Too often during discussions about branding – both internal and external applications – PR or marketing folks forget the most critical requisite for a relevant, sustainable and credible brand. No, it’s not delivering on the brand promise, though that is an essential factor if you hope to survive for more than 10 minutes. And no, it’s not a dazzling logo or award-winning creative, though those can also make an impact. And it’s not consumer insight, though that is a critical ingredient if you hope to be resonant. I would even argue it’s not the specific product or service you are marketing, though that will determine if you have a viable business. Ultimately, it’s about having something that is distinctive to sell… and say. It’s about being memorable, and standing out from the crowd. Word-of-mouth guru Andy Sernovitz makes this case (with bonus laughs) in a recent blog post. I can’t begin to count the awkward discussions I’ve had with executives who ask for my opinion on their hopelessly generic and trite corporate values. You know the kind: customers are king, we love employees, let’s be honest, etc….typically displayed on dusty table tents and fading posters. Even if they are all true, these tenets hardly hardly provide employees with a snapshot of the company’s DNA or unique value proposition. And they are unlikely to foster pride and engagement. The same storm of cliches happens outside the firewall. As Andy points out, far too many ads can be transposed across numerous competitors – and most customers would be hard pressed to know the difference. In the rush to develop ads, or print a bunch of internal posters, communicators too often skip over the importance of defining what is truly different – and special – about a company or product. What is the company’s essence or cultural DNA? What will make people pay attention? What will make them care? What will make them associate a product or service (or related marketing campaign) with a specific company? What will foster buzz and even passion? If you can’t answer these questions with crystal clear answers, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.