In this series of articles on CMO.com, we have laid out the marketer’s playbook for building a relentlessly relevant brand. We have discussed how these brands consistently follow three critical principles: They are customer-obsessed, they know how to stay inspired, and they recognize the importance of building a culture of innovation.
Very few brands are able to pull off these three principles without owning a fourth–what we like to call being ruthlessly pragmatic. When a brand is ruthlessly pragmatic, it makes smart bets, takes bold steps, fails fast, and experiments consistently.
Pragmatism requires a commitment to finding and maintaining clarity across your brand’s ecosystem. When you have clarity around your brand’s vision, what you stand for (and don’t), how you want your customers to feel, employees to act, and the criteria for success, you have the blueprint through which to drive all brand decisions, strategically, tactically, and economically.
Being pragmatic may be the most important piece of the puzzle, but also the one that most marketers find the hardest. It’s essential because it’s the one that makes the other three possible. Using the following tenets is a good place to start when building a relentlessly relevant brand:
• Be clear and consistent on what your brand is and is not: A strong brand vision guides every decision and action you take. When Prophet partnered with T-Mobile to help it become the “Un-Carrier” in wireless, we knew it would only be credible if T-Mobile lived up to that vision by walking away from historical practices that irked consumers, such as long-term contracts, termination fees, and predatory data plans. And it worked: T-Mobile gained 1.1 million customers after announcing the Un-Carrier strategy, quickly gaining market share from competitors.
• Strive for success, but be willing to fail (fast): Brand leaders must know precisely what success looks like in every metric and key performance indicator available. With metrics in place at all levels, companies can accurately assess how well they are delivering. Capital One conducts thousands of test-and-learn experiments and pilots every year to continue to hone in on what is resonating with customers from an offering, experience, communications, and brand perspective. It tries and limits its spending on each, succeeding or failing fast and scaling the successes even faster.
• Empower your employees to be brand ambassadors: Creating a shared mindset across an organization enables employees to wow customers with consistent and compelling experiences. Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos seem worlds apart from competitors because their employee training goes beyond what to do and instead teaches how to think.
• Have a clear, compelling message: Think about Apple, Patagonia, and Disney. All three of these brands stay on message, on strategy, and on brand. They make it easy for customers to follow their plot lines and even easier for customers to want to stay connected with their brands. Clear and consistent messages lead to clear expectations, which lead to customers feeling empowered and loyal.
• Create an experience that reflects your vision as a brand and company: The brand’s vision is a critical lens through which all business decisions should be made. Some of today’s most respected brands live this day in and day out. Think about the power of these brands’ policies and actions: Chipotle stopped selling carnitas when its sources didn’t meet its standards, eBay provides buyer protection with easy returns and money-back guarantees, and employees at Home Depot are encouraged to stay as long and as patient with every single customer as needed to make sure their home dreams come true.
Living all five tenets relentlessly allows brand builders, customers, and stakeholders to all be on the same page. By striving to be customer-obsessed, distinctively inspired, pervasively innovative, and ruthlessly pragmatic, you are creating a brand that will continue to deliver value to both customers and shareholders for many years to come.