Category Archives: Rules

The uncomfortable allure of the Brand Evangelist.

Plenty of talk these days about the importance of Brand Evangelists. Or Ambassadors. Or Employee Advocates or, …minions.

I’ll admit the idea makes me uncomfortable. Not because I don’t think employees should be outwardly proud of where they work, or that the ‘brand Kool-Aid’ is poison. And it’s not because I don’t think that the employees—people directly connected to delivering the brand experience—aren’t some of the most valuable champions of the brand. Plenty of great organizations benefit from authentic, internal cheerleaders.

But from where I sit, the prevailing push behind ‘evangelists as strategy’ wisdom conflate enthusiasm against obligation in the realm of social media, underscored with the ugly falsehood that social media is “free”. It’s empty as a strategy—unmeasurable and accidental if truly authentic. To top it off, all of this is happening just as we’re moving towards greater transparency and accountability from leaders.

I believe pure brand evangelists—the concept—are a tremendous value. They mark a significant success in your brand strategy. I disagree, however, that expecting all employees to perform on social media—demanding, even—is smart strategy. And I believe that compelling them to perform is disingenuous; a slap in the face of the very authenticity good leadership is striving to achieve.

The strategy for any organization should be to create opportunities, not obligations, to share content and experiences. Organizations should trust employees to respond appropriately—as an insider in the community—and arm them with relevant contributions (or at least give them access). The strategy should leverage enthusiasm, not attempt to create it.

The strategy for any organization should be to create a SoMe profile that borrows from the people who accept the role of monitoring and responding. Their individuality will enhance the brand, not distract from it, and it should be clear that the brand is the anchor of the engagement.

The strategy for any organization should be to create a culture rooted in pride and enthusiasm. The organization should be passionate about transparency, ensuring that the Evangelist mindset has access to content and insights, and isn’t blindsided by facts outside their control or knowledge. Nothing screams ‘faker or flakey’ like an ill-informed insider.

The strategy for any organization should be to think beyond marketing, and let any department show up in relevant social media channels, sharing and learning. There are countless communities that would appreciate authentic participation—engagement that moves the whole community forward—not just the “sell”.

The strategy for any organization should not be to overlay ‘evangelist’ into every job description and expect everyone to blur their personal and professional profiles to serve the organization. The strategy must not have vague expectations nor imply unrewarded activity. The strategy must never compromise anyone’s integrity, and the organization doesn’t get to decide when such concern is valid.

Brand Evangelism is a result of your culture, not a technique to create one.

If your organization benefits from employees who freely promote, support, defend and engage, then you can thank a strong culture, not a ‘Brand Evangelist Strategy’. You’ve invested in people you can trust and depend on, and now you get to reap the rewards. In fact, if you have truly developed a culture worthy of brand evangelists, good luck stopping them from engaging beyond your expectations.

However, if you find you must request ‘evangelism’ from your team—or worse, demand it—then you haven’t earned the value that the phenomenon of the ‘brand evangelists’ offers. You don’t understand the concept, because if you haven’t taken the time to nurture the culture, good luck trying to get any authentic evangelists at all.

And authentic brand evangelists is really all that matters.

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Searching for Diversity

“If we cannot end our differences at least we can make the world safe for diversity.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The word ‘diversity’ gets tossed around a lot these days. Few would argue that diversity—however it shows up in your organization—is adding value.

The dictionary definition of Diversity is “a range of different things”, and talk of diversity in the workplace always celebrates the inclusion of people and ideas that are outside of our typical circles. The concept implies a whole array of useful traits that, in theory, will make any idea a better idea: different experiences; fresh perspectives, inclusive insights, varied wisdom,  extended capacities, … well, the list goes on. Simply put, an organizational culture that embraces diversity will be better for it.

Popular wisdom encourages us to welcome new perspectives to collect and build upon our own insights. “Listen and be open-minded” is the paraphrased rally cry of the diversity bandwagon. But simply gathering ideas isn’t the true power of diversity. Diversity is exponentially stronger when it’s an active mindset, not a passive one.

Diversity is not just about letting others in. Diversity is about encouraging yourself to go out to find something bigger.

Diversity seeks out new ideas and differing perspectives. Diversity doesn’t let you get comfortable with your status-quo. Diversity craves ideas and insights that differ from our own because we are aware that we can’t see our own limits.

Yes, you have to let other ideas into your frame of thinking. But that is only half of the path to diversity—and it’s the easy path. For a full experience and benefit, you must also seek diversity out for yourself. You must make the time and effort to reach for diversity a priority, and part of your culture.

Brand Strategy thrives on growth and development. Part of the promise we make to stakeholders is that we will continue to push and evolve the brand story, rewarding loyalty with deeper experiences and new adventures.  Encouraging diversity—both welcoming and searching new ideas—is how we actively discover the potential of the brand.

Good brand strategies know they should adopt new ideas. Great brand strategies go looking for fresh thinking.

Passion is not a line item in your budget.

Passion is not a line item in your budget. Neither are values.

“We’re not like Disney” is a common line people use, usually as a rebuttal against intensive brand development (or they toss out McDonald’s, Starbucks, Nike, etc..). In the world of brand strategy, those famous consumer brands are the de facto benchmark for “a real brand”, as though good and bad is measured on scale, not connection. While there is no question most organizations don’t have anywhere near the budget for brand execution that a Starbucks or an Apple has at their disposal, there is no line item in the balance sheet for your passion or commitment to real, compelling values.

Conviction—passionate belief in your values as a competitive advantage, and the conscious effort to live them—isn’t something that you can buy or trade. You have access to just as much passion as the famous brands, your competitors, and even the failing brands. You’ve got all the passion you’ll ever need, if you believe it.

Core values—holding people accountable for their actions in service of your mission—isn’t a budget issue. It’s a culture issue. And it’s free.

And that’s the catch. Do you really want it? Do you truly believe it?

SAG_Post Quote_Culture-SuccessAre you really committed to creating and delivering an experience that is compelling, driven by values that are truly engaging? Are you really committed to standing for what you believe is important and creating an experience that authentically expresses—and lives within—your core values? Do you really believe that what you offer is worthy, in spite of all the competitive options or differing opinions?

Or perhaps you just thought core values were a convenient message; the right words that are popular enough to compel to a suitable target audience. Perhaps you don’t filter every act through your established sense of right and wrong—the culture you’ve defined as important—and hold everyone accountable. When challenged, you believe values will bend if they offend.

Or perhaps you feel that passion takes too much energy and investment. Sure, you believe in what you’re doing, but you don’t believe people need to “drink the Kool-Aid” to show an unnatural sense of enthusiasm. Maybe you conflate passion with hype, letting ‘marketing’ lead the bandwagon of cheerleaders. Proof of passion—being excited about what you stand for and confident in your purpose—takes a big, bold, in-your-face expression, and you’ve got a bottom line to watch.

Too often people barter their core values and passion with excuses. They’ll find excuses for why they can compromise their values in a given situation, or why only some people in the organization are responsible for passion. Note: excuses also feel free, but actually put a massive lien on your credibility.

“When times are better…”, leaders say, “we’ll invest in making sure our values are clear and our passion is strong. But right now we have more important work to do.” Or the common, “We just need to get our work done. Whether they…” referring to anyone other than the customer “…are connected to the brand or not isn’t really important, as long as they do their job.”

Brand Strategy is about attaching values to the experience you promise. Brand Strategy is about defining your core values, and inviting people who share those values with you. Brand Strategy—the kind that adds value to your organization—is about creating a distinction with purpose and meaning.

Culture—probably more than any other factor—is the essence of loyalty; the pinnacle of brand success. So a positive culture, one that reflects the values of the org and serves the goals of the your mission, actually adds value to the bottom line. And it’s free. Easy money, …if you want it.

Passion and values are the seeds of the culture you build, and they are at the foundation of Brand Strategy. And they are free.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Six

People love stories. It’s not something we learn or develop as sophisticated consumers; human beings are hardwired to respond to stories that inspire us, challenge us, entertain us, empower us and comfort us. Stories that engage us matter to us.

Human beings don’t respond nearly as well to facts or statements. We think we do—we want to believe we are logical beings capable of making rational, practical choices—but we aren’t motivated by a fact until we consider it within the bigger context of a story.

We need to know how we feel about the facts before we decide if a fact is important.

A story is not a single message, nor is it just a series of facts. The story defines the relationship people have with the facts. A story provides the context for the facts, and the story we believe is how we know how we feel about the facts. Those feelings anchor the relationship, and the relationship matters.

People won’t connect with one message, but they will understand one story.

Since the early days of brand strategy, common wisdom emphasizes “one message”—one single message that occupies the mind of the consumer. This basic philosophy—correct, but too simplistic—undermines the complexity of the relationship people will have with the brand. If you focus only on one message, you risk bombarding your stakeholders without engaging them. It’s not about you—it’s about how they feel when you’re part of their experience.

Your brand is deeper than one single message. Your brand is one story—one complex, evolving idea shared through simple narratives which capture, celebrate and reward the human condition. Your brand is the story that puts facts into context.

Facts can be copied; stories are unique. Facts can only be absolute; stories are fluid. Facts change; stories evolve. We learn facts; we love stories.

A great brand strategy is built around one shared story. It invites people to share in the greater vision by experiencing the story, often in a variety of different ways, and continues to reward everyone with new adventures, new ideas, and new opportunities.

Your brand is one story—one awesome story—with many engaging chapters.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Five

Being “The Best Kept Secret” is not a strategy. Unless being a secret is your strategy.

There is something humble and charming about cause-driven and underdog brands. In the drive to be distinct from the dreaded “corporate brand”, they consciously avoid of the trappings of commercial success—bold, consistent identities; clear, consistent messaging; confident, consistent experiences. Or worse, these organizations disrupt and prevent anything that resembles a brand plan so that they (and their peers) won’t feel like they “sold out”.

Yet these hardworking people—more passionately committed to their business and cause than most commercial enterprises—still feel entitled to the same attention and success of their profit driven peers.

Awareness isn’t relative to the passion and purpose of your organization. Awareness is driven by proud, focused communication.

The only way an experience is of any brand value is if I know it’s an experience with you. There are numerous opportunities for touch points, and all the different senses come into play, but if I don’t know which brand is responsible for the experience, an opportunity is lost. If you purposefully avoid identifying the experience, your investment is wasted. And it’s terribly unfortunate if I believe your positive experience is actually connected to a different brand.

In a misguided belief that corporations are evil merely because they strive for profit, investing in the best practices and identity standards that are simply par for the course in corporate world are often shunned. The “best kept secret” might be a cool theory, but it’s a lousy brand strategy.

A great brand strategy thrives on awareness, driven by distinct, compelling, and clear communication. Consistency matters; time matters; frequency & repetition matters; being engaging matters; being bold matters.

A vivid identity matters.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Four

A great brand does not happen overnight. Your entire organization—from leadership to the front lines—must commit time and attention to building your brand. Always focused, always moving forward, always one step ahead.

An important rule—and likely the most frustrating of all the rules—is that time & attention are an unforgiving part of the brand strategy equation.

Great brands never just happen. There is no single silver bullet idea, concept or initiative to accelerate brand success or create an overnight success. There is simply no replacement for the value of time spent focused on your mission, and the attention to detail in the execution of a desirable experience.

Cool logos are only positive reminders once they are familiar and synonymous with the experience. Catchy messages are only believable after the promise has been proven consistently. A strong culture is only deep when it’s shared through challenges and purpose.

Be prepared to spend months or years delivering an amazing experience, nurturing your stakeholders, innovating your product/service and being proud of the community you’re building. Be prepared to keep your story consistent and your messages relevant after endless cycles, successes and set-backs. Be prepared to work hard at staying ahead of the curve, rewarding those who share your brand with innovations, excellence and leadership. Be prepared to become bored with the “stuff” that identifies your brand, and resist temptations to change rather than evolve.

Smart brand strategies respect and plan for the time and attention required to build strong brands. Smart brand strategies pay attention to all the details that make an experience special and memorable; not just the big idea.

Time and attention matter because it’s only once you’ve established a solid brand—a story people are willing to believe about your organization—that you are able to take advantage of critical moments—societal shifts, market forces, competitive circumstances, technology or simply good fortune—and thrive.

It’s not a silver bullet. It’s a strategy.