Introduction: Confessions of a Brand Fool
1. All Aboard the Brandwagon
2. Cracking Your Brand's Genetic Code
3. Building Brandwidth
4. Show Some Emotion
5. Brand Environmentalism
6. Brand Leadership
7. Branding and the Corporate Goliath
8. Brand Future
Confessions of a Brand Fool
If you're like most readers of business books, you've probably familiarized yourself with such hot-button topics as corporate reengineering, process improvement, customer centricity, and one-to-one marketing. More recently you may have been inspired by the Internet geniuses who boldly proclaimed the death of traditional business models and of mass marketing as we know it. In the good new old days, `New Economy` concepts like permission marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) tools were expected to render everything else obsolete—as irrelevant as hay was to the Model T.
Today, the buzz is about a business practice that is not really new. It is a practice that for me has always existed somewhere above and beyond all other business strategies. It is an organizing principle so broad yet so defining that it can shape and direct just about everything a company does, and, most important, how it does it. I'm referring, of course, to brand building, a process that, when it works well, should leave no facet of a company untouched. And no business practice unexamined.
Brand Building, Broadly Viewed
Brand building is much more than the responsibility of the marketing department or even of the CEO, although both functions must participate actively in championing and protecting the brand from within for the ef-
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fort to succeed. Building and supporting a great brand is everyone's job, from the CEO on down.
But brands have been around for centuries. Why all the buzz and bother at the moment, as we begin a new century?
I submit that brand building's big cultural moment has arrived right around now for three basic reasons.
One: We are awash as never before with products, services, companies, and brands, all aiming to set themselves apart from the pack, to be distinct, and most of all to be loved and desired. In the meantime, the grand solution to the problem of undifferentiated products and services has been broadly judged to involve something `more` than spending truckloads of cash on marketing the way it once was, or even as it might have been. The consensus is that for better or for worse, all the money in the world can't buy you love or trust. You have to earn trust and love by how you behave over time. Some of the world's most beloved brands, Starbucks among them, spend next to nothing on traditional marketing activities. Yet Starbucks employees know how to behave. Their training, their benefits, their sense of solidarity—and therefore their attitude and presentation—are consistently a cut above those of employees in the rest of the restaurant-and-fast-food industry. Which is a prime example of how, if you understand your brand—its values, its mission, its reason for being—and integrate it consistently into everything you do, your entire organization will know how to behave in virtually any and all situations. Behavior and quality, over time, build trust. Advertising, if it is any good, should help to confirm what already is, not what should be.
Two: The most valuable assets of a company are no longer physical. Factories, trucks, warehouses, materials, employees, and even palatial corporate headquarters buildings are no longer credible badges of corporate success. These once-vaunted tangibles now hang around the neck of many companies as liabilities on the balance sheet, or as poorly performing assets. Today, no one wants to own a factory, not if they can possibly help it. Companies like Handspring, maker of the Visor personal digital assistant, which in 2001 projected $400 million in revenues with 400 employees, began business in much the same way Nike did: with no intention of ever building its own products. Instead, Handspring invests its capital where it obtains the best return, particularly over the long haul: on innovative product design, engineering, marketing, and brand positioning. Everything else is outsourced to specialists who manufacture and distribute more efficiently than Handspring ever could do because it is all that they do.
Nevertheless, there is one asset, an intangible one, that stands head and
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shoulders above all the others and that cannot be easily outsourced: the brand. If Handspring wants to thrive, not just survive, in the current economic climate, it will have to do something more than efficiently source its product. It will have to become a great brand. Which is, believe you me, a more complicated process than sourcing a piece of electronics.
Three: There is and will continue to be increasing pressure on corporations, especially the large ones, to behave more responsibly as citizens—a trait that I've labeled elsewhere `using your superhuman powers for good.` Companies will need to become more human and walk more lightly on the land. In the New Brand World, there will be fewer hiding places for companies that disrespect this fundamental social dynamic. Thanks to the advent of the Information Age and unabashed media scrutiny, nearly every industry and the players within them are more transparent than ever. Everyone is pretty much buck-naked out there. And spending money on expensive clothing—such as elaborate television commercials, brochures, and magazine ads—won't hide the ugliness if it exists. Brand karma is real.
Where I Am Coming From
So who am I? And what do I know about brands?
The simple answer is that I have been fortunate to find myself in key marketing and strategic positions inside two of the last century's fastest-growing brands, Nike and Starbucks, during their most pivotal periods. For more than a decade I worked alongside brilliant and passionate people focused on reinventing two forgotten product commodities, sneakers and coffee. I did whatever I could to shape these products into more valuable, more relevant, more exciting, and more rewarding experiences. For seven years, from 1987 to 1994, I headed up Nike's worldwide advertising efforts, perhaps one of the world's greatest jobs one could ever wish for. Even though it was a much smaller company in 1987, with roughly $800 million in sales versus $10 billion ten years later, it was a rocket ride of sorts. We shot from number 3 to number 1 worldwide in a few short years. Along the way we also reinvented much of how marketing was supposed to work. It should be noted that we also had a few beers.
In 1995 I traded in my sneakers for coffee and spent three highly caf-feinated years in Brewtopia (local lingo for Seattle) as Starbucks' chief marketing officer. My ambition there was pretty straightforward: to help build another great global brand, this time for a retail chain without the support of mass marketing. No small challenge, that. But the effort worked, for reasons that you will learn in this book. It should also be noted that
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we drank a lot of coffee. Without it we could never have achieved our 40-plus percent annual compound growth rate.
At both companies, I often found myself more perplexed than amused by the high-flown theories, guidelines, case studies, and even `immutable laws of branding` espoused by lifetime academics and career management consultants. They were usually more wrong than right, but the point here is not to criticize. It can be hard enough to know a company—especially one as private as Nike—from the inside, let alone from the outside. There's a lot more to Starbucks than a double-tall nonfat latte served promptly up in a clean, well-lit, comfortable environment. Brands are complex characters—as you will learn.
Which is why I can't provide a slick elevator pitch for explaining how great brands take off. Building a brand is the most challenging, complicated, and painstaking process that a company can embark on. It's more intuitive than analytical, and most of the time it can't be seen. But it can always be felt.
My personal fascination with brands began long before Nike broke the `Just Do It` campaign and decades before Starbucks began to weave itself into the five-hundred-year-old coffeehouse tradition. It began, in fact, with my growing up the son of a car salesman.
My father was not your average car salesman; he didn't just `sell` cars. He preached brand gospel from the showroom pulpit, as many as seven days a week, twelve hours a day, for nearly fifty years. Some of my earliest memories are of Dad trying to convert souls lost to the religions of Chrysler, Ford, and Honda to the Oldsmobile and Cadillac faith. He must have been pretty good at it, for he not only supported a family of eight but was one of a very few people in his profession to benefit from repeat customers. He was one of General Motors' greatest brand disciples ever, a task that became harder for him as Oldsmobile and Cadillac began to lose their way in the late 1980s and '90s.
Ironically, as I was writing this book, Oldsmobile, the oldest car brand in America, announced that it would cease production. This was no surprise to my father or me. In the eighties he knew the company was headed down the wrong road when it launched its notorious `This Is Not Your Father's Oldsmobile` campaign—a botched attempt to lure younger consumers to the brand franchise without alienating its older core customers. I didn't buy it. Oldsmobile was and would always be my father's Oldsmobile. It would take more than advertising to change that.
I studied advertising at the University of Oregon School of Journalism with hopes of becoming the next David Ogilvy. Upon graduation in 1980,
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I took a job in product management for a small food products company, a great place for any brand fool to start. After learning those ropes I went to work for the largest advertising agency in Seattle at the time, an Ogilvy & Mather affiliate by the name of Cole & Weber. While there, I was blessed with some of the world's best and worst clients, and learned equally from both.
In 1987 I was recruited to help turn around the struggling number 3 athletic footwear brand, Nike, as director of corporate advertising. My first efforts focused on what became the `Just Do It` campaign. In the years that followed, we expanded the brand with innovative products and equally innovative communication programs, from television commercials to women's print advertising to retail concepts like Nike Town. But after seven years and a few million air miles, I felt I'd accomplished much of what I had set out to do and left the company to spend a year with my young and growing family. I didn't set foot on a plane for six months. I taught my then five-year-old son how to ride a bike, how to swim, how to fish, and how to deal with flirtatious kindergarten girls.
While on break, I read business books, something few of us had the time—or the interest—to do at Nike. I quickly realized just how far ahead of its time Nike was in its brand-building practices. We had, it seemed, about a ten-year leap on the rest of the world. After weeks of ranting to my wife about how far astray most companies had gone, she suggested that I put my money where my mouth was and write my own book. Frankly, by that point I think she probably just wanted to get me out of the house.
Before I could think of reasons not to become an author she had rented a remote summer cabin high in the Oregon Cascades on the banks of the Metolius River—in the dead of winter. With my Apple PowerBook, coffee, scotch, mountain bike, and fly-fishing gear, I headed for my snow-covered enclave in the woods. My wife left me there without a car and would visit only on weekends. Let's just say that my novice writing experience contained a few moments straight out of The Shining.
A few weeks later, I sent some sample chapters to a handful of CEOs to see whether my Nike-centric views would have relevance for industries like oil, computers, entertainment, or even a commodity as boring as coffee. The day after he received his package, Starbucks' CEO, Howard Schultz, summoned me from my cabin to his headquarters in Seattle where we shared an incredible cup of Sumatra. Before I left his office he asked me to consider joining him as his chief marketing officer. At first I politely refused the offer. Undaunted, Howard kept pursuing, and I finally relented
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a few weeks later. My family and I packed our bags and headed north to Brewtopia, the vibrant town we had left eight years before to follow the swoosh.
At Starbucks, I shelved the book project for what became a wild three-year coffee break. During that time, we tripled the number of stores, introduced products into the grocery channel, formed alliances and joint ventures with companies like United Airlines and Pepsi, and opened our first overseas cafes. Having done my share of stamping out bad coffee, I left Starbucks in 1998 to finish my book and launch a brand consulting practice. I sought out a broad range of clients, from Silicon Valley start-ups to the world's most powerful brand, Coke, and to see if the branding principles that worked for Nike and Starbucks could work elsewhere.
Fortunately for me—and for them—they did.
So here it is, a half decade later, give or take a year or two. The world and the brands in it have come a long way since I first began thinking long and hard about brands in that cabin in the woods in the dead of winter. I certainly hope that the pages and ideas that follow will bear fruit for you, as they have for me, and that they provide inspiration for your own business and reveal new ways to make your own brand more desired, more relevant, and more enduring. The concepts in this book apply, I am now confident, to big and small companies, products and services, and business-to-business and business-to-consumer industries. They have always felt like common sense to me. In time, I hope they will to you too.
As was the case with my work at both Nike and Starbucks, nothing I've written here has been pretested or filtered down to the lowest possible common denominator like most marketing concepts. Every word and thought in this book has been informed by the mind, inspired by the gut, and written from the heaYt. These are the experiences and views of one person fortunate enough to have worked with gifted and visionary people who were part of companies that cared deeply about their brands. At times, I suspect that you may suspect that I am either a genius or an exceptionally lucky idiot. Personally, I've always found the fine line dividing the two a razor-thin one.
Seize the Day—Today
Whatever the particular position of a company, there has never been a more important or better time to strengthen a brand. In the New Brand World, there will be no shortage of competitors and no limit on the expectations that customers will place on corporations that have already be-
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come more powerful than some governments. The noise, static, and confusion have, particularly in the preceding decade, become amplified to an uneasy roar. But I sincerely believe that the challenge of being seen, heard, and remembered—not to mention desired and respected—amid the evolving chaos of change will not just test but will bring out the best in every one of us.
So let's get to it.