“You don’t always need a plan, Bro. Sometimes you just need [guts]. Harden the [hell] up.”
There are 3 key ways you can sabotage your brand’s leadership. And they all seem like the right thing to do. Here’s why they’re not. We want to build a great brand, but we also want everyone to like us and be happy. Even though we know what’s right, we spend time trying to verify that, if we make everyone mad, even if they’re not our customers, that we can’t be blamed. So we research more, we look at the competition and the customers too much and at the wrong times. We end up with analysis paralysis, which pushes back decision making, taking away any first-mover advantage, and takes the edge from our brand language. We just get scared.
Luckily, this has happened before and probably confronts any business that has any humility and self-awareness at all. What I’m saying is that it can show a healthy humility when you slow down and analyze your actions. But when it comes to questioning actions that are clearly in line with your brand and values, you need to suppress this humility. Let’s talk about why.
Brand Thinking is Top-Down, not Bottom-Up
Top-down thinking works from your brand, and then down. Bottom-up thinking is the yes-man, the panderer, the sellout. Here’s how you keep it real.
At least not until you have a clear research question derived from your leadership stance. And let’s remember that a leadership stance does not need research. You started the business to solve a problem and to do it with your internal values. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked by research that just pushes back your decisions…at least until you’ve created a “working hypothesis” that gives you a direction. In other words, always have an “Okay, we’re gonna do this, but we have a few unanswered questions about how.” And now your research has purpose.
Thinking about your competition can be discouraging and paralyzing, especially if you think you should be good at the same things. But great brands learn how to first know what they’re about, getting familiar with their own strengths. Only then do you acknowledge the competition’s strengths, because you’re more emotionally stable. There, I said it. We get emotionally unstable when we’re focusing on the competition and what’s outside of us before we get convinced of our value. And this causes us to abandon our values and our purpose and become yet another commodity. Don’t do it.
Ignore Your Customer
Because your customer has no imagination for what you should be doing. It’s like what Henry Ford said, “If you ask customers what they want, they’ll say they want a faster horse.” The point is that the customer doesn’t know the kind of work you’re able and willing to perform, so they tell you only what they can imagine. The proper way to engage customers is with this attitude: “Given our brand, values and how those are expressed in our offering, how do we best apply that to our customers?” This means you understand your brand first, and only then do you determine how your customers might help you help them, and then choose the proper research method.
Brand Leadership is Top-Down
Brand leadership is a very top-down affair. And this can seem arrogant and closed-off. But that’s like saying that your best friend is arrogant because he’s not totally changing who he is to be what you need. In fact, in order to be your best friend, he has to bring traits, attributes and beliefs that are different from yours. This makes him interesting and someone you can admire and whose company you enjoy. It gives him a place of leadership in your life. And this is why decisions should always come from who you are, regardless of who likes it, before you go out and try to find out how to apply your brand leadership to the public.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, and you want to learn more about standing up a brand in your own organization using the brand hacking method, which is keeping it simple and iterating quickly, then let’s talk.
Bio: I’m Chris Stadler, and I’ve been watching, working, studying and consulting for brands since 2004. I will show you how to right-size your promises so that they’re promises you can keep. Because it’s not the expensive branding agencies that make great brands; they’re just the decorators. It’s your leadership and integrity that make it all work. But it takes process.