The ten imperatives Andrea Syverson lays down in BrandAbout: A seriously playful approach for passionate brand-builders and merchants (www.macmillanpublishersindia.com) are play, be, listen, conduct, dare, herald, craft, reveal, kindle, and integrate. Assuring that these powerfully important verbs will transform your brand and your product offering, she urges you to create margin in your daily business schedule to make these verbs come alive as part of your ongoing brand practices.

Play and work

Begin, therefore, with play, which is integral to work, because work does not work without play, as a quote of Dr Stuart Brown instructs. “The quality that work and play have in common is creativity. In both we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects. At their best, play and work, when integrated, make sense of our world and our selves.”

The book talks about an interesting ‘play’ exercise that ‘Fortune’ came up with, by getting two CEOs from its ‘Best Companies’ list trade places for a day and work in the trenches of each other’s brands. “So Kip Tindell, CEO, Container Store, and Maxine Clark, CEO, Build-A-Bear, did just that. This creative BrandAbout approach to on-the-job training in different industries was eye-opening for Tindell and Clark and they each discovered innovative practices they could borrow from one another.” So, trade places with someone in an entirely distinct world from yours, the author suggests. Compare notes, and see what happens, she adds.

Pain points

The ‘listen’ chapter reminds that true listening demands an un-busy mindset and an unhurried presence. Advising brand-builders to be intensely interested in listening, the author notes that the insights and perspectives offered by three significant resources, viz. employees, customers, and partners, can lead us to true breakthroughs.

A section titled ‘encourage pain-point confessions’ opens by fretting that too many companies lack courage to connect with their customers, because they are afraid of what they might learn. Having the courage to simply ask, ‘What do you find difficult in doing business with us?’ or ‘What stops you from buying our product?’ or ‘Where else do you shop products like ours?’ or even ‘Where are we making it too complicated for you?’ can help you learn about your customers’ pain points, explains Syverson.

Two apt nuggets of wisdom, cited in this context, are of Bill Gates (“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”), and Jeff Bezos (“If you make a customer unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends”).

The example of Target, one of America’s most admired companies, publishing an invitation in the ‘Denver Post’ at the beginning of the summer, simply saying, ‘Tell us what more we can do for you,’ is eminently replicable as a best practice. “At the end of the summer it ran a bright red, two-page spread with the headline ‘You asked for more. Here goes.’ The ad outlined five specific things customers wanted and exactly how Target is responding…”

Baby steps

If you are not ready yet to respond to the call of Jim Collins for ‘big hairy audacious goals’ (BHAGs), why not try BSITDDs (baby steps in that daring direction), teases the ‘dare’ chapter. It makes a reference to Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s ‘15-minute competitive advantage’ effected by “changing in short fast bursts rather than waiting for the breakthrough that transforms everything.” If every proverbial 15 minutes, you learn something and incorporate it into the next speedy step, you will continue to be ahead, guarantees the professor in her HarvardBusiness.org blog.

Acknowledging that sometimes we need to gain the momentum of BSITDDs before we can see how the BHAGs can happen, Syverson underlines how the bite-size breakthroughs Kanter speaks about are often easier to sell. According to Kanter, innovations most likely to succeed are trial-able, divisible, reversible, tangible and familiar. “In addition, they fit prior investments, they are congruent with future direction and they have positive publicity value.”

Integrate dreams

The final chapter is about integrating dreams, and it discusses examples such as GE (which hosts ‘customer dreaming sessions’ to drive innovation); Disney (‘where dreams come true’); LEGO (providing ‘many hours of repeatable joy’); and Boeing (which has ‘potential reviews’ evaluating whether the assumptions in its planning process still hold).

Drawing inspiration from Julie Morgenstern’s SHED – a practical process to de-clutter your life to make room for change by separating the treasures, heaving the rest, embracing your identity, and driving yourself forward – the author says you can substitute the word ‘brand’ for ‘life’ to get rid of the mess. She concedes that it is a lot of work hauling out all that junk and facing bad decisions, irrelevancy, and places where the brand overspent needlessly, totally missed the mark, or forgot to get its customers’ opinions on crucial decisions of impact to them. “Roll up your sleeves, get a little dusty and dirty, and work hard lugging the old stuff out… Then stand back. Look at the clean space. Breathe. Smile.”

Inside out

The message of the book is not a formulaic, one-size-fits-all programme, but an organic process of looking up and out and around, the intro clarifies. It is a ‘business walkabout’ of sorts, a pause in the daily and weekly hubbub to stop and get not only a sense of how the brand and all its components are evolving, but also time to think about any course corrections that might be warranted, describes Syverson.

Observing that the process always begins with the ‘group genius’ inside the organisation, she provides the ‘out’ lens, through the many snatches of experience from different industries and product categories. “We have a destination in mind, but we are wide open to the routes and side trips we might take. We are travellers, not tourists,” reads a forcefully beckoning line.

Recommended study for marketers who are willing to try out newer ideas to branding.

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