I’ve been building brands for over 35 years. Last year I did something new. I built a boat. A Chesapeake 17 Sea Kayak by #CLCBoats, made of marine plywood, epoxy, fiberglass, and time. It took about three months and I learned a lot about woodworking along the way.
Innovation guru Doug Hall says that every business, every product, every service is on a continuum somewhere between Monopoly and Commodity. At one end, you own the market (for the moment) and at the other, you compete with the rest of the commodities. I think it is the difference between Distinction and Extinction. At the Distinction end of the spectrum, sales, margins, profits, market share and brand recognition are all high. At the other end, the opposite is true and when you compete on price, you never win long term. For the record, WalMart does NOT compete on price.* But that’s another post for another day.
Companies that offer true innovation offer unique solutions to customer problems, provide real value, and raise the bar for their industry. Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are stepping stones to larger innovations. Some (like the mouse, the mp3 player, and the touch screen) go unrealized until someone like Steve Jobs comes along. It’s not the size of the innovation that matters, it’s the relentless pursuit of innovation and the marketing of that innovation that yields results.
* A 2012 study by Bloomberg Industries showed that Target, Aldi, even Kroger, had better prices on many products.
They start off all quirky and fun. Ready to take risks, to be themselves without taking themselves too seriously. Then, all of a sudden (it seems) they hit the big time and they get all serious and busyness-like. Before you know it, you hardly know them at all and you start to drift apart.
Please tell me, Mr. and Mrs. Southwest Airlines, that you won’t let this happen to you.
I remember my first Southwest experience. I’ll bet you do, too. The people were genuinely nice. Genuinely “genuine”. They sang. They told stupid jokes and very punny puns. It was so weird. I loved it. I’ve noticed recently, though, that the quirkiness is gone. Along with the perkiness. Even their advertising has taken a more serious tone.
I asked a flight attendant “Why don’t you sing anymore?” She said,”You need to write to management. They want us to stop that kind of thing. I miss it.”
I was flying cross country recently and, scrolling through my iPod for something to help pass the time, I settled on the Dixie Chicks catalog. The first three albums, that is. The ones before they forgot their mission, abandoned their fans, and destroyed their brand.
Yes, even country music singers have a brand, and just like Proctor and Gamble, McDonalds, and your local mechanic, they must protect and nurture that brand or, like the Chicks, go the way of the Dodo birds. The music in the early days was pure, simple and all about ME. I could relate to it. I, like millions of others, understood the joy, pain, irony, and humor in that early music.
After they lost their way, the music became all about THEM. Songs about how mad they were, about how sad they were. All about THEM.
This is why you can only hear the Dixie Chicks on your iPod now and why there will never be another Dixie Chicks album that matters. It is not because they said something stupid in England. It is because they forgot why we liked them in the first place. They forgot their brand.