“What’s branding?”, Thatcher asked, seemingly out of left field. The room stayed silent. “Don’t leave me hanging.”, Thatcher said, in response to the blank stares looking back at him. Finally, Eric broke the trance. “Well, that was kind of an abrupt pivot from our discussion around purpose.”, he said with a wry smile. “Branding is marketing. It’s how you position your product and promote it.” Thatcher met his smile with one of his own. “I know, the way my mind works can be peculiar, but stick with me for a bit and I will close the gap. I like your answer. Does anyone have anything else to add to it? No, okay, let me share my definition, which is one I learned from a mentor of mine. She defined branding as the activity of aligning what you want people to believe with what they actually believe. So for example, if we want people to believe that we make the best products in the world, then branding is the activity of aligning their perception to that belief.”
“Sounds like manipulation to me.”, Don offered cynically. “Hmm, well I guess it could be done for nefarious reasons, but that’s not the way I’m thinking about in this case.”, Thatcher offered with a hint of sarcasm. “ What I am talking about here is authenticity. It’s about understanding who we are and what we want to be, and then walking the walk of being just that. Then, all it takes is figuring out how to best tell our story. Before I come back to how this all relates to our discussion around purpose, I would like to lead you through an activity. Are you guys game for playing along?” “I’m in”, Gail said, and the rest of the group nodded in agreement.
“Okay, in this bowl”, Thatcher explained pointing to a plastic bowl on the coffee table, “are pieces of paper that have the names of recognizable brands. I am going to pass the bowl around. I would like you each to close your eyes, stick your hand in and grab one. Look at the piece of paper, but don’t share the brand you picked.” After the bowl was passed and everyone had made their selection, Thatcher continued. “Every brand carries with it a promise. A brand promise is the benefits and experiences associated with the product or service in the minds of its consumers. Let’s take 10 minutes, and I’d like each of you to take the brand that’s on your piece of paper, and write out what you believe to be their brand promise. Remember, this should be the benefits and experiences that you associate with the brand. I’ll turn on a little thinking music. Everyone cool with a little Madeleine Peyroux?”
After 10 minutes, Thatcher started the exercise by going first. “Alright, I picked Maserati.” “Well that’s easy”, Jodi chimed in, a mischievous smile emerging, “their brand promise is that owning one of their cars compensates for something else.” Everyone laughed. Eric thought, “Nice, I knew there was some spunk in there somewhere.” “Not quite the promise I thought of, but not too far off either. “, Thatcher chuckled. “I think the brand promise of Maserati is status. If you are driving around in one, you want people to know that you’ve arrived. Does anyone have a different thought? No, okay, do you think that promise is aligned with what they want you to believe?” “For sure,” Eric said. “Me too.”, Thatcher acknowledged. “Who wants to go next?”
“I will.”, Eric offered. “I picked Chipotle. Until recently, I would say their brand promise was good food that was healthy for me and for our environment. But, obviously the issues they’ve had of late around food safety have been an assault on that promise.” “That’s a great point.”, Thatcher said in return. “Brands can spend years working to deliver on their promise, and in minutes unravel all that work. It is a huge risk that all organizations must take very seriously. That was great. Who wants to go next?”
Don said, “I’ll go. I picked Lululemon. I had no idea what Lululemon was, so I googled it. $100 for yoga pants. I’d say their brand promise is, if you have too much money, too much time, and too much confidence in your body image, we are the pants for you.” Even Eric found himself laughing. “Well”, Thatcher said with a huge smile on his face, “Lululemon, might not be the best one for you to have picked. Why don’t you reach in and grab another and we can circle back. Gail, how about you, who’d you pick?”
“I picked Mac, as in the computer. I struggled with it for a bit but then landed on what the brand promise is in my mind. I don’t think it’s too much different than what you had for Maserati. I think the promise of a Mac is that when you open up that cover in a coffee shop and people see the logo, they are going to view you as creative, innovative and hip. So, it's kind of a status thing.” “Wow, I would have said that their promise was simple, clean technology that makes life easier.”, Eric suggested. “Can those both be true?”, Thatcher asked. “Yeah, why not, they aren’t really in conflict with one another.”, Eric responded. “Okay, Jodi, you’re up.”, Thatcher said turning to look at her.
“Well, you kind of threw me a curveball. I picked the Dali Lama. I’m sure you had some reason for including him as a brand.”, Jodi said inquisitively. “You know me too well.”, a smiling Thatcher responded. “Brands aren’t just tied to an organization or product. Each of us has a personal brand, and each of us is always branding ourselves whether we realize it or not. So, in your mind, what’s the Dali Lama’s brand promise?” “Well, I figured you wouldn’t let me off the hook, so I wrote down that his brand promise is that he’s the embodiment of integrity and compassion. Pretty heavy huh?”, Jodi chortled.
“That’s awesome. Cool, now that we are thinking from a brand promise mindset, here’s what I’d like us all to do next. Spend 30 minutes, walk around, sit on the patio, whatever, but when we reconvene, I want us each to share what we feel our brand promise is or should be. Try to think from a stakeholder’s mentality, and by stakeholder, I am referring to employees, customers, and consumers. Does anyone have any questions? No, perfect, see you all in 30 minutes. Please give this some real thought. It’s really important to our next step. I’ll put on some more thinking music. I’ll keep the theme of jazzy female voices going and put on some Norah Jones.”