Challenging something we do quite naturally and easily is indeed the perfect challenge. We all get into ruts—some even good and well-intentioned! Challenging ourselves to reflect, relook and rethink why we do what we do (or don't do) can be just the process we need to achieve something different, something unexpected, and quite possibly, even something more.
'Tis the season for valentines. What makes me smile in my professional life is finding companies that foster an intentional and caring attitude towards their employees all year long. Of course, I am taking for granted that these brands already show an intentional love for their customers all year long. That's certainly how they have become "Lovemarks" (to borrow Keven Roberts' term for beloved brands) in their industries: building trust, continually wooing and wowing new and existing customers and exceeding expectations.
You know hospitality when you feel it, or as officially defined by dictionary.com it's "the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way." Hospitality is actually more valuable than ever in our rushed, device-first and attention-deficit overloaded world. And yet, I find it missing in many brand experiences.
Back in November, I shared with you two essential verbs to enhance your brand strategy: amaze and respect. Now I have three more verbs to share with you for your 2015 brand plans:
No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions.
As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.
Perhaps like me, you love summer and all it entails: longer days, outdoor play, flip-flop casualness, patio grilling, hummingbirds, wildflowers and a beachy attitude (even here in the midst of the Rocky Mountains). As a greeting card from artist Renee Reese playfully reminded me, the summer season is nearing its end. Rather than bemoan its passing, why not spend some time with your brand leaders reflecting on these questions.
"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language," wrote Henry James. I couldn't agree more. I just love summer. Summer is the time for a new speed. For sauntering and slowing down. For purposefully stretching those extra long afternoons into all sorts of pleasurable outdoor activities like gardening or grilling or just unscheduled hammock time. For three- or four-day long weekends spent with family and friends or just catching up with yourself. For easy everything.
A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention. In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders.
I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of "what ifs." I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)
What's your brand verb? Yes, you read that right ... verb. Each and every day great brands are energized by verbs. Google searches. Nike inspires. Disney entertains. J.Jill uncomplicates. Apple creates. IKEA improves. LinkedIn networks. Chipotle nourishes. These verbs harness and direct all the brand activities for these organizations both internally and externally. Jim Collins writes that "Greatness is not a product of circumstance. Greatness is a function of conscious choice and discipline." Great brands purposefully and powerfully live by their brand verbs. Their greatness lies in this deliberate verb action-orientation day in and day out.
In his new book, "YOUTILITY: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype," Jay Baer states it simply: The only way to win customers is to make your brand "truly, inherently useful." He cautions brands not to get focused on the wrong things—like trying to be amazing over actually being helpful. Being helpful is harder. I couldn't agree more. Perhaps it's a good time to "thinkabout" this important facet of your brand. Can you list 10 ways your brand provides real value to your customers? Take it further: Can you list 10 ways your brand helps your customers in ways that are significantly different than your closest competitors? Now, take it even further and get to the very heart of brand usefulness: How do you really know what matters to your customers these days?
Happy January—the month of all sorts of resolution making! It's hard to resist the desire to start anew with a clean slate each year. Something in us likes that blank blackboard/screen feel and the "do-overness" ability that comes with a turn or click of the calendar. But whether or not the act of resolution making resonates with you, I do advocate the practice of taking a pause for a New Year ThinkAbout with your brand leaders to reflect together on two powerful verbs. Ask yourselves these questions:
I know you are a YES person. A DIY person. A BRING IT person. A CAN DO person ... excellent at all you do—conscientious, responsible, dependable, overachieving. No doubt, it's how you got where you are. All wonderful qualities. So this Christmas, perhaps the last thing you need or want is something from "The 12 Days of Christmas." What you just might need this month is 12 days and ways to say NO.
Sometimes we forget that great brands start inside. Before companies can show and tell the outside world about their awesome products and services, they must pay important and mindful attention to the team members who create and are responsible for engineering those amazing brand experiences. Internal branding can sometimes be overlooked or lower on a corporation's list of active priorities than it should be.
I was already familiar with the radically different publishing company called Twelve, and had used them as a model in some of my client work. One of the publisher's key points of differentiation is that it purposefully publishes no more than 12 books a year. This is a contrarian approach, as most of the publishing world simply does not work that way. With over 1 million-plus books published just last year (according to Bowker's figures), most publishers release a plethora of titles.
While Shakespeare said it first, it is easily the lived mantra at omnichannel retailer Boston Proper: "Boldness be my friend." I recently shared a glass of celebratory bubbly with two smart leaders at Boston Proper—Sheryl Clark, president, and Margaret Moraskie, senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce—after being wowed by my first visit to their new boutique in Boca Raton, Florida.
Sometimes, when challenging my clients to think innovatively, I pull out Scrabble and take out two powerful letters, the E and the R. I then ask brand leaders to brainstorm words using those two letters as prefixes and suffixes. We make lists like these: REfresh, REinvent, REinvigorate, REpurpose, REmind, REmodel, REengergize and others such as strongER, easiER, quickER, slowER, kindER. Then we spend our time using those words as prompts and lenses to examine our existing marketing strategies and see how we can go one better: One better than where we are now, one better than the competitive offering, one better than our customer expects. It's our jumping off point for deeper strategic thinking, for pushing the envelope, for getting us out of our comfort zones.