The 5-step road map to a profitable and enduring brand

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Very few companies ever find a way to build profitable and truly enduring brands. Has your business?

In a world where price often dominates the discussion and a sea of options and choices flood the market how do you create and sustain a point of differentiation for your brand in the eyes of prospects?

In a world where confusion and suspicion about products and services is ever present how do you drive customer loyalty and retention?

In a world where "Price Pirates" are trying to steal your customers every moment how do you establish a real attack strategy for your company? How do you give consumers a reason for loyalty? How do you stop the outrageous churn?

Brand value and loyalty can be created in this chaotic marketplace

* A smarter consumer has emerged

Consumers are now open to really seeing the value of a product above and beyond cost.

* Information has become ubiquitous

IT-enabled consumers are insistent on being careful about every single purchase.

* Premium price will be accepted when consumers are given a reason
For example, today's marketplace allows companies (Apple and others) to ask for a premium on products and services that combine high functionality with a simple end-user experience.

How to create profitable and enduring brands:

Consider these five core steps. Remember, it is vital that your senior management team provide unequivocal cascading endorsement of the work from the start:

Step #1. Identify your core target & gather insights about them

Who are the customers most vital to your profitable growth? Use insights from this group to create a picture of their met and unmet needs.

Step #2. Construct your brand value proposition

Create a set of brand "promises" that your core customers (and prospects) will perceive as believable, compelling and differentiated.

Step #3. Design your brand activation campaign

Design a campaign that will actually deliver on each and every promise that you've made (at every customer touch point possible).

Step #4. Launch your brand activation campaign and measure the results

Identify success metrics to measure your progress. Put into place the measurement tools to track success and adjust your promises and campaign over time as needed.

Step #5. Create a culture of "Brand Champions"

Ensure that everyone across your organization as well your partners understands and embraces the brand "promises" and insist that they can bring them to life every single moment. Reward outstanding results.

Brilliant teams all know a simple secret. Less can lead to more

There is a single question that I'm asked over and over again. "Why do businesses continue to use the same tired, ineffective and frustrating processes to solve their problems when they just don't seem to work?" The answer that I give is simple.
 

They continue to use these ineffective techniques because they just don't have a better way.
 

It seems that many business teams will use a "Vanity Metric" to convince themselves that they've been successful. This vanity metric can be described as "more equals more". In other words, the more ideas they have or the more possible solutions that they generate is an accurate measure of how successful they have been.
 

But "another problem solving session with lots of ideas that go nowhere" is not only a frustrating waste of time: your business has lost a critical opportunity to out think and outperform your competition.
 

Brilliant teams stretch their creativity, innovation and invention by leveraging their constraints
 

Having more ideas, in of itself, does not solve the problem. Brilliant teams begin their problem solving process by first understanding their limitations (time, people, capital, etc.).
 

They trust that better solutions will come from acknowledging these constraints. They don't aim for a bigger target, they know how to stretch within a smaller target.
 

Simply put, constraints force them to stretch in brilliant ways (see the Time.com profile of Scott Sonenshein's new book STRETCH). It's something like being a brilliant "pantry chef" who can create a delicious meal made only with what happens to be on the shelf.

I invite you to consider these three simple tactics for brilliant and successful problem solving results:

 

#1. Insist that your management approves the tightest brief possible for your team's charter. Management must ratify the following:
 

* What is the exact problem you are trying to solve?
 

* What are the 5 "success criteria" for your deliverable?
 

* Where are the 7 "highest opportunity" areas to explore?
 

#2. With your brief in hand invite those already within reach from across your organization to form the team.
 

* Include people with different backgrounds, skill sets, attitudes and experiences.
 

* Often it is the novice not the expert who sees the novel solution.
 

#3. Work to make the number of possible solutions smaller and smaller until you identify the one single solution that best meets your brief.

"Beasts" of branding don't think win/lose. They fight for the next point

Let me introduce you to the very best squash player in the world today. Known as "the Beast of Alexandria", he is a tall, skinny 25-year-old Egyptian by the name of Mohamed El Shorbagy.

During the two-minute breaks between championship games, "the beast" catches his breath and listens very carefully to the advice of someone who has never picked up a squash racket-- Basma El Shorbagy -- who also happens to be his mom (they were recently profiled by The New York Times).

Here is mom's advice to her son when he was behind two games to none during the finals of a recent championship, "Don't think about winning or losing. Just, every time you finish a point, think about fighting for the next point. Fight."

"The beast" went on to win the next three games and the championship

In the world of business, could it be that becoming a "beast" of branding, that is, a real brand champion, requires this same type of intense, focused mental discipline?

Let me ask the question in a different way: are you so intently focused on the notion of your brand winning or losing in the marketplace that you are not fighting for the next point?

The true "beast" of branding fights for the next point in the following three ways:

#1. Fight to connect with your customer hour-by-hour starting right now: Do you have a finger on the pulse of your customer's life? Have you separated what you believe about your customer from what you really know?

#2. Fight to create what your customer needs and wants tomorrow: Do your brand's promises have enough fluidity and elasticity? Is your team using its intelligence and flexibility to adapt?

#3. Fight to make it easy for your customer to understand and use your products: Are your competitors stealing away your customers with products that function at a higher level and are easier to use? Are you fighting against the myths inside your organization that reward the status quo?

Photo Credit: Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Are you nourishing your brand? Or smothering it?

I married an English gardener. She's part artist, part scientist, part gentle guide and part tough taskmaster.

Over the years I've progressed step by step as her assistant. After hauling bag after bag of dark, pungent mulch to the flowerbeds I eventually was taught how and when to prune and clip and weed and deadhead.

I'm learning that each plant and flower requires its own particular amount of water, sunlight and space to thrive.

But it's only very recently that I've started to really appreciate how much the gardening process requires careful planning, exquisite patience and keen intuition.

Could these simple truths about gardening be applied to the business products and services we invent and launch and nurture?

Do you sit by your own business garden with a lovely cup of tea thinking that the brands you've created will grow on their own accord? Will other new brands in the marketplace (or even your company's other brands) take over the space your brand needs to grow?

How do you clip and weed and deadhead your brand? How and when should you give your brand more space to grow? How do you free up your brand's roots?

Simply put, when and how should you reinvent your brand?

Here are three simple steps inspired by my wife's flourishing English garden:

Step #1. Guide your brand

• Watch your brand and its surroundings carefully for the expected and the unexpected.

• Is the sun still shining on your brand space?

• In the fast-paced world we live in the smallest changes can often have profound effects. Has a new product changed consumer expectations in your category? Has the zeitgeist shifted so what was once trendy is now stale?

Step #2. Become your brand's tough taskmaster

• Don't hesitate to cut back and trim your brand so it can grow.

• A little bit of growth each year could be masking an approach that's really choking off your brand's oxygen.

• Is it time to re-examine your promises and results?

Step #3. Combine brand science with brand art

• Have you given your team the permission to experiment and the protocols to tinker and invent?

• Do your brand's roots have plenty of room to spread out? Have you dug deep and made sure that the roots of your connection to your customers have room to evolve.

• Is it time to listen to your customers and prospects again?

Photo Credit: flickr/Ivy Dawned

Harness your built-in drive to invent

Perhaps Ben Franklin said it best, "Man is a toolmaker".

All we have to do to prove that this statement remains true is to reach for our smartphone. Managing the explosion of new tools to interact with the world around us can sometimes feel daunting (special retreats are now available to help us unplug from the irresistible lure of our continual connectivity).

No one really expects the floodgates to close any time soon on better, faster and more efficient tools. Moore's Law remains in effect and will continue to drive rapid innovation in the foreseeable future. Some argue that IT innovation is accelerating exponentially.

But perhaps the most compelling proof for our destiny as master toolmakers is literally within our reach

It can be found in the remarkable and still mysterious part of the human brain called the neocortex. As we now know, the neocortex is the source of our unique human capacity to think at a higher order of abstraction. It is the source of our poetry, our music, our sense of beauty, and importantly, our built-in capacity and instinct for invention.

We are, by our very nature, inventive problem solvers

But the most successful and accomplished inventors and innovators, no matter what field that they are operating in, all understand that they must invent within a world of practical constraints.

One current day “Ben Franklin” whom many of you already know, Ray Kurzweil (early pioneer of innovations like voice recognition software), is often quoted as saying, “We are always expanding our reach. It’s what makes us human. But for an idea or innovation to take hold it must be the right idea at the right place at the right time”.

Here’s how to tap into your team’s natural power of invention and dramatically increase your odds for success:

Utilize the following discipline and 3-step protocol to first identify the "right place" and the "right time" and then, and only then, use these practical guidelines to invent the "right idea".

Step #1. Establish the "right place"

• Have informed discussions with the project team about where, exactly, your best opportunities present themselves. Describe that particular place or market space or customer opportunity in detail.

• Narrow down the opportunities to the top 5-7. Then have everyone, including your senior management, ratify those “high opportunity areas”.

Step #2. Acknowledge the "right time"

• Have informed discussions with the project team about which present day conditions must be met. For example, if the time isn’t right for large capital expenditures then the new ideas have to be developed and launched within certain understood budgetary constraints. Also, any new idea must support either the brand promises you are offering customers today, or the new promises you have on the drawing board for tomorrow.

• Let’s call these practical timing boundaries “success criteria”. Agree on the top 5. Again, top management and all the project team participants must be aligned on them.

Step #3. Create the "right idea"

• Now you are ready to unleash your team’s natural and instinctive built-in drive to invent. All the creative work must be carefully informed and inspired by the agreed guidelines on “right place" and “right time”. Think of these guidelines as a kind of "target" for your creative development as you nominate many possible ideas.

• Later, use these two guidelines as a "screen" to make sure everyone reviewing and ranking the nominated ideas uses the exact same selection criteria. Your team should only spend its precious time and energy fine-tuning and eventually executing the ideas or initiatives that have proven to best meet all of your agreed upon guidelines.

Remember, seemingly fun and interesting ideas can very often be a distraction

It's sometimes tough, but just because an idea sounds cool and looks shiny should not be reason enough, in of itself, to invest in it further.

Innovative ideas that don’t meet your established criteria haven't earned further investment. Table them for later, that is, re-visit them if, and when, the "right place" and the "right time" comes along.

Brand Warriors Have Courage, Skill & Fight

Fighting off the pirates trying to steal your customers is a full time, full contact sport. Your competitors will give you no quarter. Sitting on the sidelines, believing you can prevail and hoping for success will just not cut it.
 

In 2017, everyone in your organization and every one of your partners who touches a customer must become your brand's relentless champion.
 

But becoming your brand's champion is more than just an idea. It's more than a plan. It's more than a set of bullet points on a piece of paper. It's more than a meeting.
 

Here are the three essential qualities that you, your team and everyone who touches your business must find within themselves and bring to life on the battlefield that we call business.
 

Think of it as the spirit of the "Brand Warrior".
 

#1. The Brand Warrior has Courage
 

It's easy to be courageous when everything is certain. But can you embrace uncertainty? Can you ask the very difficult questions about who you are and what you are offering to customers?
 

Asking whether what you do has real meaning and value for your customers requires courage. Can you separate what you believe from what you know? Can you listen with clarity to the voice of your customers? Can you be an unrelenting advocate for your customer in the face of resistance from your own senior management?
 

#2. The Brand Warrior has Skill
 

The skill to ask the right questions in the right order is essential. But you also need the skill of patience.
 

Can you instill in your company the sometimes slow and steady discipline of teasing out exactly what you need to become to set yourself apart from the best of your competitors? Do you have the savvy and finesse to push back against a management team that wants a quicker fix and demands more immediate returns and results?
 

#3. The Brand Warrior has Fight
 

If it was easy someone would have already done it.
 

Are you willing to fight for the new way, the right way, a very different way to approach building your profitable and enduring brand? Do you have the fight to raise your voice, to take up the new banner and the new idea?
 

Are you willing to fight for your customer day in and day out? Can you keep up this fighting spirit at every turning point in your business?
 

Become a Warrior
 

Don't give up. Don't let discouragement stop you. Start with an unremitting belief in yourself and you'll turn it into a powerful and enduring reality that you, your company and your customers can know. Create something that you can defend and build on.
 

Begin now.

Describe YOUR Competitive Edge in One Word

Before you think about what your competitive edge might be let me tell you a brief story. It’s a true story that will help explain what I mean by the challenge that I have posed to you in the title of this piece.

Not long ago I accompanied a long-standing client of mine to a business conference where he would be speaking as part of a panel. After his brief presentation and the Q & A, the moderator of this panel remarked to him, in front of the audience, “your passion for this is obvious”.

The panel moderator, in just a few short moments, astutely picked up on the most central aspect of what makes my client so effective and, yes, so competitive.

It wasn’t his knowledge or his beliefs or his opinions that distinguished him at that moment. It was his genuine passion for his field that was so obvious. His passion was palatable and very powerful.

When you think about the question of what YOUR competitive edge is I invite you to look deeper than what you know or what you believe or what you have experienced.

I am asking you to identify something essential that you were born with. It is something natural to you, something in your basic temperament that you really don’t even have to consciously think about.

To conclude my brief story, after the conference I mentioned the moderator’s keen observation to my client. We both had an interesting and insightful moment talking about how true it really was. I encouraged him to think deeply about his unique passion and I gave him examples of how I had seen this quality of his make itself evident in many ways and at many times during our work together.

In my own world, I observe unique qualities in others when I’m guiding business teams in problem solving engagements.

There is a great deal of satisfaction that I get when, especially during the moments of pure invention, the various participants are challenged to dig very deeply within themselves. During these intense moments almost everyone taps into their latent well of imagination and creativity. It is a place that they don’t get to tap into during the course of their usual business day.

To discover your competitive edge, stop thinking about what you know. Think about what you want to be: passionate, perceptive, resourceful, or something else that is the essence of you.

Your competitive edge resides within you.

Can you describe YOUR competitive edge in one word?

Empower Teams to Shape Their Own Future

Many large companies are stuck in a tough place: their costs are so high, it constrains their growth, but cutting costs can rip the heart right out of the organization.

This may seem like an intractable problem, but it’s not. The solution is to empower teams to cut costs in a manner that funds - rather than erodes - their own future.

Launch a “Margin for Growth” Initiative

Large companies often have extremely complex supply chains that over time become riddled  with inefficiencies. They tend to be both more expensive and less flexible than the marketplace demands.

But cost-cutting programs are notoriously thankless endeavors. They are detail-oriented initiatives that often push participants to come up with 600 teeny ideas, instead of five or ten comprehensive solutions. Plus, few employees get rewarded in any significant way for helping to cut costs. The norm is more like two words (“nice job”) and a quick pat on the back.

The alternative is for senior management to make a deal with the folks who work for them: any waste you eliminate will be kept to fund the growth of your business. In other words, the cost savings don’t disappear somewhere into the haze of corporate finances; they stay in your budget, and you can use them to grow your business.

This Margin for Growth approach provides a powerful incentive for managers to root out waste, because most are compensated based in some measure on their ability to grow revenues. It motivates all to think big instead of tiny. Even more importantly, it encourages different managers in different areas to talk with each other.

Working with a client who successfully used this approach, I once witnessed two VPs during a Margin for Growth session. They had long worked in offices almost next to each other, but had never talked at this level of detail about big ideas for increasing efficiency. In short order, they started listing one solid idea after another.

In another instance, one VP took all the cost savings we found, and he got permission to put the saved money back into his marketing budget.

In big companies, remember to think big. The teeny initiatives are time-consuming and difficult, but not nearly enough to make a difference. In contrast, each big idea around raw materials, shipping, labelling, or financing could deliver at least a million dollars in savings. 

One executive with whom I worked promised headquarters $25 million in savings, a bold move to say the least. He delivered on his promise, in large measure by bringing many people out of their silos and literally together in one room. Here again, the Margin for Growth positioning captured the attention of many participants and gave them tangible incentives to think big.

The lack of communications between people in different silos can be amazing. Margin for Growth breaks down those silos, and creates a tangible sense of accomplishment and optimism. 

Problem solve like a hunter-gatherer

One question that I am asked again and again is "Why do companies keep using the same problem solving methods and processes even when they don't work?" The answer is really simple: they don't have a better way.

A company can only use the best problem solving methods that it has available at the time. Innovation is driven by the larger prevailing corporate culture, all cascading down from the top. Systematic corporate change, even when badly needed, can often be painfully slow.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond has published a very timely book called, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Simply put, it asks us to examine the gulf between our "modern" lifestyle and the lifestyle of the few remaining "traditional" societies, that is, the type of society that all of us lived in for nearly all of six million years of existence: without air travel, cell phones, literacy or large corporations.

Mr. Diamond asks us to consider what the difference between that past and our present could mean for our lives today. As I was reading the book I wondered whether "traditional" societies could show us a more inventive way of problem solving.

The two key factors that determine how a "traditional" society is organized are population size and availability of life-sustaining resources (food,water and shelter). As population size changes or as available resources change the organization of the "traditional" society changes. Over time, a "band" of a few dozen individuals becomes a "tribe" of a few hundred becomes a "chiefdom" of thousand and can become a "state" of hundreds of thousands.

The organization, decision making and power structure that each of these units demands is appropriate for their size and resources.

In a "band" of a few dozen, everyone knows each other and will probably spend most of their lives together. They speak the same language, share the same local knowledge, share resources and have established successful methods of conflict resolution. Importantly, the "band" can trade with and even draw on the resources of the larger "tribe" if, for example, their food supply is unexpectedly disrupted.

What makes this possible is that the social capital, the radius of trust between individuals, has been firmly established among the "band" and with the "tribe".

So, I would like to answer with a resounding, yes! Traditional societies can show us a better and more inventive way of problem solving. As you begin to think about creating your own inventive problem solving teams in 2014 consider employing these strategies:

• Create a "band" - That is, establish a core team of 25-30 people comprised of those who possess required expertise as well as others who possess a rich diversity of skills and experience. Draw on the resources of your larger "tribe" when you need to.

• Utilize a common language - That is, establish a clear and concise set of terms, definitions and facts for the team to use during the course of your project.

• Identify a "chief" - That is, establish the person or persons who will have the ability and authority to ratify decisions and quickly resolve conflicts.