Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Are You Too Much In Love With Your Brand?

Consider this.

You “fall in love” with your own brand or business or way of doing things. You can’t see what’s really going on, because you’re so besotted or wedded to the status quo. You insist that there is nothing that you can do, no way to change any dysfunctionality, because things are the way they are for good reason. Or worse, you do Band-Aid things to promote your brand rather than perform surgery when there are signs of internal bleeding.

And just like in any relationship, if you let problems fester without dealing with them…well, there is a saying that covers this. “You can pay now (by dealing with the facts) or pay later (by cleaning up the expensive mess.”)

A “lack of objectivity” sounds kind of trifling when you merely say the words. But it can pose an incredibly serious threat to your brand’s very existence. Remember when Yahoo! turned down Microsoft? When Groupon turned down Google? Yes, they’re both still here, but…I think they both made the wrong bet because they refused to read the tea leaves about their respective futures.

More examples illustrate this well. Today, does Google take seriously the threat posed by Facebook? Does Apple think that it can hold off the Droid and copycat tablet computers forever? Or do these brands think that their secret sauce is powerful enough to sink other companies’ ships indefinitely?

I could go on and on but the point is that even the best brands are vulnerable. Coca-Cola is one that understands this well. They never stop scanning the environment for both trends and threats. That’s why they’re so incredibly strong, so many decades after the company’s original founding. When New Coke flopped, they admitted it and dusted themselves off. And came back stronger than ever.

So even though it hurts, dedicate yourself this year to total objectivity. Think of your brand as a never-ending construction site, and you’re the architect of a project that will never end. Put on a hardhat and examine what is going on rationally and coldly. It’s not that you don’t love your brand, but that you have to take responsibility for its continuous improvement.

You may be wondering where to start with that, if you’re not sure.

It’s interesting. It doesn’t take any one magic pill. Rather it’s more like bringing objectivity into your consciousness. The most powerful tool, for me, is simply watching how other people act.

Here are just a few behaviors that I observed only recently, carried out by ordinary people who weren’t even conscious of trying to do anything “special.” If you watch people, and read, and even watch TV, you can pick up on actions and attitudes like this - that will get you where you need to be:

* Openness: I saw someone investigate bad feedback rather than dismissing it, and incorporating lessons learned.

* Attention to detail: I saw someone insist on improving a flawed product design—even though the client wouldn’t have known it.

* Audience focus: I saw someone quietly pre-test a communication concept, rather than just “running it past the client” before it was ready.

Don’t have much time for people-watching? Head over to intervention-style reality TV. Take your pick:

* Bravo: The Millionaire Matchmaker, Tabitha’s Salon Takeover

* A&E: Intervention

* NBC: The Apprentice

* TV or book format: Dr. Phil

How about a book:

* If You Have to Cry, Go Outside, by Kelly Cutrone (Owner, The People’s Revolution)

There are so many resources out there to choose from, and the more mundane and closer they are to you, the better. This isn’t an academic exercise!

The point is that being passionately dedicated to your brand isn’t enough. Neither is simply delivering on it consistently, although that’s imperative. If you want to make it past the Darwinian process that is brand survival nowadays, you must make it your business to face reality - even if doing so feels like it will drive you crazy.

Good luck!

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