How to create a manifesto for your solution

Do you remember the 1996 film in which Tom Cruise’s character Jerry Maguire has an epiphany about his job and industry and decides to express a new, contrarian view in a mission statement? Blogs didn’t exist yet, so he proceeds to Kinko’s to have the mission statement printed and bound with a “Catcher in the Rye”-like cover.  The Kinko’s employee hands him the completed piece, titled “The Things We Do Not Say: The Future of our Business,” and tells him, “That’s how you become great, man.” Jerry delivers the manuscript to every employee in the firm and eventually gets fired for the views he expresses. He is forced to put his manifesto to the test and triumphs in the end.

Jerry’s manifesto was both a personal and an organizational one. Personal and corporate manifestos are groovy, and there are a lot of blogs dedicated to how to write these. In today’s post, I want to focus on why a marketer should create a manifesto for their solution. I recently completed such a document to rally my executives and colleagues around improvements to our current solutions story and to inspire the creative team to build compelling copy and deliverables.

A manifesto in this context is a concise yet passionate document that states what you believe about your solution. It is the POV or value proposition expressed creatively to promote internal alignment and commitment around a message. I have found a manifesto to be helpful when selling a new or evolving message, when trying to push the organization to reject current safe, “vanilla” messages that are getting lost in competitive noise, and when briefing a creative team or ad agency.

Because manifestos are emotional documents and are not a common component of the marketing bill of materials, there can be some resistance to creating and sharing them for fear they are too “touchy-feely”.  But a great story, creatively told, can move people and markets in ways traditional methods can’t. Here are the four steps that have worked for me:

  1. Complete the foundation marketing work before you create the marketing manifesto. You need a POV (point of view) or positioning statement, and your messaging framework and story line should be solid and accepted. This foundation work is important because a manifesto shouldn’t blindside colleagues and executives. Its purpose is exactly the opposite: It should declare the message in a way that inspires and fosters further alignment. Jerry Maguire failed to inspire his organization because his mission statement was the first time he had expressed his views. Change doesn’t happen from sudden knee-jerk movements; it happens through thoughtful management, inspiration, and leadership.
  2. Create the manifesto in PowerPoint. In our current 140-character-limit world, flooded inboxes, and short attention spans, I recommend that the manifesto be a short PowerPoint document with striking visuals and carefully chosen headlines or sentences for each slide. The end deliverable looks somewhat like a storyboard when viewed in slide sorter mode. Colleagues have referred to mine as a “teaser” and a “look book“.
  3. Build your manifesto by boldly expressing the key thoughts from your story line and tying those succinct messages to powerful imagery.
    • Start with customer pains and wishes. Always start with the customer’s point of view and express their struggles, wishes, and what if’s in their language and imagery, not yours.
    • Lay down your principles. Express your solution’s motives and intentions in bold, active voice language. This should not be a list of features and functions or speeds and feeds; instead, it should boldly express WHY your solution was created.
    • Explain why the customer should choose you. Using descriptive and powerful language, describe the tangible and emotional reasons your customer should choose you. This is probably the hardest part, so spend the most time here to ensure your differentiation is defensible and rings true.
    • Describe the customer experience and outcome. Describe what the experience of working with your company and solution feels like and what success looks like for the customer.
  4. Pitch it. Gather your team and most friendly stakeholders first and present your look book with the confidence of Don Draper from Mad Men. (Clarification: Don Draper of the Carousel pitch, not of the Hershey’s pitch. OK, maybe that makes you uncomfortable, but you know what I mean.) This should be a pitch that inspires everyone to connect with the customer’s pain and believe your solution is the only one that can best solve that pain. Take feedback, but avoid making changes that take you back to the safe zone. This document is meant to strengthen the overall message and inspire better downstream deliverables for your solution, so be careful where you compromise.

A solutions manifesto will likely never be seen outside the organization. It is a document that is used to inspire and gain further internal alignment on the overall story and tone, and, most importantly, on the “why” of your solution. Be brave. If you only do what has always been done, you and your solution won’t stand out. Believe in the power of emotions as much as you believe in rational arguments and you’ll end up with a manifesto that inspires the marketers and creatives around you.

Have you ever published a marketing manifesto for your solution or brand? How was it received?

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