No, I am not talking about the "Leading Brands" that used to be a comedy group, although how could one have resisted the pitch? Leading brands lead because they are far out ahead creating something that has value to the people who need and want "it." The people managing those brands are not afraid to dare a little, to make choices, to limit number of features, for example, to go all the way to the edge.
I remember a conversation I had once with the person who was the lead business development for a major agency in New York city. He was talking about an internal project the agency was working on around launching new brands in a competitive marketplace. A few things he said back then stuck with me for years.
Two of them were that (a) people do not necessarily know if they'd buy or like something conceptually. Yes, who would have thought that we would fall in love with a device that you essentially need to replace once the battery runs its life? At the tune of hundreds of dollars. And that (b) bold statements work better than timid improvements. You can ratchet back something that is way out there, but you'd be hard pressed to get anywhere with something that is mediocre to begin with.
Average is the enemy of memorable, we have know that for a long time. How do leading brands stand out? In many ways, it all comes back to the experience they offer, which then feeds the perception of the brand. I would also consider three other characteristics that those brands have in common with leaders.
They have the ability to improvise based on context and available information. What is improvisation? According to the entry on Wikipedia, it's the
practice of acting, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or new ways to act.
This invention cycle occurs most effectively when the practitioner has a thorough intuitive and/or technical understanding of the necessary skills and concerns within the improvised domain.
Improvisation and leadership go hand in hand because leadership has that built in ability to forge ahead and create new competencies. More and more as we talk about this three-dimensional conversation between people inside organizations with brands and customers, improvisational skills are taking center stage.
Enjoy this performance by Tommy Emmanuel.
The thing is we never have all the information, nor we may have the luxury - time, attention, resources anyone? - to be able to go down several paths. And testing is imperfect for the reason I outlined above - people may not know what is possible until it is available to them, maybe through sampling it first when others have it.
In case you're interested, there is an Applied Improvisation Network.
They focus on one or two characteristics that set them apart, even though they may have much more to offer. Yes, we have been talking about key differentiators for years. Yet, when we look at marketing messages, what we see is a sea of sameness. Why? Inability to choose one thing and commit to it.
Culture can be a differentiator. Personality can lead you to think differently.
They spend more time where it counts, with customers. It is easy to see the world through the lens of busyness that colors our days. Immersed in the day to day programs, meetings, stuff to do, we may lose touch with those who really matter to the health of our brand.
Ask yourself and your brand, what commitment am I willing to make to do what I know I should do? This is akin to the description of a dream leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith described in an article for Fast Company:
"You know, I am incredibly busy right now. In fact, I feel about as busy today as I have ever felt in my entire life. To be honest, a lot of the time I just feel over-committed. To be real honest - given what is going on at work and at home - sometimes my life feels a little out of control.
But, you see, I am working on some very unique and special challenges right now. I think that the worst of this will be over in four or five months. After that I am going to take a couple of weeks and get organized. I am going to start working on my personal development. Then I am going to start spending some more time with my family. I may even start my 'healthy lifestyle' program. After that everything is going to be different -and it won't be crazy anymore."
The time to talk with customers is now.
We're not in the times where we were in the fulfillment business anymore. Today we are in the demand creation business. Yet, many organizations are still behaving as if we were still taking orders galore. If you want to be in that position, you need first to focus on leading.