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February 01, 2008

The Makings of a Strong Brand

Brand-building is an exercise we businesspeople get excited about. I’m very much devoted to helping businesses build their brand. But in doing so, I focus less on implementing "Branding Strategies" for businesses and instead, focus more on amplifying Being Strategies of businesses.

I truly believe that you cannot create a brand before you create a business—the process is simultaneous. As you build your business, you create your brand. Your brand never makes your business possible. It’s your business that makes your brand possible.

When I talk with businesses wanting to improve their branding, I ask them three questions:

a | How do you make a profit?
b | How do you make employees happy?
c | How do you make customers happy?

I ask these questions because a funny thing happens when a company (a) makes money, (b) makes employees happy, and (c) makes customers happy … it makes a strong brand. Being Strategies for a company find avenues to making a profit, enchanting employees, and pleasing customers. The result being, a strong brand.

Is it simple? Yeah, I think so.

Name a company that (a) fails to make money, (b) fails to make employees happy, and (c) fails to make customers happy … yet, is recognized as an endearing and enduring brand.

Comments are open, so go ahead and debunk this assertion.


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I completely agree with this approach. A brand is only telling a story about what you do, so you better be doing something special if you want a strong brand.

And yet.

Even some dead brands are endearing and enduring. Pan Am, for example. Once you've built up some equity, it's like fuel in the tank that can take you through some rough times. Another example is Sony, still one of the world's strongest brands even though they havem't done much for us lately.
johnmoore | Martin, dead brands can indeed be endearing and enduring but they are no longer profitable. Hence, them being dead.

An enduring brand that fails your tests? How about most US airlines? They are losing money, abuse their customers, and fight with their employees. Granted, they are not endearing brands, but they endure.
johnmoore | Yep, brands can endure without being endearing. The key here is being all three in order to become endearing AND enduring.

I was about to say "any American auto maker", let's say, Ford. Cars are complicated because of the layered approach to branding, but the Camaro, or Mustang, for example, are still well-respected and popular brands even though the parent company, and the product itself, have become a shadow of their former selves.

Also, Radio Shack has been pissing customers and employees off for years. I'm not sure if they are profitable, but the brand is much stronger than the company overall.
johnmoore | Radio Shack has strong brand name recognition but lacks brand appreciation from customers and employees. And, their profitability is suspect.

Actually you MUST develop your brand identity prior to building any business otherwise your brand image will be dictated to you.

You need to know who you are and how you're different before anything else happens.

But most of our clients come to us with serious brand identity/brand image gaps so I guess I can't complain!
johnmoore | Not surprisingly Scott, we see things different.

Well I can tell you a brand that is not successful today and in fact the thing that made the company is Netscape. I still have powerful memories of the first time I used the product. I miss the Captain's wheel splash screen and the spacey "N". Even though what was technically Netscape in use and code has been taken over and is now Firefox, the name Netscape still has a powerful brand association with a lot of people. I have to tell a long story about about the history of Firefox to get people to switch to it from Netscape. I really wish The Mozilla Foundation would buy back the Netscape name and give us "Netscape Firefox" or something like that and bring back the old familiar branding images.

Your theory is spot-on, but it seems a bit cart-before-the-horse. It is essential that companies strive to do all of that. Some will accomplish all three serendipitously, while others will have to carve their brand meticulously. I smile halfheartedly at the former; I laud the latter.

Should one wait for their "unbranded brand" to make money and people happy? It's a trick question, because, in making these things happen, they have become a brand. The reality of branding is this: we are not in charge—THEY (consumers) are in charge. Merely focusing on happy customers will get you very, very little buzz (and a death-crawl pace for your brand's growth).

You are absolutely right on with your assessment of what is important to a strong brand. What must be written just before that, in size 72, bold font, is this:

Unless you take charge of your brand message, they (consumers) will (if you're lucky), or perhaps they won't (if you are unlucky), and then you will be nowhere further than when you first started.
johnmoore | See DUST!N's comment below. He replies better than I ever could.

B+C=a profitable business most of the time.
johnmoore | True Dave. Very true. But the key phrase is ... "most of the time."

I don't think this is cart BEFORE the horse. It's horse IN the cart (ala Ford putting the horsepower in the horseless carriage).

The brand and the business aren't one before the other. They're part of the same machinery.

Scott & 003, I think we have to recognize that consumers DO HAVE control of the brand message. All we do is hand them the megaphone.

Great thoughts johnmoore! Seems like common sense AFTER you read it.
johnmoore | Thanks DUST!N. And thanks for having my back.

My question is one of focus. Is it not ill-advised to focus on those three items above and hope for success? How does that make you compellingly different? (Or are you asserting that the most brilliant minds of our time are wrong: Ries, Trout, Neumeier, and even Kim/Mauborgne)?

Like you, the wonderful Church of the Customer blog believes that quality service and happy customers are the keys to success. Read the post here.

John Moore, you are a brilliant man. I do, on many levels, agree with you on this! But i think that what you are describing are points of PARITY, not points of differentiation.

Keep the great posts coming!

003 ... I wholeheartedly believe in Positioning, Focus, and Zag. I'm essentially saying the same thing. Except, I am adding that to build a stronger brand, one needs to build a better business.

One needs to position their business to make money as well as focus on making customers and employees happy. What usually results is doing something different (zag) which creates a strong brand in the minds of people.

I'm advocating the inside/out approach and not the outside/in approach to creating a brand.

When it comes to creating a strong brand ... I prefer business models that find ways to make money, make customers happy, and make employees happy over branding models that stress making snazzier logos, funnier commercials, and sharper brand essence mantras.

This is a great post. At work we talk about this all the time in the context of product design. Some companies spend zillions on quantitative research, ethnography, and so forth to define exactly what products to make and what their form & function should be. Despite following all "best practices" of product development, the products meet all the requirements, but end up sterile and lifeless...

Others, like Nike or Nintendo, just shoot from the hip, yet end up creating products that people love and invite into their lives.

That second category of company embodies what you're talking about in this post. They don't have to crunch numbers to find out what their consumers want because they ARE their consumers. They just design for themselves, and it works.

Now, it's easy to apply this to sexy categories like running shoes and video games, but it works in every category if you find the right people for the team. For example, I used to work in printing, and I have some very passionate opinions about supposedly boring things like copiers (the stapler on the Xerox 5390!!), paper, and bindery equipment. Harnessing that kind of passion around formerly dull products is the key to living a brand, not building one out of phony, hollow "data points."


Where has the good news of profitable business gone? Thanks for your insight. Those are the 3 ONLY things that will ever matter. All else is hog-wash!

Right on. Of course how could I disagree when the premise behind Lead With Your Heart is to always put people first by making them happy. Good post.

GE has had an extraordinarily endearing brand for decades, but most employees definitely feel that they are going to work, not to some place they love.

Similarly Dell. I've spent a couple weeks this month in Austin and that's another company with a great brand that isn't making it's employees very happy.

I would agree that it's easier to build a great brand by keeping your staff happy, but it isn't a requirement.

I'll contest the making money part also. My company, which shall go unnamed, has great brand, but is losing money hand over fist. But we take care of our customers so we are very well regarded.

The third point in your triumvirate of essentials is really the only one that matters; do you make your customers happy.

It's difficult to deny that profitability, employee and customer satisfaction are not related to a strong brand, but it seems that these will naturally result from good management and customer service -- no brand required.

Building a great brand has more to do with telling a great story about your product/service/technology. You can have high moral and profits, such as Wal Mart claims, yet have a lousy brand.

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