Season two wrap-up: Five themes for brand positioning
During this past season about brand positioning, I had a great time reconnecting with old peers like Miriam Stone, Tim Riches, and Erminio Putignano, as well as getting to talk to some other branding experts I’d previously only known through their writing and speaking engagements:
To all my guests: Thank you for joining me on the podcast and sharing your expertise.
On today’s episode—the last of season two—I share five themes I noticed as I looked back on all nine interviews. These are ideas I felt like I was hearing again and again throughout the season. They’re not necessarily the only themes or even the most important ones, but they stuck out to me. Each theme is supported by two or three clips from the interviews, but most came up in other conversations, too. The five themes are:
- Thinking of brand strategy in terms of questions to be answered [01:51]
- Prototype, prototype, prototype [04:20]
- Keep it simple [07:03]
- The importance of category [09:43]
- The flexibility of brand frameworks [15:05]
Toward the end of the episode [27:25], I play back-to-back clips with interviewees’ advice to younger or more junior people in the industry, or anyone looking to get into the industry or become a stronger strategist or branding professional.
Don’t forget to go back and listen or read transcripts from this season and last on HowBrandsAreBuilt.com. While you’re there, you can find more content on brand positioning as well as a list of books recommended by guests this season.
Thanks to all of you for listening to the show, and especially to everyone who subscribed, left a rating or review, signed up for the newsletter, or connected on social media. If you haven’t done those things, please do—I really appreciate the support, and it helps ensure, eventually, a season three of How Brands Are Built!
Below, you’ll find the full transcript of the episode (may contain typos and/or transcription errors).
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ROB: This past season, I had a great time reconnecting with old peers like Miriam Stone, Tim Riches, and Erminio Putignano, as well as getting to talk to some other branding experts I’d previously only known through their writing and speaking engagements: Allen Adamson, Gareth Kay, Adam Morgan, Laura Ries, Marty Neumeier, and David Aaker. I wanna say a big “thank you” to all of them for joining me on the podcast and sharing their expertise.
On today’s episode—the last of season two—I’ll be sharing five themes I noticed as I looked back on all nine interviews. These are ideas I felt like I was hearing again and again throughout the season—they’re not necessarily the only themes or even the most important ones, but they stuck out to me, and I wanted to share them.
But before I start, a little housekeeping:
- Like I said, this is the final episode of the season, but not the end of this podcast. I’ve started making plans for season three, which should come out sometime later this year.
- Between now and then, look out for some great content on the website, howbrandsarebuilt.com—please sign up for the newsletter and follow along on social media to get updates.
- Lastly, if you’ve just started listening, please subscribe, leave a rating and a review at Apple Podcasts or your platform of choice, and don’t forget to go back and check out some earlier episodes.
Ok, let’s get to those themes.
Theme one: Thinking of brand strategy in terms of questions to be answered
An effective strategy should help you answer some critical questions about your business or brand. That might seem obvious, but it’s a point that sometimes gets lost in discussions of brand frameworks and positioning statements. I think a lot of strategists, myself included, often fall into the trap of thinking about strategy in terms of these supposedly “necessary” components—things we’ve been taught to create, like brand pillars and personality traits. But the conversations I had this season really reminded me of the importance of taking a step back and asking ourselves why we’re creating these things…what’s the point, unless they’re helping us come up with useful answers to important questions about the brand?
In his latest book, Scramble, Marty Neumeier lists what he calls the “five Q’s (or questions) of strategy.” Here’s Marty talking about the first of the five questions, “What is our purpose?”:
MARTY: Purpose is really the existential part of the whole branding thing. It’s at the very top of the strategic pyramid. It’s, “Why are we in business beyond making money?” and this is a question that a lot of companies didn’t even dare ask themselves 20, 30 years because they were so afraid of alienating their shareholders so they always say, “Our purpose is to make our shareholders rich.”
ROB: The other four “Q’s of strategy” listed in Marty’s book are:
- Who do we serve?
- Where should we compete?
- How will we win?
- How will we grow?
And here’s Adam Morgan of Eat Big Fish suggested brands should have a framing belief system—a perspective about what matters in the world and in the category. “In a world of X, we believe in Y.” I asked him whether answering that question—What is it that we believe about the world or the category?—is something he covers in workshops with clients.
ADAM: Yes, absolutely. Actually, that might be the second question, funny enough, because very often, it’s easier to get to what you believe by working out what you reject first. A very good exercise is getting people to think about from a category point of view, from a brand point of view, what is it that we hate the most about this? Actually, by working out what you hate and reject, it’s amazing—the energy that comes out of that. People love hating. Then you can say, if that’s what we reject, what is it then we’re going to stand for what we believed in? That becomes a much easier question to answer.
ROB: Theme two: Prototype, prototype, prototype
Whether or not they used the term “prototype,” quite a few guests this season brought up this idea: to demonstrate or stress test a strategy by creating a few rough mockups or simple implementations. These prototypes can help ensure a strategy is actionable, ease decision-making between multiple strategic directions, and help sell in an abstract idea by making it more tangible.
Here’s Gareth Kay, of Chapter:
GARETH: We have a mantra here which is “show the thing.” It’s about trying to bake the thinking that we’re doing and the journey we’re going on not in words but actually in things that a real person in the world might see or be exposed. It’s not making out fully blown thing, but it’s prototyping what a brand might look, feel, behave like. Whoever is thinking about what might a poster for this brand look like or what might an experience for this brand feel like, if that’s kind of a new product, or whether that’s a web experience. I think it’s much more about trying to show the reality of the thing rather than having this kind of intermediation of the words on a chart.
ROB: Erminio Putignano, founding partner and managing director of PUSH, also mentioned validating a positioning platform by prototyping and progressively sharpening or fine-tuning a positioning platform. I asked him to clarify his process—whether, when he’s presenting strategy ideas, before one path has been selected, he also presents initial thoughts on implications to help the client visualize what each path could look like.
ERMINIO: Yes, certainly. Very important. Really, the positioning platform that we would work on would try to be very single-minded in terms of what is that core brand idea. But we’d also outline a series of proof points that touch on the many facets of the experience about that brand. But we also like to go a step further. Yes, helping the client, as you just said, visualize, and in particular visualize what this brand could be—this is the “so what?”—across what are the key expressions of that brand. Again, it could be the evolution of a vision and verbal identity. It could be the brand environment. It could be even implications on the culture of the organization. At that stage you may not crack it completely—you’re not offering the full solution. But you’re helping the client imagine, see the possibilities of what the brand could be once it is fully implemented.
ROB: Theme three: Keep it simple
This one won’t be a surprise to anyone in branding, and it may even earn an eye roll from some of you. But because it came up in multiple interviews, and because of the way it came up and the context within which it came up, I wanted to include it.
First, we’ll hear from Allen Adamson, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Metaforce. He wrote a whole book about keeping brands simple, titled, appropriately, BrandSimple. We’ve all seen complicated-looking brand frameworks with all the boxes and lines arranged in some sort of shape, like a pyramid or a house (we’ll talk about those more in theme five). They don’t always seem simple, so I asked Allen about how he recommends documenting what a brand stands for; whether he includes all those various components like brand personality, brand pillars, and so on. Here’s his answer:
ALLEN: You sort of need all that, but if you try to get all that into what you want to stand for, by the time you finish writing your brand platform, you’ll be out of business. I always like to think that the most important thing is to figure out what’s the point of you story? What’s the starting point? Get some focus. It could be about what you do, could be about how you do it, could be about your purpose, it could be about why you do something—your mission and your vision, it could be about who you are, your personality. But for sure, if you’re trying to make it about everything, only you will know what your brand stands for and you’ll never be able to get it out because great execution, great branding, requires real tight focus and simplicity. Yes, you need all that. But if you throw everything but the kitchen sink at the wall, you’re not going to have a powerful brand.
ROB: Miriam Stone, an independent strategist in the Bay Area and Strategy Director at Noise 13, talked specifically about writing a brand essence and the importance of keeping it short but powerful.
MIRIAM: I almost always would do that sort of essence line at the end. Because that is really the distillation of all distillations. At least for me, I need to know everything else going into it first, to know whether I’ve got it. I think of it almost like a brand poetry where there’s no words to spare. Every word needs to have meaning, often double meaning, but it also needs to sound good and be powerful. It’s really hard.
It’s the kind of thing that you have to write, and then rewrite, and the rewrite until it’s truly as simple as possible. I think you always have to ask yourself, “Are there extraneous words that can go? How can you whittle it down as narrow as possible?” The more words, the more distracting it is.
ROB: Theme four: The importance of category
“Create a category.” It’s a mantra I’ve heard since day one of my branding career. But it’s easier said than done and to be honest, I’ve never been entirely sure it’s useful advice. It seems to me more like a result than a strategy. Like the time someone told me their client’s brand strategy was “to be #1.” We look back on category creators like Red Bull and give them credit for their foresight—but attributing Red Bull’s success to their creation of the energy drink category feels like an oversimplification.
And you could certainly say Netflix created the DVD-by-mail category, but was that a brand strategy, or a business model? If you’re working on a brand strategy for your existing business, I’m just not sure how useful the Netflix case study is. But maybe I’m just not thinking big enough.
And then there’s the hair-splitting, wordplay approach to creating a category: Y’know, “It’s not fast food, it’s fast casual.” “We’re not an energy drink, we’re an energy shot.” Or even, “It’s not just another cigarette…it’s toasted.” Without a Netflix-like innovation, I worry striving to create a category can result in this kind of meaningless fluff that gives marketing a bad name.
But two guests mentioned this idea and made me question my point of view. First, we’ll hear from Laura Ries. Laura’s a bestselling author and President at Ries & Ries, the consulting firm she runs with her father, Al Ries. Al co-authored the brand strategy classic, Positioning. I talked to Laura about what positioning means, and she didn’t waste much time getting to the idea of category.
LAURA: Positioning has and always will be is about owning an idea in the mind. Strong brands own a position if you will. That position if you are creating a new category, it tends to be that category. So Red Bull owns the energy drink category because it is the leader and it was the first pioneer of that category. That’s really the strongest position you can own in the mind, is dominating a category that is growing and is important. Kodak dominated the film photography category and owned that position in the mind but that no longer is a powerful position. Not because Kodak did anything but because that category went away. That means that the category is incredibly important and that’s a critical part of positioning as we know it today.
ROB: And David Aaker, who some call “The Father of Modern Branding,” made the idea of what he calls “subcategory competition” one of just a handful of big ideas about branding in his recent book, Aaker on Branding.
DAVID: …the idea is that we need to move from brand competition to subcategory competition if you want to grow. If you look at category after category, you see spurts of growth. they’re always caused almost always caused by somebody that’s invented some kind of a must-have changes what people buy, created a new subcategory and then managed that subcategory to grow and so you have things like the Prius, and the minivan that Chrysler came out with. Both of which lasted 16 years with no competition, no competition. Chrysler made 12 million vehicles with no competition until finally, Honda and Toyota came out with a competitor. That’s the way to grow. My brand versus, is better than, your brand competition is not only not fun but it almost never results in real growth. So that makes a change in business strategy. You have to put a little bigger bet and big innovations instead of marginal innovations and we have to recognize opportunities when they emerge because they don’t emerge every day.
ROB: Theme five: The flexibility of brand frameworks
This last theme involves one of the biggest questions I had coming into this season. I’ve worked at or with probably over a dozen brand consultancies, including the biggest in the world and some of the smallest. All of them use some brand framework or model—a so-called “brand on a page”—the pyramids and houses I mentioned earlier, with words in boxes representing components every brand should supposedly have, like brand pillars and personality. I’ve had conversations—debates, you might even call them—with very smart strategists about things like how many pillars are allowable, what parts of speech belong in a brand essence, and whether brand personality traits should be one or two words each. I’ve had clients ask me these questions, as if the success of their brand hangs on whether the heading on that third brand pillar starts with at adverb, like the other two do. Look, I’m a big believer in the power of words, but at some point, you gotta ask yourself…are we getting a little carried away here?
So I asked every interviewee how they think about brand platforms and what, if any, framework they use when creating one. I also did a little research on my own, reading up on some of the more academic approaches to this question.
At one extreme, I’ve seen models that seem to allow for ultimate flexibility—just write down the most important things about the brand, in no particular order. Maybe try to prioritize them and arrange them top to bottom, or with the most important idea in the middle and less important ideas in concentric circles moving out from the center.
On the other hand, I’ve worked with extremely rigid frameworks: four pillars, four personality traits, with a one-to-one mapping between them, each pair with its own set of proof points.
And given these two extremes, it was no surprise when my guests seemed to have varying opinions on this topic. Let’s start with Gareth Kay, cofounder of Chapter in San Francisco, who argues in favor of more flexibility and less wordsmithing:
GARETH: We got a couple of problems, one is language and words by themselves are a very lossy form of compression. We’re trying to pack very complex ideas often quite intangible, soft ideas, into words and the danger becomes we don’t really pick very good words that really count of our assessment because they’re just hard to find. Then secondly, those words get misconstrued in terms of what their meaning are, depending on who you are, the context you see those words in, etc. It becomes an issue, I think, we’re trying to use words as a medium for getting across the sensibility of a brand.
Secondly, I just think all the tools we built are designed to be, I would argue, less about distillation and more about reduction. I’m a big believer that simplicity is really, really important and really, really powerful. But that should be distillation of thinking, simplicity, rather than maybe slightly brutal reduction where we’re chopping off arms and limbs to get to something, which I think is far too often the case in terms of those models.
On top of that, I would just say that those are models that were basically built consensus inside client organizations that built a frankly stand alone on a one page, on a chart, so you get the temples and the brand pyramids, and the brand keys. All of which have got some value and sometimes can say they are meaningless. But I think we put way too much weight on what these words mean. You end up having far too many meetings.
My friend Russell Davies used to complain about where you will be discussing whether a brand is funny, whether it’s humorous, and literally spending four months and dollars in research to try and disentangle this. You kind of go, “Is that really the best use of our time, of our money, of our resources?
ROB: But Chapter does use a model of sorts, in which they’ll identify a client’s sort of core Belief, its Purpose, and multiple Pursuits falling out of that Purpose. I’ll let you go back to that episode if you want to hear Gareth explain it in more detail and give an example.
Next up, I’ll play some dialogue between me and Tim Riches, Group Strategy Director at Principals in Melbourne. Tim and I talked about an article he recently wrote in which he contends the role of a branding agency is to build a bridge—on behalf of their clients—“between the promise of the brand and the delivery of that promise.” And to do that, he says, we need to be able to convey the intangible ideas for which the brand stands in a way that someone—experience designers, for example—can make sense of in order to create the right tangible manifestations of those ideas. Here’s a little of my conversation with Tim:
TIM: If there’s no instructions then you can’t build a bridge–that’d be my point. Because the bridge is built on that intellectual connectivity. I don’t know why this is and I don’t pretend that this is in any way scientific, but from my experience, we tend to naturally land on four pillars. I suppose over the years, come back to some of those simple tests like, “What are we famous for?” that’s in my mind the idea of the brand pillar. I suppose sometimes that word attribute is used.
TIM: I love the word pillar. The reason I like the word pillar is the word pillar evokes the fact that they play a supporting role, that they lead up to something. This is the problem with the random parking lots kind of scenario. Nothing ladders up to anything else. If you think you want to own a big idea in people’s minds, how the hell do you connect the complexity of my values, my brand personality traits, and my attributable pillars to bring up that big idea? How do you define what is a proof point?
TIM: How do you give a ton of coherence? How do you create principles that people can use to simply ask themselves, “If I’m doing some innovation work, how should I think about how different innovation ideas further my brand? Or if I’m doing things like, copyrighting or checking things for tonal correctness and that sort of thing, what simple check boxes can I equip the increasingly large population of content creators to work with, to deliver stuff that has a voice and has a point of view and has a tone or style, a personality that is consistent with the business strategy?”
I don’t see how you can create a cohesive story unless there is some relationship. I know typically the way we tend to do it or the way I’ve always done it I guess is to try and create almost a vertical alignment between things.
TIM: At least trying to do that helps you show where you have disjoints and incongruencies within the thinking.
ROB: A vertical alignment, meaning, for example, that you do have say, four pillars that you would then also have four brand personality traits and there would be a one to one mapping between them. It sounds like you’re saying you’re doing that less because you think it’s a rule or something like that that people should follow in order to be doing brand strategy properly, and more because it’s a useful test as to whether you’re thinking makes sense as to whether there’s any coherence or structure to your thinking.
TIM: Correct. If you have company values and company purpose that when you feed the mean—if it’s four or five company values, if you try and align them up with four pillars, for example, that you’re trying to create to this brand—if there’s no relationship, you’re in deep shit, right? Surely, you are. If you’re not trying to engage your organization around its values and hold themselves and each other accountable to those values, then why do you have the values?
ROB: Sure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need that relationship to be one-to-one. It could be that one of those values really supports two of the pillars and so on.
TIM: Correct. You typically end up with a little bit of a patch work of these things. But by trying to avoid them, you quickly and clearly identify where you might have a value is actually at odds, therefore […] with one of your brand pillars.
ROB: I see.
TIM: I always call it the gold medal. If you can get one-on-one relationship across everything, I think it does hugely help to deliver some simplicity and some coherence overall. It happens in my experience about one time out of 10. Do you actually get there? But by trying, you create a framework for a great healthy discussion with your client about what fits and what doesn’t fit, what are we doing, where are we pulling in opposite directions, and where are we well-aligned?
ROB: Lastly, here’s David Aaker again. One of David’s claims to fame is his brand vision model, which many people refer to as the Aaker Model. Look up an image of it and at first, you’ll think it’s another one of those complicated, prescriptive models with lots of boxes that have to be filled in with exactly the right kinds of ideas. In fact, it’s on the flexible end of the spectrum I described earlier. Here’s David describing it and explaining why he created it in the first place:
DAVID: I had three or four premises that I begin with. I was just so convinced that the agency model or an event was wrong and that was you develop a three-word phrase, a single thought, a single concept and then you develop a campaign around it. I thought brands—or certainly B2B brands, but in any brand—has got multiple dimensions. It’s not just a three-word phrase. So that was a fundamental idea of mine. You have to allow a brand to stand for more than one thing, maybe six or 12 things.
The second thing I really dislike was the fill-in-the-box model. I’ve been an advisor for one of the major global agencies and they had this fill in the box model, it just drove me crazy. They would have eight boxes and you had to fill each one. Of course, it was really designed around B2C things that was most of their clients and if you were a B2B business, there was no box organizational values. You didn’t have it and there was a box of brand personality.
So even though that wasn’t relevant to your brand it had no place in the brand vision, you had to fill in the box, it was a borderline tragic. Anyway, those really were the two things. In my first version of the brand identity model, I didn’t even have a brand essence because I was so attuned to the fact I didn’t want a three-word phrase to appear anywhere. I later added a brand essence because it turns out for a large percentage of the cases, that’s helpful. It’s not always helpful but in large percentage of the cases, it is. So I added that.
The idea is you decide, you sit down and say, what I want my brand to stand for in customer’s minds. Then you make a list and then you consolidate that list. But you don’t have any limit. It can be three, it can be six, it can be nine, it can be 12 and so on. After you’re done, you prioritize those. you pick out three, four, or five that are the most important and then at the core and then you pick out the rest are extended identity which plays a really useful role because they provide extra texture and guidance for something that’s not front and center.
ROB: In his books, David lists ideas for what those core and extended elements of a brand could be, but he’s quick to point out those are just suggestions…a way to ensure you’ve considered every possibility, rather than a prescription for the right way to build a brand strategy.
So, did Gareth, Tim, and David present alternative views of the “right” way to build a brand platform? Or is there a way to reconcile their points of view…Tim wasn’t arguing for rigidity so much as coherence, which doesn’t necessarily preclude the kind of flexibility Gareth and David were advocating.
To be honest, I’m still thinking through what I heard, whether there’s a debate here, and, if so, which side of it I’d come down on. I’m generally against anything too prescriptive or dogmatic, but I also agree with Tim’s point about ensuring some inherent logic in the work. I’ll keep thinking about it—and if you’re interested, I’m sure I’ll write something about it soon. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
That’s it for the five themes, but I’ve got one more treat for you. If you’ve been listening along all season, you’ve heard me ask many of my guests what advice they’d give to younger or more junior people in the industry, or anyone looking to get into the industry or become a stronger strategist or branding professional.
What you’re about to hear is a series of back-to-back clips from Laura Ries, Erminio Putignano, Gareth Kay, Adam Morgan, David Aaker, Tim Riches, Marty Neumeier, and Allen Adamson.
- LAURA: First and foremost, get out there. Meet a lot of different types of people, work with a lot of different types of companies, get as much experience as you can working with different companies, in different cities, and different people in different countries. I think there’s a lot you can absorb by just seeing how things work in different places. I think really what a consultant does is they work off their experience.
- ERMINIO: If you as a young practitioner have the chance to identify an agency, an environment, a workplace that can be a good school for you where you can receive good mentorship, be guided especially in the early years of your career, stick to it. Go there, and try to learn as much as you can, like a sponge. This is very important. I’m saying this because one of the other trends that I’ve seen over the last years is that young people, and fair enough, they are right, they want soon to go out and set up their own agency, their own practice, and conquer the world. All this entrepreneurial spirit is absolutely very valuable and to appreciate. What happens is that I find people that have enormous potential, that have almost gone solo a little bit too early, and after a few years they’ve realized that they’ve not really defined a particular approach, a particular methodology. They don’t have a particular point of view that has been nurtured and tested to give them confidence to go to the next level. My recommendation is this: Yes, try new things, set up your company, do all this different stuff, but also be able to acknowledge the importance of joining an environment and a team of people that can be a little bit like a school in your early stages of your career.
- GARETH: The pat answer is do everything you can to be curious about the world you live in. Stop reading advertising books, advertising blogs, marketing books, marketing blogs, etc., etc., and take time to observe the world around you. Get off your computer, get off your phone, walk around, listen to people’s conversations, try and find interesting stuff that’s going on in culture and think about what you can learn from them. Build that bank of just rich stuff in the world to learn. I think that’s one really important thing I would ask people to do. Just fill your mind with just really interesting random stuff. I think the second thing is maximize your chance of interesting collisions being formed and building an interesting take on the type of work you do. That’s really about being less obsessed about the companies you work for and the brands you work on, and really spotting really interesting generous people to work with who have different takes of what strategy is and can be. There’s a great adage that Jeremy Bullmore from WPP, about how brands are built like birds, build their nest from the scraps and straws they chance upon. I think the same is true of how you build up your planning or strategy style.
- ADAM: I think you can have an angle. I’ve got a friend in the States who’s a writer and has been a journalist and writes speeches, called Paul Pendergast. He has a model he calls scoop, angle, voice. Essentially it says , if you’re writing a story, there are three things you can have. First is you can have a scoop. You can notice something happening that nobody’s reported on before but very few people can have a scoop. Very few people get a scoop ever in their lives as marketers, or brands, or journalists. The second thing you can have is an angle. You can have a perspective on that story that nobody’s had before. You can have a view about why it happened or what should happen as a result—that kind of thing. Most great journalism is about people taking a very particular restrictive angle. The third is you can have a voice. You can have that depth, the robustness, with the way you discuss it that nobody’s ever had. I am very struck by in the consultancy business how few people have an angle. I’m very struck by, in the consultancy business, how few people have an angle. I’m struck by how in the agency business, have few advertising agencies who spend all their time advising clients about brand positioning, how few of them have an angle, they don’t. They talk about ideas, “We believe in great ideas.” Well, everybody believes in great ideas, what’s your angle? I think have an angle and stick to it. Then, do the research around it that gives you confidence and authority and kind of mandate to pursue it. It’s such a simple and obvious idea. It’s startling how little happens.
- DAVID: Well, I think that companies today and not only client companies but consulting companies are just absolutely terrified about becoming relevant in the digital age. One of the advantages you have is some of the kids coming out of college or graduate school is that you’re young and you understand social media. So it wouldn’t hurt to go in as a social media specialist or as an analytical specialist if you happen to be good at statistics and so forth to be a data analyst. I mean, they’re just desperate for people that can do analytical work or even if they can interact with people that do analytical work even if they understand it. I think that those are two ways to open the door.
- TIM: being focused on the problem that you’re solving or what is the most important problem to solve or what does value look like for the clients, is such a critical thing to bear in mind. As a strategy practitioner, I find this even more the case in the areas like human centered design, practitioners get fucking obsessed with methodology. And you get these people that become methodology evangelists, I don’t get that. I think it’s quite easy for people’s earlier in their career, because methodology is easily learned and its codified and you can go learn it from IDEO or somewhere like that, right? And they’re not in the conversation. They’re not in that high-up, more senior conversation. The senior conversations around why are we doing this and what does good look like, which people may have with clients. This version of that way I think needs to be embraced by younger people, particularly by more junior people, I should say. Particularly, in very amorphous areas like brand, it’s super important that you have that.
- MARTY: I met one of the early art directors of Graphis and we had a conversation. He says, “Look, I’m going to give you some advice.” I didn’t ask for it; he just had to give it to me. I said, “Okay, what is it?” and he goes, “Well, I first have to ask you.” He’s a Swiss guy. He says, “I first have to ask you: Is your desk against the wall or is it out in the open?” I said, “Well, it’s out in the open.” He goes, “Well, that’s good.” I said, “Okay?” He says, “Well, here’s what you do. Here’s my advice: When you’re finished with your design, walk around to the other side of your desk.” I said, “And?” He goes, “No, that’s it,” and a big smile crept across my face because I realize what he was trying to tell me. It was a metaphor. He says, “Look at your work from the other side,” from the customer’s point of view, and that stuck with me. That eventually led to The Brand Gap because I realized it’s not what you say it is; it’s what they say it is. Brand belongs to customers. They decide what the brand is. It’s your reputation and they decide what it is. You can affect that reputation by what you do, how you behave and what materials you share with them, what the products do and all that kind of stuff but, ultimately, they decide. You have to start with that and work backwards.
- ALLEN: I always tell people, if they’re not thinking about what they do when they’re at the gym or running in the park, then do what you’re thinking about when you’re running at the park or at the gym. Don’t look at your job as something, “Oh, I’ve got to go to the office. It’s like 400 emails. By 4:30 PM I’ll be able to get out.” When I met founders of successful companies throughout my career, my father-in-law was in the shopping mall business. I say to him, “What’s so exciting about that?” He would take me on Saturdays and we would walk the mall. I had a tour of the mall. “Why was the food court here? Why was the sneakers store next to a socks store?” He was passionate about malls. He was there on a Saturday and Sunday and loving it. Whatever you choose to do, do something you love doing because you’ll do it better over time than if you’re there just to make a buck.
That’s the end of season two. For more, you can go back and listen or read transcripts from this season and last on HowBrandsAreBuilt.com. While you’re there, you can find more content on brand positioning as well as a list of books recommended by guests this season.
Thanks to all of you for listening to the show, and especially to everyone who subscribed, left a rating or review, signed up for the newsletter, or connected on social media. If you haven’t done those things, please do—I really appreciate the support, and it helps ensure, eventually, a season three of How Brands Are Built.