Tag Archives: Focus

“David” fails at the core brand promise.

Three emails. One mistake. Zero chance.

One of the rules of brand strategy is that you must excel at the core promise. Cafes must serve good coffee; cameras must take good photos; hotels must have a comfortable bed; airlines must get you and your luggage from A to B. There are lots of optional touch points that add to the mix and elevate an experience, but when a company fails to deliver on their basic offer it calls into question everything about the brand. It’s not rocket science (unless your brand is NASA).

Like most people, I get plenty of unsolicited emails. Not spam, but the professional generic mailing list kind with offers for legitimate services. Since most of them are misguided, such as offering to support my IT department, the emails are impersonal and I ignore them. In fact, I don’t even respond to 90% of the mailing list emails—even a simple “no thank you” for all of them would end up taking too many minutes out of my day. Delete.

A few do get my attention, though. I will read at least the first few lines of emails addressed to me by name and offer a service I might consider.

That’s what I did when I received the following email:

SAG_CC Email Blunder_01“Hi David,
 
My name is C____ C____ and I am a V_____ Chair here in Atlanta. V_____ is a worldwide CEO Organization with over 15,000 CEOs internationally (blah, blah, blah)….”

The rest of the email is irrelevant. It’s for a peer coaching group, and I am not interested. So I ignore the email. Two weeks later I get a brief follow-up, which we all know is an important and smart sales move.

“Hi David,
 
Do you have time to speak next Tuesday or Wednesday after 2pm to discuss if our group would be a good fit for you? Alternatively, I can have my assistant contact you to set-up an appointment at your convenient time. – C____ C_____”

I’ll give points to him for a good, direct follow-up, but I’m still not interested. I am about to hit delete for a second time and I realize something. (And this is where it hurts.)

My name is not David.

My name is Stephen. The name of my company is Stephen Abbott Group. Both are in the email address he used. This blog, stephenabbott.com, is mine, and I am pretty sure Stephen, not David, is in every bio about me on the web, everywhere. To quote the cool kids, this simple mistake is a true #fail.

Using a wrong name is a silly error, but one that we’ve probably all made at some point. I’ve even been called David in person (Kevin, Jim, Sean and Mike, too) by people who should know better. Usually we just laugh it off and move on.

But C_____ is pitching executive excellence. He’s promising me ”access-to-the-best-of-the-best” kind of stuff, yet the second word in both of his emails was wrong. I don’t know how the mistake was made—database, cut-and-paste, dyslexia—but it’s sloppy, and a perfect example of not paying attention to details. Not exactly in the authentic spirit of executive excellence.

So this time I decided to respond.

“Hi C____,

I appreciate the offer, but I am not seeking executive coaching or peer mentoring at the moment. I already connect with a strong local group.

You should also know that my name is Stephen, not David, as clearly indicated in every aspect of my contact details, website, blog and social media. While it’s just a simple error, it does call into question the calibre of excellence your group prescribes.

I am not being mean about this, but perhaps take it as feedback to always stop and take a moment to make sure the little details are accurate. It’s not the reason I am not interested today, but it’s likely the reason you’ll have to work much harder for me to consider it in the future.

Respectfully,

Stephen”

To add insult to injury, it’s many weeks later, and I haven’t heard a response. It annoys me that C____ didn’t even take the time to say, “Thanks. My bad.” I could respect that. Ignoring me is not exactly in the authentic spirit of peer group mentoring.

Mistakes are human, forgivable, and can be overcome. Apologies are acceptable. But you have to try. Especially if you want my business.

Why does this matter for your brand? Well, any of the 14,999 other CEOs who brag about being part of this network have just lost any credibility the association affords them—with me, and possibly, with anyone who reads this post and can connect the censored blurs. They can offer all the bells and whistles they want to support their program, but at its core promise, the brand didn’t deliver.

The core promise for your brand is everything, perhaps even the only thing. Great brands always deliver on the core promise. No exceptions.

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Brand Strategy for Entrepreneurs

Smart entrepreneurs know that a good brand will help build their organization. They recognize the value that a strong brand strategy adds, and they make the effort to do the right things right.

I’ve met countless entrepreneurs with big plans. I’ve had the privilege of working with some great people, and seen a number of projects go from scribbles on a napkin to thriving reality. These projects are exciting and challenging, and it’s a thrill to be involved.

I’ve also seen plenty of dreamers—people with more passion than plans. It’s disheartening. These projects are challenging, too, but not because the work is hard. Instead, it’s just that the gap between capacity, reality and need is just too great for anything I contribute to be effective. It’s not that the idea is bad or the person is incapable. It’s just that they aren’t ready for the reality of being a successful organization, let alone a thriving brand.

As a consultant, I want you to succeed. It’s not only good for your business and our future relationship; it’s more satisfying work. There are a few things that I look for that gives me the confidence we are set-up for success:

I get excited when you have more knowledge about your business operations than I do. You bring more than an idea to the relationship. You understand the basic model behind your success, and you are focused. I bring brand knowledge and strategic objectivity—and often a fresh way of looking at things—for how you tell your story. But you have the passion and the expertise that will grow the business behind the brand.

I get excited when you know your budget. Talk of money doesn’t scare you, and you understand what cash flow can and can’t do for your vision. You know how much money you plan to earn; you know your fixed expenses and costs of your product; you know how much a typical business like yours makes and you’re prepared to invest in your success.

I get excited when you are well aware of your competition. Not just who they are, but why their customers love them. You’re competitive, not arrogant. You have a respect for the market that exists and you understand how your offer makes it better and different, or at least you’re ready to explore opportunities.

I get excited when you are more passionate about your vision than I am. Perhaps you can’t articulate it clearly—that is why you called me, after all—but you have a purpose that drives you. I get excited when I am the one bringing you back to reality rather than trying to bump you out into the stratosphere.

Most importantly, I get excited when it’s clear you want to work hard to create an experience that will captivate your audience. You reject the notion that you could compromise your values and cut corners on your brand execution since “its just the creative stuff, anyway.” You’re well past the idea that your brand is a defined by a slick logo or a catchy advertising. You know that your brand is at the foundation of your culture, your value proposition, and the experience you promise everyone—your brand captures everything that you want people believe about your organization—and it’s important enough to get your focused attention.

This is how I know you’re ready to do what it takes—not just what is fun and easy—to build a brand that will thrive. You’re smart; you’re committed; you’re realistic; you’re passionate; you’re a leader. This is how I know that you’re set up for brand success.

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 Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Three

The Rule of the Fluid Formula.  

I am a firm believer in the concept that ‘Everything Matters’. Every single touch point factors into the brand experience equation. How much each elements factors in is a matter of debate and strategic preference, but make no mistake about it—everything matters.

If you’re looking for a proven formula, though, you’re out of luck. Great brands embrace the fluid nature of the experience. Here’s an example:

As I walk into a local cafe, music plays in the background. The coffee is good and the seat is comfortable, so I sit down to work. The soundtrack is a cool retro 70s funk—loud enough to recognize the song, but not so loud that I can’t think. If the total brand experience is equal to 100, the music is probably a 5. Maybe less.

So, the music in the cafe is equal to 5% of the total brand experience score. Not really significant. I’ll be back, but not for the music.

As I walk into the same cafe the next day, there is no music playing. The coffee is still good and the chairs are still comfortable, so I sit down to work. There’s a weird silence. Lulled by the sound of refrigerators humming, the soundtrack is punctuated by sounds of coffee machines buzzing, mugs hitting tables, and chairs sliding across the floors. I can even hear the person three tables away tapping on their keyboard. The lack of music is distracting. If the total brand experience is equal to 100, the lack of music probably distracts 50 or more points away.

Now, the music in the cafe is equal to 50% of the total experience. Pretty significant. I won’t be back, simply because the music was a mistake.

Is the music worth 5% or 50% of the total brand experience? Actually. It’s both.

Often, it’s impossible to define what makes a great experience great; it’s the collection of every little detail working together in a constant, fluid experience. However, when one detail fails—one detail that contradicts the expectation—it becomes pretty clear why the experience is negative.

There is no strategic formula that defines how much each touch point is worth to the brand. The key is complete understanding of the experience you are promising, being aware of every possible detail, and giving your team the necessary tools, training and permissions to act. You have no idea which detail will have an impact.

Poor brand strategy relies on a few key touch points to wow their stakeholders—assigning fixed values to an arbitrary formula—while believing the failure of less important touch points doesn’t damage the brand. Poor brands ignore the details. Great brands know that everything matters, and leave nothing to chance.

Great brands embrace the Fluid Formula.

Everything matters.

You’ve probably heard many times that your brand experience is the result of everything. Of course, that means absolutely everything. All of the good things, all the not-quite-as-good things, and all the things you’d rather forget. Your organization’s brand experience even includes things you are probably not even aware of.

Admittedly, this can feel a little overwhelming at times. With everything we have to do each day just to operate, we simply don’t have the time or attention to spend on the tiniest of details. Ignoring the issues, though, is reckless.

A brand strategy anchored by a compelling vision, a clear mission and spirited values is how you ensure that everything—absolutely everything—tells your story.

Every instance that is recognized as connected to the brand will have some amount of impact on the perception of the brand. And it all adds up.

As a leader, your role is to set the vision in motion, and then build a skilled team that will act upon your mission. A trusted team—guided by clear values—will ensure every detail of the brand experience is in line with a consistent story. Every experience; every message; every sight, sound and texture; every interaction; conscious or sub-conscious; everything.

The reason we document our vision, mission and values is to ensure that everyone we’ve hired—everyone responsible for delivering the brand experience—is connected to the exact same goals. We give people a cause to belong to, and then give them permission to find all the different ways to advance that cause. They will face choices that may be critical, opportunistic or simply functional, but when we are confident they share our story and a commitment to the vision, we can trust our team to make choices—big or little choices—that matter.

Be good to be great

Success is found in a simple equation: a good business model plus a strong brand strategy will thrive.

As part of that equation, I will be the first person to tell you how important it is to have a solid brand strategy. I believe any organization in any industry can benefit from being proactive and strategic with their brand. No exceptions.

I will also tell you that a good business model could still be successful without the support of a compelling brand strategy. As much as it pains me to admit it, there are plenty of organizations that succeed regardless of how clumsy, disorganized or just plain bad their brand appears. The team works hard (probably harder than they have to), and they are able to hold enough relationships to support a business. It’s not pretty, and it’s not easy, but it works for them.

The opposite, however, is not true. Even the best brand execution won’t save an organization with a poor model behind their operations. It doesn’t matter how much attention or love or enthusiasm the brand generates; if the organization can’t function effectively, it’s doomed. If the organization doesn’t generate interest and deliver value—whether that’s revenue, donors, supporters, or attention—it simply isn’t sustainable.

While a good business may survive with a weak brand, a poorly run organization will fail, even with the best brand ideas. Always. You have to have a good model to have success with a great brand. No exceptions.

Kodak is expected to file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks. Kodak is an amazing brand; the phrase “a Kodak moment” is synonymous with moments so special they are worthy of a fabulous photo. With a solid brand and a lucrative business model—for many years they had a virtual monopoly on film production—the company was a classic power brand; the choice of consumers, a desired employer, an industry innovator and a leader within its community.

Kodak had the chance to stay relevant and evolve the brand experience, but they missed the opportunity. Love for the brand couldn’t ignore the technology shift that was eating away at the existing business model. The brand still holds a place in everyone’s heart—it’s an American icon—but the business model eroded and has fallen apart.

A strong brand strategy can evolve with the business model. A smart model can evolve around what innovation delivers and what the market demands. A good model is at the foundation of a great brand.

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.