December 19th, 2015
When I mention the word “branding” to the conventional CEO, it’s as though I’ve uttered colonoscopy. He’ll cringe, squirm, and exclaim, I did that last year and am good for a while.
Don’t doubt me. Read my previous column, “Why CEOs Dismiss Branding.”
To dismiss branding is to reject sales and customers. Branding and selling and customers are inextricably linked. Got it? You no longer have an excuse for not knowing this.
A lot of people claim to be branding experts, inside and outside your company’s walls. Most of them are full of crap, especially the social-media evangelists, as I explained in Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
Branding, not building a product, is the CEO’s #1 priority. The brand is the blueprint for your product. Without a blueprint, you’re tinkering. If you resent this admonition, R&D is for you.
I once gave a lecture to a room full of young entrepreneurs, the majority of whom were building unfathomable products. Yet, they were seeking investment capital and wanted to learn about messaging, a synonym for branding. I asked for a show of hands: How many of you have sold at high levels in corporations? Zero. How many have ever sold anything? Zero.
I was astonished. But, the revelation made sense. Product-builders are myopically focused on themselves — and on nuts and bolts — not on customers and their needs.
The Art of Listening
Selling teaches people to listen. One who never has sold anything before won’t know the art of listening. What’s the likelihood such a person will grasp what customers need and want, and can grow a customer-centric company that builds relevant products? Zero, or close to it.
Without experience in selling, branding won’t be on your agenda — or in your vernacular. Your costs of sales, capital, and media will be needlessly high.
Your top sales — and branding — tool, hence, is your ear, forever trained on the voice of the customer. With your ear, you can hear — and you must do so in real conversations with your customers, in front of them, as often as possible.
Reading social-media posts is not tantamount to having your ear trained on the voice of the customer. Without your ear, live in fear that your company is headed in the wrong direction and wasting time and money — as McDonald’s was doing.
McDonald’s was rapidly sinking into oblivion because it had violated Branding 101: it ignored its core customers and tried to become a healthfood chain, catering to Millennials. For years, customers clamored for all-day breakfast, to no avail. New CEO, Steve Easterbrook, posited a novel idea: heed our customers! McD’s now serves all-day breakfast; sales are climbing.
Parting Advice to CEOs
Your top sales tool is your ear, because sales (and branding) is about listening — and then delivering to customers the value they requested, articulated in their language.
If you think branding is a marginal and/or periodic activity, you, by definition, feel likewise about sales. And, that should be a red alert for your board of directors and shareholders.
McDonald’s saved itself with all-day breakfast. Actually, it saved itself with all-day branding: its ear, under a new CEO, is forever trained on the voice of the customer.
If branding is not your #1 priority, you, too, can rapidly sink into oblivion.
POSTSCRIPT #1: McDonald’s 4Q Results Blow Past Expectations (01.25.16)
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2015 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.