Brand Matters: Clean Sweep
It’s fair to say we all have a place either in our homes or offices that we hope others won’t see. Whether it’s a crammed closet, junk drawer, three-car garage with no cars in it, musty attic boxes or sagging basement shelves, we all have some place that doesn’t pass Martha Stewart muster. We have just accumulated too much stuff. Many Americans feel over-extended, overstuffed and overspent. Well, if our homes or offices can accumulate too much stuff over time, so can our brands. Brands can suffer from a case of avoirdupois, a word describing a heaviness and a ponderousness—a burden.
Our brands indeed can be burdened by too much stuff. We pile on more and more business activities. At times, our various departments go off in conflicting directions, our channels get promotion-heavy, and our profit potential gets bogged down with “good” stuff but perhaps not the best. We know that focusing on doing good things is the enemy of doing what is truly the best. But we keep doing good.
So, what are we to do? How do we air out our brands and see what we’ve got in our brand attic, closets, junk drawers and garages that no longer works for us or, more importantly, for our customers?
Summer is the season all across America for rummage sales, garage sales, tag sales. Statistics show this activity is up for 2009. I suggest brands and the people who create and manage them schedule brand review and clean up days.
Yes, you prepare for these just like you would if you were having one at your home. Yes, you have to include the boss. (Proctor & Gamble Chairman of the Board of Directors and former CEO A.G. Lafley understands his main role to “be one of deciding what business they are in and what business they are not in.”) Yes, it is a lot of work hauling out all that junk and facing bad decisions; irrelevancy; and places where the brand overspent needlessly, just totally missed the mark or forgot to get customers’ opinions on crucial decisions. But ask anyone who has had a successful garage sale recently and one of the joys she describes is letting go of all the past mistakes and saying goodbye to all the things that keep you feeling, well, very avoirdupois!
Perhaps you’ll even uncover some sacred brand cows that get broken (positively) in the moving and reviewing process. Management expert Peter Drucker counsels, “It’s easier for companies to come up with new ideas than to let go of old ones.” Letting go is what a rummage sale is all about. All the physical and emotional energy around this activity will help your brand move from good to best.
Regain Your Focus
Brand rummage sales often happen with new leadership. New leaders see the brand junk a bit more clearly. They come on board ready to take action. When The Home Depot’s new CEO, Frank Blake, took the reins, he focused on returning the company to its roots and selling noncore businesses like its Expo division. Recently, in a press release this summer, Blake announced three areas of strategic focus: customer service, product authority, and productivity and efficiency driven by disciplined capital allocation. Rummage sales allow room for more of the best things.
Two of my clients, a women’s apparel company and a financial services firm, recently appointed new presidents. In both cases, these leaders wasted no time uncovering what was holding these companies back. By implementing a new brand fit chart, the women’s apparel company was able to let go of items that no longer represented the brand well. By eliminating products that no longer worked, it was able to showcase those that did with more provocative selling space.
The financial services firm held a collaborative interdepartmental strategic planning session and discovered each division was working too independently of one another. This method served the organization well for years. But in today’s customer-centric business arena, this company had to shed its silo approach and embrace a more unified, cross-departmental marketing approach.
But rummage sales also can work when existing leaders decide they just can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always done them. Another client of mine, a specialty children’s clothing company, realized that the two co-owners were not delegating, were not mentoring any successors and were not as in tune with their customers’ changing needs as they liked to be. So we had a rummage-sale-fierce conversation of sorts and are developing an action plan to tackle these issues one at a time.
Brand rummage sales are more than a way to shed some avoirdupois. They are also cathartic. They have the potential to free brands and their creators from what is holding them back, draining their energy, taking them off focus. These brand cleaning and cleansing days encourage us to change our ways, to make “stop doing” lists alongside all the “start doing” lists we have. They help us become more intentional editors, strategic questioners and energy collaborators. The benefits of the fierce conversations that occur around all of these topics can help brands leap forward into new vistas unencumbered.
Jim Collins, a highly acclaimed author perhaps best known for his book “Good to Great,” is a serious practitioner of intentional editing. According to a recent profile of Collins and his latest work in The New York Times, he is able to produce such meaningful books on management and leadership because he purposely focuses his time on just three main tasks. By ruthlessly editing out all the activities that don’t align with those three goals, he is able to marshal his energy for the very best.
So, roll up your sleeves, get a little dusty and dirty, and work hard lugging the old stuff out. Take time to reminisce and savor the once forgotten treasures. Toss all that is irrelevant. Let go of the past mistakes. Then stand back. Look at the clean space. Breathe. Smile. Make your customers happy that you paid attention. Hopefully, you’ve got less stuff.
Andrea Syverson is president of IER Partners, a strategic consulting company specializing in innovative brand and merchandising directions. She may be reached at email@example.com.