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?
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.
To most people’s ears, “we brew high quality coffee” sounds like Starbuck’s brand and “we make innovative hardware and software” sounds like Apple’s. To a brand steward however, these statements sound like saying to a houseguest: “I washed my hands before making dinner.”
“Well, I should hope so!”
Branding your category promise is one of the most common pitfalls of brand creation. While it is certainly true that Starbucks makes quality coffee and Apple innovates like crazy, they also understand that that is NOT their brand. That is just the cost of entry in their category.
The small business landscape on the other hand is littered with "I should hope so" promises. If you can picture your customers answering your brand’s promise with the phrase “Well, I should hope so!” it may be time to rethink it. Here’s a conversation Howard Schulz had at my alma mater about building Starbucks into a global brand. It is well worth watching if you are stuck in your category promise.
With all the speculation of who will run Apple after Steve Jobs' departure, consider that Steve Jobs only truly ran Apple from 1976 to 1983. From 1983 to 1997 John Sculley, Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio ran Apple...almost into the ground. And since that time, Apple wasn't run by anybody!
Instead, Steve Jobs understood that Apple (and for that matter any company who aspires to be a true leader) needs to be governed by a set of unique core values that strive for something much, much greater than a cult of personality. And then, in 1998, he returned as "Interim CEO" that is, as the brand steward of those core values.
So who will run Apple now? A team (and a leader) that "believes that people with passion can change the world for the better." That's Apple's stand. What's yours?