By Rick Hendrie
Branding is personal. It doesn’t exist separate from the people who create it, but is their creature, designed for purchase by other human beings. What appears self evident belies the deeper point. In the same way that life force animates your physical body, life principles infuse energy into your brand. Make no mistake. Branding is an act of meta physics. We don’t do anything without reason and what we sell reflects our inner truth with mirror clarity. With that as a basis, then, reveal, clarify and embrace your principles as the starting point of your Brand.
What principles? Which ones are important? What defines a ‘principle’? Start with your own. What gets you out of bed to begin, anew, the quest for business success? What were your formative experiences that fuel your passion? Who are the influences that stand today as models? What are the failures that have taught you lessons beyond value? What successes have rewarded your faith? Who do you admire and why? What defines the characteristics of great business dealings? Remarkable guest experience?
Examples of brand successes driven by powerful company cultures abound. In every case, the culture is a reflection of individual histories and ideology crafted into a single whole by somebody. Brand problems can be traced back to instances where the culture was not unified, but became lax or was at war with itself.
It’s therefore incumbent upon those responsible for brand creation or health to recognize that their brand reflects the personal vision of the culture, with all the drama that might imply. Ask the hard questions. Is the work on ‘Company Mission’ unlocking real corporate passion? Does the leadership live the guiding values? Do the troops, your ‘actors’ responsible for delivering the story, believe you? Do you walk the talk?
The underlying truth is that a brand is exactly what the guest believes it to be. Science has proven that the consumer buying decision process is primarily emotional, regardless of how ‘thoughtful’ it may appear. We are creatures of feeling and the parts of the brain which control what we buy are firmly non-logical. It’s why the energy generated by a ‘principled’ brand is so effective.
It’s the place where marketers can demonstrate enlightened self interest while doing what they do best. Guide the organization in its branding journey by ensuring that it sees the strategic picture. Branding begins with principles. And the brand experience is shaped by every action of every associate. Take the lead and help determine the guiding values that inform and shape every decision which impacts those associate actions.
Imagine every one of those moments as “a Moment of Truth” which will decide if the ultimate brand experience is memorable. In the same way that the actual guest buying experience should be imagined in a ‘branded ’ narrative, imagine the ‘principled’ walk you walk throughout the entire business, in every encounter, in all processes with associate, guest, vendor or other stakeholder. Envision and elevate commonplace actions and activities into rituals that reflect your values. A simple hello will never again be seen as ‘simple’.
Operations moves to the fore by defining those principles in an operational context. Here a principle of “Commitment to Excellence” as an example, might be re-defined in a variety of ways as it affects guest service, food quality, retail amenities or décor and atmospherics - not as specific actions, but as contextual touchstones. Companies like Zingermans or Ritz Carlton do a superb job of breaking essential principles into ‘doable contexts’.
The point here is to understand that branding is forged in the crucible of the organization’s soul and made strong by the strength of the principles applied. The tangible product or service offered is a memento of the process, an important but still secondary by-product in brand development. In the universe of remarkable branding, Principles Rule.