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Why must the leader own brand?

Lindsay Says

Show me a valuable business, and I’ll show you a leader who has had to make hard choices.

They’ve had to look at 100 merely good ideas and reject 99 of them in favor of one exceptionally good idea. They are ruthless prioritizers, because crystal-clear prioritization buoys them from paralyzing overwhelm, enabling traction and growth.

But you already knew the why of prioritization. The question is how.

The answer? Brand.

Your brand is the thing you stand for in the mind of your ideal customer. Brand serves as your North Star to establish your singular prioritized idea so that you move the business toward that idea. From day-to-day decisions (Should I attend this conference?) to monumental ones (Should I quadruple my spending on this promising investment?), brand shines so brightly that it makes visible the right decision without you needing to spend precious time and cognitive energy weighing choices.

Brand enables a business to elevate pricing power, spark loyalty, galvanize employees, and create enduring value. When your decision-making reinforces your brand, you set the conditions for your business not only to survive but to thrive.

Don’t Miss the Power of Brand

What stops many leaders from leveraging brand as they grow is they don’t feel they adequately understand what brand is, and so they mistakenly delegate brand to their marketing team or even an outside agency.

But to delegate brand is to miss brand’s power. It’s to mistake brand for a single-pronged marketing angle, when it is really the North Star of your business. If you are delegating the brand strategy, then I’d suggest that it is not truly a brand strategy. It is more likely a neat marketing campaign than an overarching North Star. If it doesn’t force hard choices across your business and across time, it’s not a brand strategy. Ultimately, brand strategy is business strategy.

Shine the Light on Brand

You, the leader, must be the one to choose the focus of the business. You, the leader, need to be the one to select a single brand promise for your customers. You then enable and give both space and permission to employees to do the same thing. Only the leader can make this happen.

In shining that light on one thing, you inherently cast all other things in shadow. You deselect both bad and merely good ideas so that there can be laser focus on the single excellent idea. That focus is the very thing that makes brand strategy powerful.

Strong Brands Demand Difficult Choices

Think of a brand that you love. What are the tough choices that this business makes to inspire that love? In order to offer what you appreciate from them, what can they not offer? In order to appeal to you, who might they not resonate with, and therefore not have a relationship with?

Here’s an example. As my friends know, I adore Trader Joe’s. I love the way I feel when I shop in their stores. I love the smiles on staff faces, the Chili Lime Cashews, the coffee samples, the treasure hunt for my kids. But Trader Joe’s does not do everything. Notably, Trader Joe’s does not do grocery delivery to homes. They ruthlessly prioritize the in-store experience of delightful discovery of treasures. All decisions use this promise as a litmus. They take good ideas (e.g. grocery delivery to homes) off the table in order to reinforce their differentiated promise.

One of Trader Joe’s stated values is “Our Store is Our Brand.” The company has cited this as the reason it eschews home delivery – that would dilute the brand. Despite the revenue attractiveness of grocery delivery, leadership has deep conviction in the brand, and has therefore taken that off the table in favor of focusing on what the business uniquely brings to customers.

Stand by Your Brand

To be loved by the people who matter most means you will not do everything. Seeking to be liked by everyone is not only a fool’s errand; it is the path to mediocrity. So you have to choose who among your customers matter most, and you need to put a stake in the ground that is compelling for those people. In order to have people who love your brand, in order to eschew mediocrity, you have to be bold, which will result in others NOT liking your brand. Trader Joe’s is willing to forego the revenue of grocery delivery in order to be all the more excellent at in-store delight.

When I hear a leader talking about the importance of brand, I am also watching to see whether this leader really means it – whether the leader is showing the moxie that the Trader Joe’s leader showed by refusing to broaden to grocery delivery. Has this leader said no to something attractive in service of the brand? Behind closed doors, does the leader look to the brand as a guide in the same way the leader does publicly?

When employees see you owning brand, using brand to filter and to make trade-offs, demonstrating that you feel it in your bones, they will too. Employees need to see you believing in and modeling the brand when it’s easy and – especially – when it is hard. Without this, there is a zero-percent chance that the employees will stick their necks out to follow that guiding star.

Trade-Offs Take Courage

It can be difficult and scary to make the tough choices to be true to your brand. It takes courage and conviction to develop and follow one. Yet you cannot delegate courage and conviction. It needs to be you, the leader, who identifies and commits to your brand.

The ultimate charge of a leader is to define the unique value of the business, and then to amplify that value. Creating a brand strategy may be the heaviest-lifting strategic work you will do as a leader. But the reward is the thing that inspired you to lead the business in the first place – a business that creates untold goodness.

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