If you’ve seen a movie, read a book, or consumed literally any form of narrative media in your lifetime, you’re likely familiar with this storytelling trope: “Maybe the real treasure was the friends we made along the way.” It’s objectively corny, and has become a meme in itself. But where there’s a cliché, there’s usually underlying validity.

The hero’s journey isn’t about making it across the Sahara Desert or avenging the death of your lion dad. It’s about self-discovery — figuring out what you stand for, and becoming a deeper, more complex person in the process. Its implications apply to pretty much every industry and, as you may have guessed by now, also directly applies to brand development. (Who knew!)

Recently, we completed two brand platforms for the Michigan Children’s Savings Account Network, an organization that creates infrastructure to help Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs across the state and is overseen by the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM). The Network provides support for 17 CSA programs at all corners of Michigan, who go on to lead locally focused initiatives that enroll students in long-term savings accounts to help them save for their future education.

We worked with the Michigan CSA Network to write two brand platforms: one for the Network itself, and one for its CSA programs. (These two groups had very different audiences, and therefore required their own, separate platforms.) While the platforms themselves are essential, we’d say it was the subtle, inward-facing takeaways during the planning and editing process that offered the greatest long-term value for the client.

What’s a brand platform, anyway?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, a brand platform is a collection of written elements that establish a cohesive identity for your brand. This includes the Old Standbys like your mission, vision, and values, and also your tone of voice, purpose, and elevator pitch, to name a few. A brand platform is an essential part of the brand building process because it aligns everyone in your organization when it comes to who you’re speaking to, what you stand for, and where you’re headed. Elements of your platform can also be shared and repurposed on your website, in outreach content, and through other multimedia communications.

Still, the most valuable element of a brand platform isn’t the platform itself, and the copy/paste-able one-liners it provides. It’s — you guessed it! — the lessons you learn about your organization along the way while writing, brainstorming, and editing it.

Platforms are a collaborative process

As the subhead for this section implies, yes: Brand platform development is a deeply collaborative process between our team and the client team. With the Michigan CSA Network, we embarked on the journey through a series of meetings with the client team, key stakeholders, and CSA program leaders themselves. By gathering input from all angles of the organization, we were able to identify the differing needs of each group, and how these would be reflected in their respective brand platforms. By providing the client with an outside perspective, we were also able to spark a deeper dive into aspects of their platform that may have been assumed or overlooked internally.

The comments section is very, very important

Throughout multiple rounds of edits on both brand platforms, the comments section of our editable Google Doc became the stage for self-discovery. For each element in the platform, both the Michigan CSA Network team and ourselves added thoughts and questions, bouncing back and forth into a broader dialogue about why CSAs exist, in general. It’s these self-reflective questions that make the platform development process so valuable. Often, we find that what we think we want isn’t what we really wanted, all along. (As is often the case in any great hero’s journey.) The key here is remaining willing to shift what you think the answer should be in favor of what the answer actually is, in reality, and writing out a brand platform is an ideal time to do that.

Share the end product widely

After the final platforms were completed, our friends at the Michigan CSA Network shared them with their internal team, the CSA programs, and key stakeholders. This part of the process can’t be understated. It’s tempting to say, “Hooray! We finished our brand platform, and I personally learned something from the process. My journey is complete.” But sharing your platform is an essential step to ensure the rest of your organization is able to undertake that journey, in a sense, for themselves. When one of your employees or a board member is able to see what you stand for, written out in 11-point font, they’re better equipped to discover how their own values and day-to-day work aligns with the bigger picture for your organization. And with that, there’s increased consistency and a stronger brand overall.

Sure, your brand platform will look great on your company’s About page or framed in your trophy room. But the real value of this asset lies in the process: the breakthroughs, deep questions, and difficult conversations that force you to stare your brand straight in the eyes and state why you exist. If you’re looking to find yourself, a brand platform is a great place to start.