Tag Archives: Rules

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.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Two

Be amazing at the one thing you promise. Every time. No exceptions.

You have a lot of options for your brand story. You get to explore different ways to deliver your service, how your culture fuels the brand experience, how leadership pushes new boundaries and how you continue to engage and excite your stakeholders. It’s your brand; it’s your story to tell.

Every story, though, is based on a familiar plot. Just like an action story needs an adventure or a love story needs a romance, a brand story must live up to the core promise. If your brand can’t manage that one thing, nothing else matters.

Too often brands get caught up in the elements that make the brand unique but drop the ball on the one simple thing that anchors the relationship. Poor leadership gets in the way— it’s either laziness (just too uncommitted to care), complacency (believing people will judge the brand on intent and flair rather than action and results), or ignorance (having no clue about expectations).

Brand Strategy always starts with clarity about your capacity to do the one thing you promise. Without a solid grasp of this reality—and a commitment to deliver an uncompromising experience—success is simply out of reach.

Photo Note: I snapped the accompanying photo in 2004 during a vacation in Oregon. In 2011, while traveling the same route, I couldn’t find the business. Not surprisingly, Golden Touch Signs is no longer in business. A keen eye will notice the company name in red letters over the door; another fine example of this company’s stellar work.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part One.

There are rules to great brand strategy. One of them is that you don’t have to follow all the rules.

If brand strategy were simply about following a checklist, every competent organization would have a well executed brand. And if following the checklist were all that mattered, each precisely executed brand would have a predictable number of loyal brand followers. Mission statement? Check. Logo and snappy tagline? Check. Differentiated product message; staff consisting entirely of amazing brand ambassadors and talented innovators; committed vendors and partnerships? Check, check, check.

Of course, we know it doesn’t work so easily.

Brand Strategy is both a science and an art form. Human behaviour has patterns; cultures have expectations; our senses trigger subconscious reactions—there are many predictable outcomes that we can draw from as we build our brand. The science of relationships and interactions is deep, and we are wise to use what we know is true.

But only to a point.

Brand strategy is also about telling stories and creating experiences that connect human beings. It’s about building relationships through moments of inspiration.

A great brand strategy will shatter the status-quo. A great brand strategy will twist expectations, shifting experiences into a comfortable relationship—a relationship that welcomes stakeholders with a common purpose and a shared attitude.

How we break a rule reveals our culture, and an awareness of the problem we’re crushing. It could be rooted in “where have you been all my life” or “why hasn’t anyone thought of this before” or “wow, this is what it should be” or (the monopoly killer) “well, finally someone is thinking about us”. Whatever the motivation, the result will be a deeper connection; an experience that has no substitutions.

There are certainly some things that stakeholders expect from your brand. No question—when developing your brand strategy we use a checklist of initiatives and tactics to assess your competency against the opportunity. After all, nobody likes a brand that recklessly ignores common sense or form that ignores function.

We’re not auditing your brand for compliance. The most important thing we will be looking to reveal is the thing that breaks the rules; the one thing that breaks from convention and says to your stakeholders, “yeah, we know this matters.” Because it’s the thing that makes all the difference.

UPDATE: (August 9, 2013): A Twitter friend, Harvey Briggs (OBX_Harvey), offered a nice twist on this rule, and I’ll paraphrase: “You only get to break the rules if you know which rule you are breaking.” Great point about being purposeful, not accidental. He has other great thoughts on brand and strategy.