10 Keys To Maintaining Your Brand’s Soul

The idea of greater sales sounds, well, great. But when you think about expansion, have you considered what the consequences of what the move is going to be on your brand, your culture, your people? Many companies don’t. There’s no reason why sales should be on the opposite side of these considerations, especially when it doesn’t have to be.

With this in mind, I created a checklist that can help you decide if a company sale, increase in hiring, large investment in equipment, new distribution channels and ramping up of production will come at the expense of your brand.

10 Keys To Maintaining Your Brand’s Soul

  1. Does a move in the name of greater sales feel at odds with our brand and what we believe?
  2. What does our mission statement look like? Is it iron-clad with character and personality with little room for interpretation by future generations on what we stand for or is it like most mission statements – an ambiguous note of blandness that anyone could own?
  3. Will a move in the name of greater sales anger, irritate or even mildly annoy our most loyal customers (in other words, are we biting the hands that fed us)?
  4. Is our location (physical location, branches, 800 number, website, blog) a “mecca” that people enjoy coming to over and over again, whether they are our customers or our employees or both?
  5. Will a move in the name of greater production risk compromising our quality, customer service and reputation?
  6.  Do we refer to the “good old days” of this company or do we refer to how great it is now?
  7.  Does a technological upgrade feel easier and more efficient but less warm, friendly and true to who we are in terms of a human approach?
  8. Will we still be an organization that likes to have fun?
  9. Will our success be measured primarily in sales volume or will we hold up shining examples to the public of  goodwill we’ve gained?
  10.  What about us will never, ever change no matter how much money someone waves in our face?
Let’s see what we can add to these 10, shall we?

12 service questions that might be worth $400 million to answer.

The relationship and chemistry side of our business is routinely undervalued for its role in how companies make decisions to stay with an agency. Here’s the truth: Yes, companies choose agencies and stay with them because they produce results. But also because…they like them.

Oh, but nobody could ever say that. Everyone has to appear emotionally impartial and objective. Anything otherwise wouldn’t be proper.

Of course we know that’s not true. When a winning agency presents, it’s hard if not impossible to show emotion on the client side. A curl of a smile. A chuckle. A gasp or even a tear. This is what we’re going for. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Because we know if we elicit that response in you, we have an excellent chance of winning that business because it shows a rapport with you, the immediate audience at hand and ultimately, your target audience.

So why isn’t it just as crucial after we win that business to build these types of positive emotional responses in client service? 

In the wake of SC Johnson’s mammoth defection of $400 million in business away from Draft FCB, I believe there’s more to the story here than merely dollars, cents and creative. Here too, it’s about relationships. Internal relationships within the agency that seemed to go haywire, resulting in longtime departures. Around the same time, new blood that came in from the client side. What it sounds like to me from the report in Crain’s is that what occurred was a perfect storm of personalities internally and externally that couldn’t quite mesh. And that makes it very, very challenging for the rest of an agency to overcome.

Relationships matter hugely on the way in and they matter just as much on the way out.

Let’s see. DraftFCB lost its long-time North American President, CFO and Chief of Staff within the last year – rumored to be due to internal politics. So no lack of gigantic transition there. You can put out all the agency memos you want about people seeking new adventures to minimize it, but there’s no mistaking these kinds of changes on one side are huge. And of course, the clients notice. Hello, new Chief Creative Officer.

Then, SC Johnson undergoes a bunch of changes in management too on their side. Big ones at the top. Hello, new Chief Operating Officer.

And it’s not like this new blood comes from within. Much of it came from the outside, which typically means people with their own agendas rather than trying to maintain continuity and cultural status quo. I’m not saying that’s a wrong move, but these types of transitions aren’t always smooth as silk. And when they happen on BOTH sides of the table around the same period of time? Forget about it.

Before we even talk about the quality of brand strategy, creative and results, can you see where this relationship would be behind the 8 Ball?

Let’s say it once and for all. No agency should feel that just because they have a client for 100 years that they should expect to have that client for Year 101 if the business isn’t cared for and nurtured as if it was won yesterday.

With this in mind, here are 12 service questions to ask yourself that are relevant to many in professional services, not just advertising and marketing:
1. Do you keep your contact aware of new trends affecting their industry regularly?
2.  Did you talk to them on the phone today (not e-mail – you have a voice. Use it.)?
3. How many people outside of your daily contact do you know there? How many of those people are outside of the department of your daily contact?
4. Conversely, how many people have they met from your company besides you? Why not?
5. When was the last time you took a tour of your client’s facility and other locations? 
6. When was the last time you just simply thanked them for their business? 
7. Have they ever referred a piece of business to you from another company? Why not?
8. How many other ways can they reach you besides phone and e-mail? Skype? LinkedIn? Twitter? 
9. Do you have regularly scheduled meetings so the both of you put it on your calendars or are you just waiting for them to call you if they need anything?
10. Have they ever invited you to a luncheon/networking event for an association or cause outside of work? Have you done the same for them?
11. Do you understand their goals not only in terms of “ROI in the next 6 months” but what makes them tick personally and professionally?
If you offer to take them to a Cubs game, are they going to be put off because they grew up on the South Side and are rabid Sox fans? What music do they like? Do they play golf? Have kids? These aren’t trivial things to know.
12. Outside of what they need for you to provide for them, how well do you understand all the other factors and forces internally that this person needs to navigate to do their job? When you’re not only someone they can confide in but someone they turn to as a person who helps them brainstorm solutions for greater workplace productivity – and that has NOTHING to do with your actual day-to-day job for them – you’ve hit pay dirt.

Some of those may seem like “no brainers” but you would be shocked how many high-ranking management types don’t do them and think they are small in the big picture.

To which my reply is: How many millions would you like to bet on that?

If you have a great example of a way you’ve extended yourself to clients (preferably not just one-time actions, but regular instances that show how you’ve built trust), let’s hear them in your comments so you can inspire others. 

The 3 People Who Never Belong In A Brainstorm Room

“OK, everybody. Come on into the brainstorm room/conference room and let’s talk about (Insert Initiative Here). We’re going to need to generate some ideas.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s take that a step back. As it turns out, the process of cultivating ideas isn’t for everybody. It’s not an automatic right based on title. I think what we forget about brainstorms is that we’re so focused on getting to the quality of the idea that we forget that in getting there, there needs to be quantity (this is a separate post in itself). The minute you brainstorm, you’re turning on a faucet at one speed: Fast. When you have these 3 types of people in the room, you’ll slow the pace to a trickle, if not shut it off completely. Let’s meet them, shall we?

Negative Nancy
“No, that’s not going to work.”
“No, they won’t like it because they don’t like the color blue.”
“No, we tried something like that before and they didn’t like it.”

The problem with Negative Nancy is that her presence is like tossing a grenade into the room. Her motivation for saying “no” is in all likelihood the fact that she has no or very few original ideas of her own but she wants to appear relevant to others. It’s not about her title, it’s about a deeper issue. “No” is her insecurity talking. It’s not that she isn’t necessarily a valuable employee, it’s just that brainstorming isn’t her forte. So all you’re doing by having her in the room is inviting the rejection of ideas like Dwight Howard swatting away a basketball. Ideas? Not in your house. Negative Nancy will not only shut down the idea presented but the ensuing effect of her presence will be to shut down a steady stream of ideas.

The “we tried that before” is a particular feature of this person I take issue with because there are many variables that may have worked poorly before that can be corrected now. Maybe it wasn’t the right time or place before. Maybe the idea before didn’t have the right audience to accept it. Maybe the idea before just wasn’t that creative compared to its better looking sibling idea now.

Overthinking Oscar
“Well, if we were to do that, how exactly would that work?”
That’s not important right now. Really. You’re putting the brakes on a phase that is geared to be purely conceptual. And when you do that, the brainstorming process goes from 120 mph to 20 mph and declining fast. It’s amazing how quickly the wind changes in the room. Dwelling on the “how’s it going to actually work” is important at a later point. When? When the brainstorm is pretty much over and you have a collection of concepts, scribbles, ideas, seeds, etc. to study more closely for deeper evaluation.

“Me First” Mel
“Well, I can’t relate to that idea in my own life so it must not be relevant.”
Mel probably isn’t trying to appear this self-centered, he just doesn’t know how to step outside of his own skin to identify what the true audience is facing in their lives. It’s not about YOU. The chances of someone in the brainstorming room actually matching the profile of the audience you’re trying to target is rare. So if you’re a 40-something female in middle management who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago who drives a Mercedes, you need to have more of an open mind if your audience is a 20-something who graduated a couple years ago, unmarried and lives in L.A. The behaviors, tastes and preferences are not going to be the same. And even if you are, no offense, but you’re just one person.

“Oh, horse crud. I think I’m one of these 3 people. Should I not be brainstorming?”
Not yet and don’t despair. There’s an easy way to right the ship. It just requires some self-discipline on your part. When someone comes up with an idea, let it get out there without immediate judgment. Yes, the idea may be stupid, but everyone has them. Stupid ideas can be great springboards to better ideas. You don’t know what small seed of something good may lie within that thought. And if it’s truly that awful, trust the judgment of others in the room to let it pass like a ship in the night. Remember, you still have the phase after the brainstorming is over to reserve judgment on ideas – just not right there in the moment. If you can train yourself to think positively and concentrate on keeping the flow of concepts going without shutting them down, overthinking or asking yourself What Would I Do, I think you’ll be on the path to being a valuable asset that others will enjoy inviting into the brainstorm room every time.

Final thought – if the person who meets one of these criteria above is a manager that you can’t tell to sit it out, all is not lost. What I like to do in these situations is have a designated person announce some brief ground rules (“no bad ideas”) of no more than 2 minutes long EVERY time you brainstorm just to reinforce what should and shouldn’t be said. You’ll better your chances of ensuring the faucet of ideas flows mightily rather than trickles to a few drips.