Tag: "Happiness"

Three Steps to an Irresistible Brand

I know you may not think of Gandhi as irresistible, but bear with me. It’ll become clear shortly.

Irresistible… It may sound impossible, or at least too good to be true. And you’re not alone in thinking that, but the great brands do achieve the impossible. They get people to change behavior in much the same way that Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln put themselves on the line to create monumental societal change. If you want to create  real change there’s no more consistent way to get there.

And here are the basic steps you can follow to get there yourself:

Step One: Become Self Aware
Know your unwavering core motivation then unquestionably prove its truth.

Brand-building without understanding why your organization exists is pointless. Without self-awareness your time, money and energy spent on brand is just as likely to hurt as to help reach your goals. But you need to do more than just know what makes you different and communicate it. An irresistible brand proves that you’re different. To do that you must be able to communicate your difference in a way that lines up with your real-world performance – and sheds light on the fact that your organization ‘gets it’.

In Stokefire’s world of Gandhian brands, becoming self aware is the beginning of your Gandhian pyramid development. We’re looking to bring what you think, say and do (or in brand-speak, “what motivates you, what you communicate, and how you perform”) into harmony. Any brand that has a disconnect between those three elements is a brand that capable competition can destroy – even if the competition doesn’t have a strong brand.

Proving your brand true involves communicating your unique commitment or understanding of your industry or the change you represent in a way that cannot be easily undermined. A few examples of this that we can attest to include our work for an HR firm showing that it understands the core issue in human resources, a campaign for concrete that made people care about what roads are made of, and identity work for the US Department of Defense that enabled them to be perceived differently by our allies and enemies.

The result of those campaigns? The HR firm became one of the fastest growing firms in its industry and region; the concrete industry’s single-market test campaign earned over $57 million in new transportation project, and DARPA reclaimed its rightful place at the head of military technology.

Step Two: Gain Perspective
Understand how your motivation relates to the core motivation of your competitors and of your target audience.

Perspective doesn’t come easy to people passionate about their cause. You do what you do because you’re invested in it and believe in it, so putting that aside and seeing where you’re weak and where your competitors are strong isn’t comfortable and can makes you feel fragile. The key is to understand and address the weaknesses before a brand launches and harden your identity against competitive threats or alternative solutions your audience may consider.

The perspective you need is that of your target audience, competitors and a sense of the environment at large. While you can begin to define your core identity in a vacuum, in order to refine it you’ll have to see how what you think, say, and do relates to what your customers and competitors are saying and doing – and what that might indicate about their motivations.

A brand can become a powerful tool that helps people rediscover their own core motivations and can create a wedge between their past and future actions. Those actions can relate to which products are bought or whether we believe (for instance) that slavery or oppression is just. It can even become a part of how an individual, competitor or era defines itself. In our own era we’ve seen technology brands uncover truths about thinking differently and coffee stores that can enhance one’s perceived station in life.

But these brands and those movements behind the ending of oppression didn’t just have a spiffy logo and slogan. They had enormous requirements in terms of infrastructure to create a lasting identity with consistent performance. They needed execution.

Step Three: Deliver Consistently
Deliver messaging and infrastructure that uses your proven identity as a lever to change the behavior of your target audience and competitors.

Even with an apparently compelling brand identity, if the mechanism to keep all the parts of the brand (messaging, performance, intent) doesn’t run consistently then the brand falls apart. This is why BP’s brand is so reviled – because they chose to brand themselves as “beyond petroleum” when they were still 95% invested in oil, and for the discord evident in the company’s response to their environmental disaster and their supposed commitment to being green. Any perceived disconnect between intent, message, and performance is an opening for your competition.

Infrastructure can be comprised of anything from consistently materials in support of your cause, or the people, processes and relationships that enable you to get your message out through every channel quickly and effectively. For every situation the infrastructure is going to be different, though you may find it helpful to look at the top players in your industry to see what they’re doing to stay at the top. Your infrastructure must work at least as well as theirs – and in some cases your infrastructure might be called upon to tear theirs down.

An excellent example of this in practice is Newt Gingrich’s disbanding of both the congressional Republican Study Committee and its counterpart on the Democratic side as unnecessary after ensuring that non-profit entities had been established to provide the needed research for the Republicans. The Democratic Party’s lack of external infrastructure to develop and communicate the brand and platform has been seen by many inside and outside the Party as a major weakness, and has allowed Republicans to pick off candidates one by one rather than having to take on a unified movement.

And A Warning: It’s Not For Everyone
It’s for the greatest of challenges.

At the start of this post I mentioned three great leaders. While they all to a large extent had their goals realized, none of them lived to enjoy the world that this enabled the rest of us to experience. Creating a truly irresistible brand takes courage. You must take big risks to achieve the biggest rewards.

Apple didn’t become the most prosperous technology firm in history by following the path of others. It did it by staying true to its core, understanding the motivation (rather than opinions) of its audience and consistently delivering products and services that connect the two over time.

Brand irresistibility takes more than courage. It takes a worthy cause – and people who are willing to take risks to move the cause forward.  Looking at America today there are dozens of movements that could benefit from taking these steps, but few that are going to do it. The Occupy movement has such potential, but without a core identity (other than “we’re not going to take it anymore!”) and without an understanding of how they are perceived from the outside (as extremists and anarchists rather than those that have had their jobs and homes taken from them) there’s no chance for infrastructure and consistency to develop and move the cause forward.

If you have any ideas about what brands or causes are likely to be taking the three steps to irresistibility in 2012 let me know. I’d love to look into them or discuss them in a post.

All I Need To Know (About Branding) I Learned From Gandhi – Part 1

Posted by:
Tate Linden (who is, incidentally, not pictured below.)

Virtually everything I believe – inside and outside of branding- can be summed up in two quotes by Gandhi. Today I’ll focus on the first of the two:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Whether applying this to a person or to a brand (the latter of which, in my view, is basically a reflection of an organization’s leadership) the statement holds true. This state of happiness and harmony is a critical ingredient in the establishment an maintenance of a lasting identity.

The Pursuit of Happiness

It sounds corny, but happiness – as Gandhi defined it –  is to me the foundation upon which a successful and resilient brand is built. Having your thinking, saying, and doing in harmony means that your genuine motivation is effectively communicated and that you deliver the results that you promise. As long as it’s genuine, this transparent alignment can do something traditional ‘manufactured’ identities can’t; it can weather virtually any scandal and recover from market weakness faster than competitors. A happy brand is difficult to tear apart because everything it says and does is attached solidly to its true purpose.  Putting pressure on it just reveals more stability and strength.

But every unhappy brand I’ve found – the ones that fall apart under stress – have a problem with either the relationship between thinking, saying, and doing, or within at least one of the three individual components.

Indicators of Unhappiness

An unhappy identity is one of the most common things in the world. I’d argue that just about every identity is unhappy at some level. Don’t think so? Consider these brand-oriented insults and what they mean in terms of alignment:

“Those guys are sellouts” or “they have no soul” means that thinking and doing are out of alignment.

“They’re all talk” or “they’re inconsistent” is an indicator that saying and doing are out of alignment.

“They’re just telling you what you want to hear” or “they’re slick” shows thinking and saying are out of alignment.

These three indicators speak to an identity’s inability to hold up under stress. Without pressure these problems aren’t really an issue. It’s only when there’s a powerful alternative solution or some sort of crisis that alignment issues become visible. And visible alignment issues seem to be universally bad.

What’s the Result of Misalignment?

Misalignment of brand is very similar to misalignment of a military’s armored defenses. Any cracks or irregularities can be exploited. In a competitive market, or in situations where one entity is trying to convince another to do something, any misalignment makes the ability to produce a desired change much harder.

Misalignment is the beginning of failure. It’s the weakness to which you’ll be able to track back almost every lost opportunity you’ve had in the past or will have in the future. It’s that feeling we get when we know something isn’t right but can’t quite put it into words. Maybe Gandhi’s concept of happiness gives us what we were missing before.

But this concept of alignment really only seems to come into play once an opportunity exists. A big part of success is getting noticed – and all of the problems stemming from misalignment seem to assume that a relationship of some sort already exists. Misalignment only matters once the spotlight is shining on you, but if you’re not center stage the flaws don’t matter.

Supposing we’ve solved all of our alignment issues, though. We want that spotlight and fixing flaws doesn’t mean people will pay attention. We need something else.

So Where Does the Attention Come From?

That’s the topic of my next post, but *spoiler alert* it’s got a lot to do with the strengths or weaknesses of each element of Gandhi’s trinity of thinking, saying and doing. From there? We’ll go down the rabbit hole of intent and perception. Because Mr. G has a lot to say on that topic, too.

Until then… what do you think? Is it worth exploring more deeply? Do you have any examples where this theory of alignment is either proven or unproven in the real world?



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