A brand is a strategy
Your brand should behave like a strategy. It should be a framework for making important choices. And not just the obvious ones about what to say and how to say it.
- Who do you hire and on what basis?
- What is ‘doing the right thing’ in any given situation?
- For example, is a customer issue a problem or an opportunity?
- For example, do you go all-in on Black Friday, do you passively stand aside, or do you actively rail against the whole idea?
- For example, how frictionless (manipulative) is your e-commerce experience?
- Do you use “no-reply” email addresses to contact customers?
- Should you express a point of view on topical or political issues?
- Is there a point to your social media presence?
Having your brand behave like a strategy is particularly important for service businesses. Your brand encompasses both what happens behind the scenes within the organisation and what happens at the customer-facing front end. Brand is a function of culture and values. Culture and values are functions of brand.
This is David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue, talking (on the How I Built This podcast) about applying brand, about applying culture, to recruitment.
One of the questions we ask in the interview process is, ’In your career, in your life, can you give us some examples of where you left your area of responsibility and helped somebody else out in another area?’ We didn’t hire a pilot that had 15,000 hours, and he called me up screaming, ‘I can’t believe you wouldn’t hire me. I’m an experienced pilot.’ So I went to the interviewers, and they said, ‘Well, he couldn’t come up with one single excuse of anything he’s ever done to help anyone other than himself.’ It was a cultural thing.David Neeleman, Founder, JetBlue
If a brand is a strategy it will make critical decisions simple (but not easy) and it will impose coherence on such decisions over time. And brand strategy, therefore, is the discipline by which you ensure that your brand behaves like a strategy.
This is Ric Lewis, founder of Tristan Investments, talking (on the High Performance podcast), about the real value of having real values. It’s about the discipline and the intentionality that are essential for coherence.
The point isn’t do we have 15 commandments or 30 commandments. It’s that we have some. And it makes you think, actually, this is intentional. We’re doing this on purpose. There’s probably 30 things that we really practice. This is just the 12 we talk about that call your attention to the fact that we are doing it for a reason.Ric Lewis, Founding Partner, Tristan Capital Partners
Strategy involves discipline and coherence. If a brand is a strategy, if it is well-defined and well-understood, it will impose discipline and deliver coherence, whilst also being creatively liberating. When a brand is a strategy, it transcends downstream tactical execution and commands upstream corporate attention. As Faris said in a 2020 WARC opinion piece:
If the brand is created by the totality of interactions, then it is informed by the behaviour of the company and thus brand strategy should always be the top priority for marketers. In this formulation, it becomes a core pillar of ‘capital S strategy’, undertaken with a deep understanding of people across every aspect of the business, internally and externally.Faris Yakob, Co-founder, Genius Steals
When a brand is a strategy it provides the organising principles that command respect within the organisation and that create lasting positive impressions among its audiences.
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Given that Michael Porter pointed out decades ago that differentiation is one of the two or three categories of competitive advantage, the logic of this post should be obvious to all businesses. I have never understood why it patently isn’t. I guess they’re not as smart as they think they are.