In our 55 years of combined experience, we’ve learned that building a brand your team will embrace and your customers will love in perpetuity takes time, energy, and vision. It also takes the realization that brand building — just like culture building — is a constant process.
When those two efforts work in strong, strategic alignment, we’ve found that the world sits up and takes notice. Here are three strategies we’ve successfully employed to make that happen.
1. Start with “lighthouse leadership.”
The single-most effective way to differentiate a brand is to firmly ground it in company culture, and that culture has to begin with leadership. In challenger branding, we talk about brands having a “lighthouse identity” — an identity based on an authentic truth that burns so brightly even those not looking for it will see it. Lighthouse leadership is what happens when self-aware leaders have crystal clarity about who they are, where they want to take their companies, and how they intend to get there. Teams don’t need managers. They need beacons of clarity, inspired thinkers, champions who can build team members up and lead them into battle with clear direction, conviction, and support.
2. Embrace the greater good.
The Conscious Capitalism movement is afoot across the country. It is about embracing the idea of doing well by doing good espoused by a stakeholder model that rewards all the constituent groups involved in commerce — versus the shareholder model that squeezes everyone possible to drive all profit to the shareholders. The movement’s mission is more than simply elevating humanity through good business. It’s something that delivers results. Raj Sisodia, coauthor of Conscious Capitalism, cites research that, from 1996 to 2011, consciously led publicly traded companies outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 10.5. That’s the power of positive culture.
3. Think like the customer and deliver without fail.
Great brands — challengers or not — never lose sight of the customers’ perspective. Thousands of brands die on the vine every year because they never stop to ask, “What kind of experience do our customers want from us?” It’s not about faking it or trying to be something you’re not. Brand loyalty is built on authenticity as much as anything. Smart, successful, lasting brands understand that they have to consistently show up in a meaningful way for their customers, not the other way around. Whatever your authentic truth, be the brand you say you are, build the culture that will support your team, and do whatever you have to do to deliver without fail. Do that, and when failure inevitably comes, it’s something you’ll most likely survive.
Mike Sullivan is president and CEO of The Loomis Agency. Michael Tuggle is a creative director and writer experienced in building brands and growing companies. They recently coauthored The Voice of the Underdog: How Challenger Brands Create Distinction by Thinking Culture First.
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