not all that a business manifesto has in common with a political one.
Five Qualities of a Business Manifesto
One of the most famous political manifestos is the Declaration of Independence. Like the Communist Manifesto that came generations later, it has these essential qualities:
an assumption of universality in the context of a specific group
a statement of unavoidable problems
a bias for solution fairness
the promise of otherwise unattainable benefits
a clear path to systematic changes in behavior
The first sentence of WWP states a tragic and unavoidable problem:
The forces of the creative professions are aligned against the artist. These forces pressure him to give away his work for free as a means of proving his worthiness of the assignment.
You cannot thrive and you may not survive, by giving away work for free.
The problem is then reiterated via fairness. It's not fair to work at a loss and it's not fair to solve problems before being paid for doing so.
And what strong benefits a manifesto promises. The Declaration of Independence called for freedom (for men, at least). The Communist Manifesto called for social equality, and WWP called for dignity.
The final ingredient is changing we do things - at least for part of our business. WWP only applies to marketing and business development. It doesn't apply to internal business operations or general aviation maintenance.
WWP asks you to change your marketing strategy to focus more on writing and speaking. And to change your business development: less pitching and more consulting.
Now that we have our manifesto framework, onto the important, glass-half-empty question: are there too many manifestos or not enough? And do you have one in you?