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 Leo, 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.
I like metaphors. A good metaphor provides clarity. A great metaphor gives actionable direction. A fantastic metaphor can spell the difference between spending decades in search of incremental growth…or experiencing unstoppable scale. Last week, I came across one such fantastic metaphor…because it nails the distinction that separates great brand stewards from mere entrepreneurs:
"You Can’t Build a Castle On a Swamp"
What’s the swamp? The swamp is branding your category promise; The swamp is polling your friends which logo to choose; The swamp is confusing PR with publicity; The swamp is copying your competitors’ copy; sticking too long to irrelevant positioning; delegating brand management to the marketing department, I could go on…
All that business – or should I say “busyness” – avoids the one action that lies at the heart of every enterprise that has ever reached scale: Going out and deliberately finding your higher ground, your category trumping differentiator, your space above everybody else’s in your market or niche – and claiming it for your company.
And our raison d'être is to help you do just that: To discover – and secure – your brand’s mountain top location. It is the only space your business ought to occupy if it is to make a superior and lasting difference in your category. It is the only space from which to scale. Why would you build anywhere else?
"You Can’t Build a Castle On a Swamp"
Everybody talks about differentiation as the silver bullet in branding: "Stand out from the pack!", "Be unique!", "When others zig, you zag!" But there's more to the equation. Now I’m not a fan of cigarettes…but the lesson Phillip Morris offers us in the distinction between "being different" and "being different + relevant" is too valuable to pass up.
In 1924, Phillip Morris launches the Marlboro brand as the first ladies’ cigarette. Like all women’s cigarettes, it had a filter – but Marlboro was the only brand that had "A Beauty Tip" a printed red band around its filter to hide lipstick stains. For 29 straight years, Phillip Morris put their considerable marketing muscle behind this clearly differentiated brand…and for 29 straight years Marlboro never once reached even one percent market share.
Fast forward to 1953. Scientists have just established that smoking tobacco causes lung cancer. Now, male smokers need a filter cigarette. But, instead of launching a new brand touting the cancer risk reducing properties of a filter (a slippery slope if there ever was one) advertising legend Leo Burnett simply changes Marlboro’s sex. That is, he makes it cool for men to smoke an established filter cigarette. So cool, in fact, that Marlboro becomes the leading cigarette brand within a year or two – a distinction it has now had for over five decades...currently commanding about a 42% (Forty-Two!) percent share of the global cigarette market. In short, Leo Burnett made the brand differentiation relevant.
Is your brand’s difference relevant...or is it just different? Your share of your market – and how hard you have to work for it – might be a telling indicator.
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?
(The following is an excerpt from my white paper SMALL BUSINESS BRANDING: 3 Initiatives No Founder or CEO Should Delegate)
When Howard Schultz became steward of the Starbucks brand, he identified the “Third Place” concept as its core value.
Here’s how it works: Starbucks aims to be people’s anchor in the community – a welcoming and comfortable place that fosters connection between individuals. It is called “Third Place” because Starbucks’ brand aims to create the environment where you will spend most of your time after your home (First Place) and your work (Second Place). Starbucks has leveraged “Third Place,” that simple – but differentiating – internal brand statement into a world where no one asks you to leave, ever.
Starbucks Internal Brand Statement demands comfortable couches and chairs, relentlessly friendly employees and even good quality toilet paper (not kidding). See how radically different that is from ‘selling coffee’ and feeling guilty if you ‘just sit there without ordering?’ Today, close to 17,000 company stores in 50 countries charge $4 a drink for delivering that brand promise.
I always talk about Starbucks, Apple, Walmart, etc. to share the wisdom of branding. But it really understates what's going on once you recall that Starbucks et. al. started branding long before the Internet. Today, branding is not only wise, it is indispensable.
As, um, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said: "The Internet is a 'cesspool' where false information thrives:
“With no barriers to entry and nearly frictionless production and distribution, it's easy for false information, lies, doctored images, and other forms of deception to infiltrate the Internet. Web crawlers aren't particularly good at making judgments about the truthiness of digital matter, and the wisdom of the crowd can't keep up with the river of data streaming online.”
“Brands,” Schmidt concluded, “are the only way to rise above the cesspool”
Of course he’s right.