Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Leader’s Guide to Creating an Enduring Brand

Guest post by Lindsay Pedersen:

Show me a valuable business, and I’ll show you a leader who has had to make hard choices. They’ve had to look at 100 good ideas and take 99 of them off the table in favor of the excellent one.

That means they’ve also become proficient in prioritizing. Ruthless prioritization serves you—the CEO, the general manager, the team owner, the person on the hook for the P&L of your business. It buoys you from paralyzing overwhelm to empowerment.

Then you are truly leading your team, and your employees return in kind, with their own understanding, demonstration, and embodiment of the business.
Easy to grok. But how do you do this?

Everything you decide to do in and for your business—all those hard choices and prioritizing—either reinforces or erodes your brand. So you need to pay attention to it. Brand should be the North Star to guide you. Your brand—the thing you want to stand for in the mind of your customer—is the best way to filter your decision-making. From day-to-day decisions (Should I attend this conference? Should I reevaluate this idea?) to monumental ones (Should I partner with this company? Should I quadruple my spending on this promising investment?), brand shines so brightly that it makes visible the right decision without you needing to spend precious time and cognitive energy weighing choices.

Because brand is the lynchpin for a business with pricing power, loyalty, employee meaning, and enduring value creation, you making decisions that reinforce your brand meaning enables your business not only to survive but to thrive.

You still might not think brand is your area of expertise. In the past, you may have felt tempted to delegate brand to marketing or even to an outside agency. But to do so is to miss brand’s power. It’s to mistake brand for a single-pronged marketing angle, when it is really the North Star of your business. If you are delegating the brand strategy, then I’d suggest that it is not a brand strategy. It might be a neat marketing campaign, but if it doesn’t force hard choices across departments and over time, it’s not a brand strategy.

And here’s the thing: You, the leader, must be the one to choose the focus of the business. You, the leader, need to be the one to select a single brand promise for your customers.

In shining that light on one thing, you inherently cast all other things in shadow. You deselect bad but also good ideas so that there can be single-minded focus on one excellent idea. That focus is the very thing that makes brand strategy powerful.

For a brand to create value for a business, customers, and employees, it needs to be genuine and bracingly clear. That is the only way it will empower the leader and employees to make tough choices that amplify the brand. Value-creating brands are ones that force tough choices.

The truth is, it can be difficult, sometimes scary, to choose a focus, to make tough choices to choose a brand North Star. It takes courage and conviction to develop and follow one. Yet you cannot delegate courage and conviction.

Think of a brand that you love. What are the tough choices that this business makes to inspire that love? In order to offer what you appreciate from them, what can they not offer? 
In order to appeal to you, who might they not resonate with, and therefore not have a relationship with? Now, think how much leadership courage and conviction it takes to make those tough choices. How does a leader cultivate that courage and conviction? By creating a brand with intention, infusing the brand throughout the business, and modeling the importance of the brand.

When I hear a leader talking about the importance of brand, I am also watching to see whether this leader really means it. Has this person said no to something attractive in service of the brand? Behind closed doors, does the leader look to the brand as a guide in the same way the leader does publicly?

When employees see you owning brand, using brand to filter and to make trade-offs, demonstrating that you feel it in your bones, the employees will too. Employees need to see you believing in and modeling the brand when it’s easy but especially when it is hard—or there is zero percent chance that the employees will stick their necks out to follow that guiding star.

It matters to employees if you’re giving them air cover or not. Because that’s a leader’s ultimate job, to do that hard, strategic heavy-lifting—the heaviest lifting one might ever do. It takes moxie to create a brand strategy. The reward is pricing power, loyalty, and enduring pride among employees. The reward is a brand—and a business—that creates value and endures.

Lindsay Pedersen is the author of Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She is a brand strategist and leadership coach who views brand as a blend of science, intuition, behavioral economics, and ancient storytelling. She developed the Ironclad Method™ while building brands with companies such as Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, IMDb, and burgeoning startups. Lindsay lives in Seattle with her husband and two children. Keep in touch with Lindsay through her website: www.ironcladbrandstrategy.com

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