Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It's What's on The Inside That Counts

For the past several months, a former and highly-respected colleague of mine - and still good friend - during my tenure at Frank N. Magid Associates Inc., has been on my case to start blogging. Apparently, he believes I have ideas about brand worthy of sharing. Today, I finally decided to take his advice and "put myself out there." I hope you'll be compelled to come back often and read, share and even post your own comments.

My topic of choice for my first brandecdote (you will find that I tend to mash words together to create new ones) will be a success story. That post is coming soon. I'll use this first post to provide a little insight into how my mind works when it comes to all things brand, and set expectations for future posting.

I'll begin by saying, I don't believe in research. Rather, I believe in the right research. Attitude precedes behavior. When you know the "why" you can effect the "what." A well-designed and implemented study helps you find and mine the perceptive "gaps," as well as who owns what images, positions and perceptions in the mind. I believe in administering research not only to customers and prospects, but also to employees. That helps you find the disconnects, critical for building your brand from within first. But unlike the majority of brand practitioners, instead of immediately taking those findings and attacking the customer angle, I first attack the company angle. More on how to specifically and successfully do this in future posts.

I also believe there is as much to learn in failure as in success. So, I too will share personal experiences of things that didn't work or went awry. You will find, however, there are common themes when brands crater. Not always, but usually they can be traced back to company leadership and failure to drive the brand mission through every square inch of the organization.

What I believe most about brand, and will substantiate with evidence from my own experiences and those from respected colleagues and peers, is a simple premise: The most powerful brands are built from within your organization first to ensure when customer and company converge, it's a real, seamless and extraordinary experience, every single time.

This inside stuff isn't always sexy. It rarely makes headlines in the trades. It's not how agencies land big accounts. But it is the heavy lifting required to ensure your brand remains focused, true and the continuum. It's the backstory and real reason behind the success of powerful brands like Ritz-Carlton, Google, Starbucks (okay, S'bucks from three years ago), Zappos, Clif Bar and Company, to name a few. When is the last time you saw an advertisement or campaign from any of them? What are their slogans? Exactly.

Okay, Zappos does have a slogan: Powered by Service. But it's more than an externally-focused tag line. It's intrinsic value lies in a culture engineered to fulfill a specific customer promise. If you've ever dealt with Zappos, your definition of what customer service should be will be changed forever.

Think of this brand building approach like an elite athlete's body: a strong core is the most important muscle group to develop. It's what helps swimmers rotate in the water to make them faster, it's how Tiger Woods creates such torque and distance off the tee, and it's what enables a long jumper to pull themselves through the air rather than push. Most people assume an athlete's power and speed are generated by arms, shoulders and legs, the visible stuff. What ultimately gives athlete and brand alike power, flexibility, consistency and longevity, is the core.

Like I said, it's what's on the inside that counts the most.

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