Tag Archives: Attention

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.

The Power of Positive Disruption

Brand value—the intangible equity derived from a desirable and reliable experience—is rooted in moments of Positive Disruption. Within every experience, a brand has opportunities to disrupt our expectations—disrupt what is generic and familiar—and imprint memories.

Strong brands take the time to consider the whole experience for different stakeholders, and rather than just slapping a logo on every surface, the brand immerses each stakeholder with positive, affirming touch points; unique clues in imagery, language, rituals and total sensory impact. Strong brands add value with a well-considered experience.

We are surrounded by brand experiences. Almost everything in our lives is experienced because someone somewhere at some time made a choice in an effort to define the experience. Someone made a choice based on; a) an experience they wanted to create or an idea they wanted us to believe; b) the resources and budget available to them at the time; and c) the values guiding their behaviour. Yet while we are constantly exposed to those brands and those choices (whether it’s a product, service, cause, community and even a country), most of the choices are completely imperceptible. That’s right, most of the brand experience is completely missed.

That chair you’re sitting on; it’s part of a brand experience. The screen you’re reading this on; it’s part of a brand experience. That coffee you just sipped; it’s part of a brand experience. That music playing in the background; the lamp-post in your neighbourhood; the composting bin in the garden; those are all part of brand experiences. The sound of the alarm clock and the bed you woke up in and the clothes you put on this morning and the spoon you ate your cereal with—all part of brand experiences. And I bet you missed most of them.

Positive Disruption—a conscious choice to identify a brand—anchors the experience. It’s in the moments of disruption the brand greets us, reminds us of our relationship, and moves us forward to continue the experience. We, the stakeholder, are reassured while being rewarded.

The challenge, of course, is to disrupt the experience in a way is positive and inclusive to stakeholders; an experience that reinforces the brand strategy—the story we want people to believe about our organization—with respect.

Forcing stakeholders into behaviours that are uncomfortable, unnatural, wasteful or arrogant will backfire. Forcing people to support your brand’s distinction without providing any more value for them—or establishing the boundaries of the relationship—is irresponsible and will fail. Negative disruptions push your agenda without buy-in; positive disruptions enhance the experience and deepen understanding.

Your mission is to deliver a product, service, cause or idea to meet the needs of your stakeholders. A brand strategy maps out the core experiences, exploring from the outside perspective while considering the capacity of the organization to have influence or impact. Along the path, a good strategy recognizes the mindset of your audience at specific moments, identifying unique opportunities to engage individuals with your story and evolve the relationship.

A brand strategy defines the positive disruptions which reinforce and complement the brand. Positive disruptions are brand value.

Where do we find Positive Disruption?

Visual identities are common disruptions. Colours, shapes, imagery and structure are significant reference points and make it easy to connect. But an overwhelmingly unique visual experience isn’t always reasonable or positive, and just repeating your logo everywhere is less productive that you’d think.

Language clues are helpful. Language drives the culture or the organization, and the tone delivers the brand with character. Sharing a familiar language with your stakeholders builds relationships that are hard to break. Language can polarize audiences, though, so make sure to have message strategies that are inclusive across different yet relevant stakeholders.

Patterns and rituals are valuable, creating habits that are the equivalent to a secret handshake— conspicuously absent when expected; comfortably reassuring when shared. A ritual that enhances the experience is rooted in the culture of the brand, celebrating points of distinction and rewarding loyalty.

Have you mapped your core brand experience from start to finish? Have you considered all the senses, beyond just marketing campaigns and whimsical creativity? Have you considered all stakeholder groups, thinking beyond only the customer experience? If you’ve only considered a single moment of interaction—or you’re simply adding your logo to every surface—you are missing plenty of opportunities to engage your stakeholders in the full brand experience.

You’ll miss your Mission when it’s gone.

A few weeks ago I was challenged to defend the need for Vision, Mission or Value statements for organizations. Since I believe such statements—or at least the context that supports them—are fundamental to any organization, I’ll admit the simplicity of the question caught me off guard.

Their argument is as follows: “How is a statement supposed to change or guide my behaviour? It is silly to think that a frivolous collection of words would somehow inspire me to do better—or do different things—than I currently do. I know my job and my goals; a fluffy mission statement doesn’t affect it at all! A mission statement absolutely doesn’t make a difference, ever.”

The tone was confrontational, and their reluctance to listen to reason bordered on disrespectful. I’ve heard it before, but this time it also got me thinking.

His cynicism had me questioning the deeper value of the work I believe is important. Are Vision, Mission and Value statements so vital to the success of an organization that the absence of such statements would be noticed, or have a negative impact? Is there a risk for an organization to ignore the process of defining clear, compelling and authentic statements—an often difficult process—and conduct business anyway?

Let’s be clear; this person was exceptionally skilled at their profession, and very likely considered an asset to the large organization. Though retired now, they performed their job honourably for decades. The organization was successful during their career, and had been successful for decades before they arrived. This wasn’t a bitter employee simply being critical of management activity.

To show the value of Vision, Mission and Value statements I often tell stories of successful, famous brands—the classic stories that all brand strategy people tell—such as Disney, Starbucks, Apple, etc, and how a shared connection to something more important than cartoons, coffee or computers was actually the driving force behind their success. It’s relatively easy to anchor the brand in a statement, and then fast forward a few dozen years and see the messages, concepts and choices that prove the point.

It’s much harder to show stories of failed brands, and link their failure to a lack of a cohesive, shared purpose.  Until now, I didn’t have any examples of failure in action; the inconceivable crumbling of something iconic and powerful linked directly to a breakdown of the Vision, Mission and Values.

The recent op-ed in the NYTimes from Greg Smith, an employee of Goldman Sachs on his last day of work, has sparked a storm of comments. His claim is clear: Leadership at Goldman Sachs is no longer connected to the mission as he understood it when he started 12 years earlier.

According to Greg, the true values of the organization—the behaviours that get rewarded, recognized and supported—are not aligned with what the company claims. Worse, the things that get rewarded are in conflict with their promise to their customers.

Vision, Mission and Value statements are how every stakeholder can hold an organization—and especially leadership—accountable for delivering the brand as promised.

Anchoring organization’s culture, the statements are non-negotiable—invincible to market pressures, timely promotional slogans or even changes in leadership—because they represent the core beliefs and choices that hold everyone together. Vision, Mission and Value statements, in whatever form, define an organization’s culture, rooting a shared trust that such behaviours and focus will drive mutual success.

From the organization’s culture comes activities and communications to engage people. From the culture emerges relevant products or services or experiences or ideas that people align with and desire. From the culture rises a legacy that transcends one person, creating a community to carry forward new ideas, all in service of the shared vision.

A breakdown in the culture of the organization—being disconnected from a shared purpose beyond profit—is the first sign of failure. Trust in leadership fades, and survival instincts kick in. (Justin Fox with HBR writes an interesting analysis of what happened with Goldman Sachs. Creating shareholder value replaces creating customer value.)

Trust is at the foundation of any successful organization; trust in your team; trust between you and those you serve; trust in the community; trust in mutual success; trust that everyone shares and supports the same values.

Leadership’s role is to give people a cause to believe in, and give them permission—to trust them—to advance that cause. Vision, Mission and Value statements are the touchstone of trust.

You may not care about having the statements, but you’ll miss the trust when it’s gone.

The Curse of the Accidental Brand

A brand that adds value to your organization is a purposeful effort; a strategy that supports your goals. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can’t be accidental.

An accidental brand starts off innocently and with the best intentions. A new organization launches and does a few thing right, but in all the chaos of getting started leaders neglect to consider the strategy for the brand. Perhaps they design a snappy logo and recruit a few good people; perhaps they develop a catchy promotion and have a product that generates some buzz. They collect employees or volunteers, customers or supporters, but there is no deep connection to the brand.

Thanks to a solid model behind their operations, the organization will see some success. Enthusiasm pays off. Quick profit or attention—arguably important but a shortsighted goal—makes everyone feel confident in the brand, especially the leadership team. Unfortunately, a little success is enough to be dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

Within the daily grind that every organization experiences, routine becomes a system and mediocre becomes a comfortable standard. The resulting culture and brand experience lack the direction and conviction of a brand with vision and purpose. Any passion that first launched the company is now stale. The momentum of familiarity dominates the efforts, and past successes become an irrational crutch for a lack of innovation or growth to move forward. The organization has created an accidental brand, and it can persist for years.

Accidental brands are dangerous because over time they give the impression that they are solid and valuable when really all they are is comfortable and inoffensive. Accidental brands get stale, and then they get sloppy. Accidental brands get blindsided by enthusiastic competition.

Enthusiastic competition is fueled by a passion for the brand experience, and they are hungry for success. Enthusiastic competition shatters preconceived expectations and limitations. Enthusiastic competition trusts, nurtures and rewards their stakeholders with innovation. Enthusiastic competition is relentless about understanding what sits at the core of the relationship.

Accidental brands are cursed because moderate success and familiar habits limit innovation; there’s a perceived a risk to change while blindly ignoring the opportunities of evolution. Accidental brands forget that enthusiastic competition is always possible.

Routine is never a rule, and mediocre is never worthy. Don’t let your brand be accidental.