Unheroic work sustains a robust and resilient brand result. However, I have never seen one achieved if people in leadership aren’t also driving it.
And when I say leadership, I include the chief executive, general manager, owner and founder, and also other people within the organisation who lead in various ways.
So how do leaders drive the brand result?
One of the first roles of leadership is to set the identity elements of purpose and values and then demonstrate them by example every day. That’s the defining driver of any brand result.
Leaders set the purpose, then actively use it to make decisions for what the organisation will do. The values, are shaped by what they believe is important and they inform how the organisation does things. Which both translate into promises and result in the experience people who work for, with and buy from it have.
So, while both purpose and values are critically important. There is an unheralded, yet essential role leaders play in achieving a brand result: they say no.
They say: we don’t do things that way. We don’t trade what we care about for short-term gain. We don’t blindly follow that trend. We don’t agree to a merger that would destroy the culture. We don’t…
They say no to things that don’t align with what is most important, and no to doing things that obscure what that is from customers and other stakeholders.
A client I was working with once said: “People love to be entrepreneurs with my brand”. And it perfectly sums up why saying no is vital. If leadership doesn’t draw a line through things out of sync with the purpose and values, they can’t complain if others also take those liberties.
There is a never-ending supply of things you could do, could say yes to. Supply is not the problem. Where it gets tough is knowing which of those things will support and align with what you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it. And that’s where no comes in. Here are a few examples of what no looks like in action.
Southwest Airlines is a low-cost carrier in the US which was founded with the mission “to make air travel as affordable as taking the bus”.
The airline is renowned for its low ticket prices, no assigned seating and friendly staff. Whenever staff approached founding chief executive Herb Kelleher with a suggestion, he always asked: “How will that make flying more affordable for our customers?”
If the answer was “it doesn’t”, then Kelleher’s answer was no. And the result was one of the best performing and revered brands in aviation history, with passionate staff, loyal customers and 40-plus consecutive years of profitability.
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard tells many stories of saying no in his book Let my people go surfing. In one example, the company decided to say no to outer packaging for its thermal underwear. Despite warnings that it would lead to a drop in sales, Chouinard said:
“We did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. The first year this practice kept twelve tonnes of material from being shipped around the world and eventually discarded into landfills, and it saved the company $150k in unnecessary packaging. It also bought us a 25% increase in thermal underwear sales. Since they weren’t hidden away in the package and had to be displayed like regular clothing, people could feel the material and appreciate the quality…”
Places people in leadership wish they had said no litter the landscape of hindsight. The startup CEO who would choose different investors. The product manager who would push for a further out launch date. The marketing manager who would think twice about the hashtag.
Saying no should show up anywhere decisions get made, so everywhere. So, look for areas where you can apply the brand leadership discipline of no.
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