Every company likes to think they have loyal, raving fans, but the obvious truth is that they have to be earned. Check out this article
to see how Lego's customer service supports their brand.
And that’s one example of how good brand stewardship enables Lego to market cheap molded ABS plastic at a premium price. The intellectual property is long gone and there is no one stopping you, me, or Mega Blocks from producing identical bricks and sell them cheaper. But do you want to show up to a kids’ birthday party and announce to everyone you took the ‘low bid’ on a relatively cheap children’s toy?
Talking about Lego, check out my friend Greg's awesome kickstarter project Never Built: Los Angeles!
They are building an 11-foot-tall Lego tower using 67,000 Legos.
Last year, for the holidays, I wrote a little holiday poem
relating to lessons learned over the past year. This year, I thought I'd share a neat little editing trick, learned years ago to let you contemplate and project the contribution you truly are to your business and ultimately to the world at large.
Grab a piece of paper and jot down the answers to these 4 questions (one short sentence each): 1. What do you do?
2. Why do you do what you do?
(If you answered: to earn money, try again. If you get misty or giddy, you nailed it.) 3. Why do you think what you do is important?
(Here it is a good idea to express your life philosophy. You may want to start your answer with: “I believe" or "I know…”) 4. What do you want your legacy to be?
(Here you ask what ultimate, big problem do you want to have solved?) Clients will recognize these questions (even if amended a little bit to work on you personally) as the second step in the brand huddle – right after defining your business opportunities.
OK, got your answers? Here’s the trick: String your answers together in the following order: [Answer to #2]
and knowing [Answer to #3] I,
first name last name [Answer to #1]
so/therefore/in order to [Answer to #4]
The paragraph you are about to review is not for public consumption. It is the core of who you are. The brand of YOU. I am hoping that during the most reflective time of the year, this little exercise will bring you some private clarity, joy and peace…and maybe even point toward a new direction closer to your heart.
You are the best at what you do. Nobody in your category or line of work can claim superiority. You're second to none. Period. Then why is it so @#$% hard to grow, let alone scale? Here's why:
Unless your customers are elves fresh off the permafrost, being 'the best' is barely the cost of entry. Nothing more.
To get noticed, break through and ultimately reach scale, you have to (a) marry being what you are best at with a unique and relevant brand promise – one that either trumps your category or creates a new category altogether; and (b) patiently, yet unflinchingly, deliver on that brand promise, day in and year out. Only if you do that – and I can help you do just that – will you get a shot at building something great.
The caveat? It takes time. Nowhere is it more true than in branding that people overestimate what can be done in one year...only to grossly underestimate what can be done in ten. The upside? It makes the journey a lot of fun!
Need an example? Changing the face of men's health globally can be as simple as growing a moustache if you can muster the persistence, patience and guts to take that stand:
Think it's worth a shot?
Research shows that the United States is the most philanthropic country in the world, by far. The community chest, that uniquely American drive to share one’s wealth with other less fortunate community members – so all of us get the chance to live healthy and productive lives – is the root cause of our success. More than that, it is our brand! Think Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Gates, Kroc, etc. Now think of a German philanthropist. I can't either.
During this election season however, the philanthropic differentiator of Brand USA lost some of its luster for me. Why? It occurred to me that the ultra affluent who lobby forcefully for lower taxes should, by definition, be our most philanthropic individuals and families – and the torch bearers of our giving culture. I am talking, of course, about billionaires supporting the republican ticket.**
From what I can tell however, they are not.
Here’s how I came to this conclusion: I simply compared a list of the election's biggest republican billionaire supporters
with the list of billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge http://givingpledge.org/
Apart from Harold Simmons and Julian Robertson, there is no further overlap between taxation averse billionaires supporting the Romney ticket and philanthropic billionaires joining The Giving Pledge – a campaign thus far joined by 81 of the 400 richest Americans, pledging to give 50% or more of their wealth to charity during their lifetime.
Now I’m no statistician, but when in a total population of just 400 people (The Forbes 400) a group of about 20% (81 people) commits publicly to meaningful philanthropy; and a separate group of about 7% (29 people) spends well over $200MM this election to limit their tax burden; and when only one half of one percent (just 2 out of 400 people) belong to both groups
, i.e. committed philanthropists who also support the republican ticket, then the “lower taxes = more philanthropy” argument rings mighty hollow.
Of course, you may do with your money as you please. But from a brand perspective, this looks really, really bad.
So, my suggestion to the other 27 billionaires bankrolling the republican campaign (that means you, Messrs. Adelson, Rowling and Koch) is to join Simmons and Robertson, put your money where our brand is and publicly align your wealth with it. And the easiest way to do this is by joining the Giving Pledge, for starters. **Disclaimer: I have no desire to enter into a political discussion regarding the merits of republican, democratic, libertarian, green or other political ideologies. Heck, I don’t know where I stand most of the time given that I’ve embraced and rejected notions of all. Just pointing out the misalignment of Brand USA with respect to philanthropy, and suggesting a remedy that will restore its luster. Who knows, refilling the community chest from all sides of the political spectrum should prove to be a catalyst for a faster recovery, irrespective of who’s running the country.
There are three little words that virtually guarantee to increase your customer acquisition costs, erode customer loyalty and devalue your brand:
NEW CUSTOMERS ONLY
A “New Customers Only” promotion tells your existing customers that you value them less than people who have not yet given you their business. It tells your existing customers that they are being underserved, overcharged – or both. And it encourages your customers to look for a better deal elsewhere. In short, a “New Customers Only” promotion punishes loyalty.
All of this comes at an enormous expense. “New Customers Only” promotions reduce your margins, increase your customer service costs, limit your spending to actually differentiate your product/service and ultimately result in the (further) commoditization of your value proposition.
So why do these promotions exist? They work in the short term. But in all reality, they are an addiction dating back to the middle of the last century – the high point of mass marketing effectiveness. Ever since then it has simply been easier and quicker to “buy” new customers than it is to delight existing customers to the degree that they would become and remain loyal -- that is, turn down a better price to continue doing business with you. Absent that, it’s not loyalty, it's just repeat business.
Unfortunately, in our increasingly transparent digital world, buying customers with the promotion-du-jour is losing its economic attractiveness faster than you can optimize click throughs.
NEW CUSTOMERS EXCLUDED!
My two cents? Stop the new customer acquisition wars that alienate your good customers, eat your margins and commoditize your business. Instead, run "New Customers Excluded" promotions. That is, deliberately look for ways to reward the customers you do have...over and above the customers you don’t. Do that well, and your existing customers actually become loyal and rave about your business to the new customers you are currently trying to buy. The best part? In this hyper-connected world, your loyal customers will do it right away...and for free!
As summer break is upon us, and it is raining report cards all over the land, many of you are talking to your kids about the need for spectacular grades and notable extracurricular activities to attain that elusive goal of a brand name college education.
But what about Stanford’s challenge? Every year admissions is tasked with putting together an exciting, diverse and ambitious student body, yet all who apply have one thing in common: Spectacular grades and notable extracurricular activities.
So, who makes the cut? My daughter excelled in art and wanted to attend a good school to hone her craft. Among fierce competition, she managed to get into her three top choices, with generous scholarship offers from all. She chose RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design – arguably the best art school in the world. Did she have better grades than students who were rejected. No. Was her skill level so outstanding that she was a shoo-in? Not necessarily. Did she position herself to remarkably stand out from other applicants? Absolutely.
Employing the same processes I use with my clients we spent essentially a day sorting through her many interests to identify a passion for animal justice. We then leveraged that by putting together a small but highly focused portfolio around that theme. In fact, we deliberately eliminated most of her figure drawings, her huge collection of Manga, her portraits (including the one on this page…) and trivialized all kinds of other notable but undifferentiating extracurricular activities like her service at the Huntington Library and Gardens. If you have worked with me, you know how I do this.
Now there isn’t a college counselor on the planet that will tell your son or daughter: “here is how you leverage your passion for just that one thing (animal justice, skin graft science, crop dusting, whatever…)” because they too are stuck in bland, undifferentiated advice by virtue of the sheer number of students they attempt to serve…and because branding and positioning is work, focused one-on-one work, to do it right.
But I assure you, top-tier colleges are looking for precisely that kind of differentiation...and the rewards of securing for your child said top-tier education cannot be overstated. So as you look at your child’s academic potential, also develop your child’s brand potential as a unique and remarkable contribution to the incoming freshmen class…and make it easy for Stanford (Harvard, CalTech, Yale, Prineton, RISD, etc.) to say yes.
Last week I stumbled upon a fascinating TED speech. Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret To Better Work.” But instead of just liking, tweeting or sharing it for its intrinsic value – and I highly recommend you watch it for that – it points to the main skill of brand stewardship: escaping the average.
Here's to finding ways to escape from norm to outlier…from commodity to brand.
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, but, as I write this in my shorts and flip-flops, enjoying a balmy 74 degrees here in California, I decided to rename it "Hedgehog Day" from this year forward. February 2 will henceforth be the day where you forecast the scale potential of your brand…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Remember the “Hedgehog” concept from Jim Collins' Good to Great? In a nutshell, the Hedgehog is doing one thing and doing it well. In the book Collins uses the parable of the clever, devious fox and the simple hedgehog. The fox keeps coming up with new ideas, but the hedgehog handily defeats him by doing his one trick: rolling into a thorny ball.
The example he uses is Walgreens. During the 1980s, Charles “Cork” Walgreen III transformed the lackluster company by getting rid of more than 500 restaurants – approximately half of the company’s footprint – and refocusing (read: rebranding) the business on becoming the most convenient “corner” drug store. It was an emotional decision because Walgreens invented the malted milk shake, his grandfather started in food service, and the restaurants Walgreen dumped included those named after him, Corky’s.
But it was the right thing to do if Walgreens was to be the best at something and scale. He gave his team five years to accomplish the task. When after six months, no progress had been made, he told his team they now had four and half years. Then, they got busy. With that narrowed brand focus, Walgreens grew to 8,210 locations, offering drive-through and 24-hour pharmacies literally always on the corners of busy intersections.
So why am I renaming and celebrating Hedgehog day? Because it gives me a definite day to converse with my clients about three critical questions – assessing the scale potential of their brand. The Hedgehog questions, if you will:
1. Can you be the best at something you do…and are you doing that?
2. Are you passionate about that something?
3. Does that something make you a living?
Answer yes to all three, and all you have to do is curl yourself up into a thorny ball and scale your brand. Now isn’t that a better use of forecasting than Punxsutawney Phil’s lackluster accuracy in predicting the weather for the next six weeks?
Happy Hedgehog Day!
Two stainless steel chronographs. Two global brands. Zero precious metals. One is called Expedition. The other, Explorer. Both tell time.
One has a Suggested Retail Price of $6,450.
The other: $32. (99% off...if you buy two!)
This is, of course, news to no one - least of which to the marketers of the respective brands above. Both are blissfully happy with the brand position they have carved out for themselves. One has high margins. The other scale. Both are quite profitable. Neither would ever consider serving the other's market.
Wondering how much to charge for your product? Don't let your costs guide you. Instead, try this: Swap out all your internal pricing calculations with your vision for your brand vis-à-vis your market. Charge accordingly.
T’was the night before Christmas in the founder’s suite,
No emails, no phone calls, not even a tweet.
All the papers were sorted and filed with care,
To make sure that our castles aren’t built on air.
Now was time for reflection on this holiday night,
What can I do better? What did I do right?
We learned what it takes for a brand to achieve,
, from Howard
, but mostly from Steve
Leo taught us our product’s most profitable stance,
Don’t change what it does – change its relevance.
Howard’s brand is your third place to meet and to linger,
Do that anywhere else, and they give you the…
But what to say about Steve that hasn’t been said?
That plans to crush Android danced in his head?
That he used magic words to pitch you his dreams?
That he did it in sneakers, black sweater and jeans?
No, the brand that was Steve, so much more than his sweater,
Was that “people with passion change the world for the better.”
By taking that stand with conviction and verve,
He gave to do-gooders what they truly deserve:
The permission to reach, no matter how high,
The proof that ideals aren’t pie-in-the-sky.
So whatever they say in obtuseness or spite,
Believe in your dreams…and then, do them right!
Steve’s clarion call we still hear loud and clear!
Wishing you all the best for a brand new year.