Purpose

Winging brand positioning

slide1Not that long ago I was asked by a client to review different brand positioning models with a view to taking best practice and my, as a marketeer, what an illuminating way to spend a few days it was.  Whilst it was no doubt a lesson in metaphors and also surprisingly educational about amusing fruits, body parts and long-forgotten polygonal shapes, what was particularly striking were the commonalities (or lack of them): what great brand positioning statements need to have and where they slip up. Here at The Crow Flies we call this the ‘2 Wings and 10 Feathers’. But we would, wouldn’t we? The important point is that firstly, there are 5 critical building blocks of a positioning – the structure of what’s important to construct a compelling and consistent brand, and secondly there are 5 watch outs to ensure the way the positioning is constructed is sharp, meaningful and clear.

Wing 1: the 5 building blocks

Clarity of purpose: too often, ‘purpose’ is treated as a mandatory corporate tick box exercise (see here) and too often it’s confused with commercial goals. Being clear on what you want to be, for whom, by when is important – but not here. That’s for your plan.  Purpose is something else, higher level, heart-felt. It’s why your business does what it does, or in this case, why your brand does what it does.  It’s crucial – arguably the most crucial aspect of your brand positioning – because it provides guidance. It cuts off the options. It forces choice and sacrifice. It defines what you won’t do as much as what you will.

Defining who the target consumer is and their connection to your brand: it’s staggering how often the brand positioning models reviewed made no reference to the target consumer. None. Or perhaps a blunt socio-demographic description and a few random comments on what media ‘Jules’ likes to consume. Clarifying who the target is, in a way they would recognise, and more importantly what the problem is they want fixing, the need they want met or the simple desire they want fulfilled is a cornerstone of a great positioning.

Defining what the brand is and what the benefit is: your brand exists to fulfil a need. Your brand is in some way bought as a reward for fulfilling the needs, desires or fixing your targets’ problems. So of course, being clear on what your brand offers functionally and what reward it meets emotionally is critical. Identifying the underlying truth of your brand that matters is essential too – but you can only define this if you’re clear on who your target is and what they’re looking for. There’s a virtuous circle that both keeps you honest and helps you make great decisions.

Defining how it is recognised: great brands are instantly recognisable. Great brands own many mental pathways and one of those is a bundle of visual and semiotic cues. Colours, shapes, words.  These ‘anchors’ can be a curse if your brand has to change, but your greatest asset if you’re in good shape and looking to accelerate.

Defining the nature of the relationship: ultimately a strong brand is more than a product. It builds a friendship relationship with its consumers. Yes, it delivers something functional in a way that a product does, but how it communicates, and how it does so consistently over time, means that a relationship is built that is beyond transactions.

Wing 2: the 5 ‘watch outs’

Confusion – this first point builds on the foundations. What does each element do, why? It’s incredible how many of the positioning models reviewed bandy phrases around. Positioning, proposition, promise. Values, Principles, Traits, Personality, Tone of Voice; Essence. Lots of elements, but no order, no clarity.

Duplication – of words, sections, phrases. It’s a personal bugbear, but the repetition of phrases in multiple locations in a brand positioning is a clear signal that it’s not fully understood. Precision is key.

Compounding – why have one benefit when you can have ten? It’s so tempting –because your brand can offer many benefits, doesn’t mean it should. In fact, let’s not beat around the bush, it definitely shouldn’t.  As consumers, we are impacted by thousands of pieces of data every day. Our brain is effectively a big filtering system, and if it can filter something out, it will.  Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Your goal, your aspiration, is to be single-minded.

Fluffiness – whilst it’s tempting to unleash the inner poet or lyricist, most positioning statements suffer because, like a member of TOWIE, there are too many fillers, and not enough power. Don’t be tempted to crack your positioning in a day. Draft it. Write contenders. Get input and constantly, constantly, distil; which leads nicely on to…

Over-elaborate – as Albus Dumbledore so notably said, words have so much power they can become magical. It’s easy therefore to be tempted to scribe five words when one will do. Celebrate simplicity.

Great brand positionings? It’s a matter of two wings and no prayers.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, brand strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. If you’re looking for brand positioning help, drop a line to  david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

 © The Crow Flies, 2017

Vision, blah, values, blah

I drive a VW, it’s my third. So does my wife, she’s on her second Beetle. And my brother (well an Audi, same thing) and his wife. So does my dad and my mum. We all drive vehicles by a car manufacturer whose stated vision is:

“…to offer attractive, safe and environmentally sound vehicles which can compete in an increasingly tough market and set world standards in their respective class.” (My italics)

 And their values? Well, they roll something like this:

Business must serve the good of the people.
Business that serves the good of the people requires competition.
Business that serves the good of the people is based on merit.
Business that serves the good of the people takes place globally.
Business that serves the good of the people must be sustainable.
Business that serves the good of the people demands responsibility.

Like some Gregorian chant, I imagine all the VW employees love intoning these each morning before work.  A lovely vision; lovely values; lovingly crafted too, no doubt.

Yet now hollow and meaningless.

A decade ago, Vision and Values were all the rage. I went through it; all my friends working in different places did. Everyone has to have a Vision, darling! They’re so today! Everyone has to have values. They are so hip, so vital. Because we’re not about chasing money at all, oh no! Ghastly thought! We’re really about being just and honest and authentic and loveable.

Companies paid lots of money to articulate them and then – and this was the fun bit – roll them out across the business to slack-jawed employees who couldn’t believe they were being given the day off, usually to play a form of vision and values board game.

Joking to one side, the thinking is logical.  Get aligned on your vision, get aligned on your values and you make better decisions.  But it became consultancy hokey too quickly. If you’re business is really values led, you don’t need a vision and values project.  You don’t need roll out. You know them. You feel them. You live them. Sure, sometimes it pays to get them written down, and the real values led companies find this relatively straightforward. ‘We will cherish the earth’, is one particularly memorable value of a client of mine. But most companies? Well, just take your pick from:

  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Excelling
  • Winning
  • Responsibility
  • Global Citizen
  • Passion
  • Trust
  • Quality

…and you’ll be there. Plus, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your values are the same as everyone else, which will help when you switch companies, or at least in the interview.

Values and visionThis is the hard truth: the chances are yours isn’t a values led business any more. Further, it will struggle to be, whatever is passed down on tablets of stone. The Founder died five generations ago; the rest of the family sold out three generations ago. You’ve been owned by venture capitalists; you’ve been merged with and split away from.   If company values can endure that, then you have Voldemort as your CEO and have been caching in on Horcruxes. Don’t mistake common human decency, drive and the innate desire of people to give their best, be proud and do a great job with some cookie-crumble top down values ‘fit’. It won’t wash. You know it and so do your employees. Volkswagen know it – despite, I’m sure the best of intentions. I bet Tesco know it now. If values don’t already guide you, tread carefully. If you can’t look into what you already have and work from there, don’t make them up and sheep dip. Save yourself the time, the money and the disengaging pain of seeing vanilla statements posted up around the walls of your beige painted office. Stop the hypocrisy, stop the motivational images of breaching whales and chase the money.

But if you care, truly care, about how you do business, how you delight your customers, how you compete and if you see the financial return as the reward for a job well done, then shout about your values loud and proud. Write them in your language and hold yourself – and everyone you work for – to account by them. Not that you’ll need to.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. The Crow Flies helps companies find their strategic direction, including vision and values, but only when they mean it… Get in touch: david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260; @crowflieshigh

 © The Crow Flies, 2015

Why is it so hard to do a few things, big?

Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,
Yet do much less, so much less, someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.

 (‘Andrea del Sarto’, Robert Browning, 1855)

Less is more. If there’s one piece of consistent feedback I’ve received or had to give over many years of building or working on brands, that’s it. The push for simplifying, choosing and focusing on fewer, activities, so that they can be scaled up. It seems so hard. Is it the fear of making sacrifices? The wistfulness that comes from an opportunity not brought to market? The tyranny of choice? Or is it simply too many voices; too many opposing views; too much desire to please too many people? Or the inability of consensual companies to make decisions?

The theme cropped up again on a client’s project just the other week and got me reflecting on how this problem remains so persistent, spanning the years, never waning in the face or ‘learning organisations’ or good, old-fashioned common sense. It’s a ‘sticky’ issue no doubt. But why? There seem to be a few common denominators.

Thinking in plan years not consumer years: of course, you’ve got to be practical. You have to write a brand or business plan for the ‘next Fiscal’; budgets need to be cut; revenue investments divvied out or zero-based; resource allocated; endless negotiations with the sales guy about how much they can’t sell concluded. The business focus becomes therefore, the business cycle not the consumer cycle. If such a ‘cycle’ exists of course, because rarely do consumers think in chunks of time, except when planning holidays or Christmas. Most people don’t write annual Life Plans that include, amongst other things, which brands they are going to take notice of this year. A pity perhaps, but actually no. You have more time rather than less to impact their lives.

Not having a clear purpose: there has been a penchant in recent years to write purpose statements that need decoding to work out what the brand or company is actually trying to achieve or where it’s headed. But a purpose statement – subjective, written from the heart, directive, stretching – is vital, not only to help people decide whether this is the business they want to invest their life in, but also to help all the major decisions the company makes, up to and including what its brands choose to do. Without a purpose, all bets are off. Any activity can be justified on the basis of a loud, persistent voice, the point of view of some senior executive or perhaps because of an intriguing or compelling piece of data or half-truth (the latter often gained from a store visit to Asda in Mansfield on a dreary November evening and quickly exploded up to represent the broad opinion of the Western Hemisphere). A Purpose is the start and the end game. Are we heading in the right direction if we do this? Should we repeat? Other than being, when done properly, hugely engaging, a purpose statement is your first and last line of defence in doing less and doing it bigger.

‘Now’ not just ‘New’: I’d like to be able to scientifically claim that there is a strong and direct correlation between the small number of business activities that drive 80% of the margin of your business. I can’t, but I will, because you know it. There is a correlation between the ability of the ‘tail’ of a company (brands, customers) to attract a disproportionate share of focus and attention relative to their (lack of) commercial return. Why? Because “it’s new”. Or “interesting”. Or a “huge opportunity”. The “revenue stream of tomorrow”. Or part of my personal hobby farm. Like with many things in life, the grass seems plush and verdant over there. In fact, look! Butterflies and buzzy bumblebees swarming over the lavender and small children, giddy with excitement frolicking across a field! The prime job of leadership is to keep the business honest: spend 80% of our time on those few big levers that keep us thriving now and the rest on those that show future promise. Hold firm and don’t get bored.

Drive and Support: it’s staggering how often companies forget which parts of their business drive the topline and which support it. If all the functions have equal voices around the table, then the ability to prioritise drive activities become woolier, more a debate than a directive. If you’re a brand business, chances are that the drive comes through brands and sales. If your own label, chances are it’s production and sales. If you offer legal services, chances are that it’s the legal beagles who bring in the tasty bacon. Prioritise these functions unapologetically. Oh, and if you work in them and are feeling more special, more loved, be prepared. With focus comes accountability and tough love.

Not saying “bye-bye”: How many products or brands do you have that limp along? How many are on life support? How many do you fool yourself remain a ‘brand’ (when actually they’re just servicing a habit not adding value)? The inability – or fear – of confronting the rear end of the product life cycle has unintended consequences right across the business. From complexity in the supply chain to complexity in the managers’ brain. Spring clean. Wield the long knives. Have a Car Boot / Yard sale. Call it what you will. But make sacrifices: create the physical space and the mental space to allow focus. And celebrate their lives with a party. They’ve played their role. You’re here today because of them. Share the learnings. And move on.

7 plus minus 2It’s almost 60 years since George Miller published the seminal work, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits On Our Capacity For Processing Information” (Psychological Review, 1956) – what became known as ‘Miller’s Law’. It has been much discussed, cited and challenged, but the basic tenet has proven sound. As humans – as managers – as consumers – we can only process a small number of things. If you fragment your brand activity; if you don’t make it beefy and bold; if your consumers don’t get hit squarely between the eyes with scale; it just won’t get processed. You’ll remain unnoticed.

Think as a consumer. Be purposeful. Don’t be beguiled by ‘new’ over ‘now’. Focus. Sacrifice. Then fully commit.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that discovers and maps the direct route to success for categories and brands. Get in touch. And be prepared for focus and sacrifice. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2015

Lessons the Tour de France can teach us about innovation

Innovation is often seen as the Holy Grail to business growth or salvation, leading to un co-ordinated approaches that don’t deliver the results that business leaders want or expect. The timing of the Tour de France arriving on these shores is relevant to considering why this is the case and reframing about how we approach innovation.   Thinking about innovation as a bike race – and an arduous stage race at that – is one of the most useful metaphors for understanding how you can increase your chances of creative commercial success.

Peloton_fotorThe individual team sport. 
The strange conundrum at the heart of cycling is that it is an individual team sport. There will be one winner. But the individual cannot win without a strong team. Think of any of cycling’s greats: Gino Bartali; Fausto Coppi; Jacques Anquetil; Eddy Merckx; Bernard Hainault; Miguel Indurain. All immensely talented and super strong bike racers. But none of them, bearing catastrophic bad luck on behalf of their competitors or lightning-strikes-thrice serendipity for them would be strong enough to win a three week long race by themselves. They would eventually be ground down; ganged up on or tactically caught out. The strong team around them protects, shelters, fights their fights, until they can deliver the coup de grâce.

Too often, businesses look to the innovation team to provide silver bullets to either light the rocket under growth or more typically fill that business plan gap.

This is flawed as innovation requires an individual team sport approach.

  • It needs direction, a clear leader and a strong team. And that team isn’t just the ‘team on the road’. It needs senior sponsors (say, the CEO and Board) to be committed, supportive and advocating the innovation agenda.
  • It needs senior leaders to trust the process (timing, decision making) and push to artificially accelerate everything so that the whole breaks down (Lance Armstrong shows us that you can cheat but you get caught).
  • Then it needs a leader on the road: this may be the Sales Director who will be responsible to make it a success in market;
  • It needs specialists (in a cycling team, this could be a climber, in innovation this could be dedicated insight or technical resource) who have the specialist skills to overcome blockages and see solutions.
  • And finally it needs domestiques who do the hardwork: the innovators themselves, spotting the opportunities, snuffing out the blockages, covering false moves, build the pipeline, execute the plan.

It’s a Peloton NOT a breakaway.
A rider seeking exposure for his sponsors or transient glory for himself will sprint off the front within a few miles of the start and attempt to hold off the bunch all day – the ‘breakaway’. When it works, they become moments of folklore: the possibly the most romantic aspect of cycling. But they typically fail. Sandy Casar, a professional cyclist famed for his breakaway ability, only won 3 in 14 years trying.

And yet most innovation mimics ‘breakaway’ behaviour.   One good research result and suddenly senior leadership load all their resources against that role of the dice. Put all the resource behind it. Stop other activities. Accelerate timelines. Beat the competitors to market or more likely, catch up fast. The rewards may come but rarely do. The risks are certainly heightened.

The are three reasons why innovation should use the ‘peloton’ to win:

  • Drafting. The slipstreaming effect uses up to 40% less energy. When embedded in the peloton, a professional rider can treat a 180km race as a ‘rest day’.  With innovation it is more efficient to develop innovations in parallel – particularly up front – identifying insights for innovation for example.
  • More chances of success. Planning for a sprint but two of your riders infiltrate a breakaway? Then you now have three chances of success: the original plan and the two riders in Plan B. With innovation ideas beget ideas. You may be backing one horse, but the peloton effect allows you to identify a better performing new ideas as you go along whilst still keeping your original idea in contention.
  • A pipeline.   In 2012 Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France. At the start of the race no one knew that Chris Froome, his domestique could be a potential tour winner.   By the end of the race everyone did – a pipeline was created.

The Stage Race.
In cycling, many races are One Day races. But business isn’t like that; if you stop, some else gains.   Idea generation should be thought of longitudinally. How often does a one off “brainstorm” lead to break-through ideas – really?   Rather, idea generation should be thought of as a stage race where ideas can spring up at any time, cross pollinate, become freshly stimulated, be critiqued, be influenced by new perspectives: an approach that much more closely mimics how entrepreneurs find success.

‘The Move’.
At some point, you have to commit. At some point you have to put everything on the line and risk losing as much as winning. Chris Froome is an exciting racer because he is willing to commit. He – and his team – put everything on the line. With Froome, this is in the mountains. In 2013 on the monstrous Mont Ventoux, which most riders just hope to survive, he went for it and killed the race off.     At the right point, you need to do this with innovation. There comes a point where another Quantitative Test result is not going to help; there comes a point where Marketing Pounds, company resources and company time need to be committed in the knowledge that it could still fail. There is no alternative. Stage Racers – and great Innovators – recognise this.

Plan to win.
This is not a chest thumping, Motherhood and Apple pie piece of rhetoric. Typically, there will be just a small number of plans that will win. In Stage Racing, there are two: (a) defend in the mountains and win on the time trials (Miguel Indurain, Bradley Wiggins, Jacques Anquetil) and (b) attack in the mountains and defend on the time trials (Charly Gaul, Fausto Coppi).

In innovation, there is a ‘formula’ to work out where, why and how to innovate:

  • Innovate the big levers (what brand / format / business / market opportunity will move the needle for you)
  • Innovate from your purpose (does this take us in the direction we want to head?)
  • Innovate in line with your values (will this champion our cause?)
  • Stage Investment (what are we willing to back? What are we willing to lose on?)

And finally…create a purpose then execute the details.
Innovation is not a process that you implement, but a belief embodied in your culture. When Team Sky set out an ambition to ‘Win the Tour de France with a British rider within 5 years’ everyone scoffed. When they set about this ambition with a belief in marginal gains, others mocked. But everyone at Sky believed. They didn’t talk the game but walked it. Extended training at high altitude; innovation in nutrition, tactics, fewer races but racing to win, innovation in rest and recuperation, clothing, bike technology, equipment; innovation in doping transparency, mental support and psychology.

Result? They won it in three.

In innovation, stretching goals are pure wishes unless they walk hand in hand with genuine and resolute belief from top to bottom in the organisation; a stretching and believable innovation purpose to set the agenda for what is innovated upon and what isn’t, and then an unerring focus on delivering that purpose.

As Christian Prudhomme, the organiser of the tour de France might say, “Vive Le Tour de Yorkshire et vive l’innovation!”

IMG_1067David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, an innovation, research and strategy company that finds the direct route to success for brands, including company and brand purposing. To learn more, sprint an e mail up the ‘Cote de Buttertubs’ to david@thecrowflies.co.uk ; call on +44 (0) 7885 408367 or send a direct message to @crowflieshigh

 

© The Crow Flies, 2014

Can you risk being purposeless?

Clearing through old personal files chocking up the office, I found an article from December 1998, when I was featured in Marketing magazine as ‘Brand Manager of the Week’. Woo! Woo! It was of those experiences that felt pleasing for the ego, until you realised that it’s just part of the magazine’s content filling strategy. Can’t sell the space for advertising? Put in some filler. That was me. Fortunately, that isn’t the point. On re-reading the piece, I reflected on some of my answers from just over 15 years ago. Answers, which, I’m fairly confident in saying I’d give again today (well some of them, at least).

One question in particular was ‘Which brand do you most admire?’ My answer was a brand that is little known in the UK – Patagonia.   Patagonia is a high-end outdoor brand, sometimes mockingly called Patagucci. When asked the question, I remember not having to think of the answer. I had some Patagonia clothing items that were already years old and looking good. This was/is good kit but more than that. Don't buy This Jacket_fotorWhat appealed to me was that Patagonia had purpose.

Founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, Patagonia started as rock climbing business: making hardware: caribinas and pitons – the spikes that you hammer into the rock to secure your rope and maybe save your life if you peel.   Chouinard realised that in enjoying the outdoors he was damaging it. Later, he realised that the cotton in his clothes contained chemicals, like formaldehyde, which were injurious to the health of all concerned, manufacturers and wearers. The conundrum was how to have a business yet give back and be responsible. I’m not sure whether Patagonia have a purpose statement. They declare their purpose in everything they do. In their Ironclad Guarantee where they look to repair your clothes rather than you buying new; in their Common Threads Recycling Programme where you can bring in clothes to the store and they go back to be turned into new Patagonia clothes, a cradle-to-grave clothing philosophy. Chouinard also set up ‘1% for the Planet’ in 2002 – member companies give 1% of their turnover (turnover, note) to environmental causes. He followed this by setting up the whimsically named but seriously intended World Trout Initiative in 2005 – to save endangered fish species (he’s a mad keen fly fisher).   These are just a few of the proof points that mark Patagonia out as a purposed company.

I would argue it’s the most important think your brand or your company should have. It’s not some fashionable and fancy fly-by-night initiative. It’s essential. It makes decision making easier; it makes alignment easier; it promotes transparency; it reduces the reliance on chocolate teapot initiatives like employee opinion surveys. What’s central to purposed companies is values – values that translate into a commercial orientation.

Ken Grossman_fotorKen Grossman was a normal young adult, searching for what he wanted to do with his life who became frustrated at the homogeneity and blandness of commercially brewed American beer in the 1970s and 80s. Building a brewery from scrap components, initially in a garage, then a small industrial unit, he held the flame of brewing quality beer sacrosanct. His would be all malt beers (large scale brewers replaced malt with cheaper ‘adjuncts’ like rice or corn syrup); use only whole cone hops (not oils or pellets) – and lots of them and time, to mature the beer to full condition. He started Sierra Nevada Brewing Company with these product values and they remain true today: even though 30 years on, his company is one of the largest craft brewers in the U.S.A

And Howard Schultz’s account of the Starbucks turnaround is a fascinating story too. Starbucks has its own fair share of dissenters, yet aligning behind a purpose was at the heart of the turnaround. “To become an enduring, great company with one of the most recognised and respected brands in the world, known for inspiring and nurturing the human spirit”. You can argue that this is a bit of corporate speak: but the plans below it aren’t: be the undisputed authority on coffee; ignite the emotional attachment with our customers; be a leader in ethical sourcing and environmental impact.   The purpose is the map that asks: is this activity right? Are we behaving in the right way? Should we do this or that?

If you’re not a company founder with direct control over the business, getting to a purpose you can all agree on, will all act on, won’t be easy. Yet the rewards are worth fighting for: alignment; faster decision making; attractiveness as an employer; employee inspiration. Whatever your business or organisation, whatever its size, in this age of transparency, getting a clear purpose isn’t a nice to do, it’s critical.

IMG_1067David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands, including company and brand purposing. To learn more, wing over an e mail to david@thecrowflies.co.uk or call on +44 (0) 7885 408367.   You can follow The Crow Flies on Linked In (http://www.linkedin.com/company/the-crow-flies-ltd?trk=company_name), on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thecrowfliesltd). Twitter, caw us at @crowflieshigh. Or just send a well-purposed carrier pigeon.   © The Crow Flies, 2014