The critically acclaimed TV series, Mad Men, may be set in the 1960s, but the insights it offers into the evolution of advertising, marketing, and business strategy are timeless. A scene in Season 7 particularly resonated with us. As the creative team gathers to start work for a major new client, Peggy directs each of the copywriters to give her 25 taglines by the next day. When Don asks, “What’s the strategy?” she responds, “They want to see the tags first.”
As backward and frustrating as this approach may seem to experienced marketers, it’s the way a lot of work still gets done. Doesn’t a clever headline or a catchy tagline help generate ideas about how to position your brand? Don’t many of us have to “see it” before we can “know it”?
The problem is that you can’t effectively focus a brand in isolation. One guy writing taglines in the proverbial smoke-filled room isn’t going to come up with a true brand promise. Like Mad Men’s Don Draper, he may come up with something creative and original. It might even be something that everyone loves. But it won’t capture the heart of your brand, inspire your employees, or resonate with your customers.
That’s because your outside perceptions are connected on many levels to what is happening inside your company, which feeds directly into that customer experience. And if your message isn’t reflecting the true belief of your culture, your buyers will feel a disconnect – an inauthenticity that today’s savvy consumers can detect in a minute. Just think about Abercrombie and Fitch’s implosion after an interview with its CEO revealed that he didn’t want “fat” or “uncool” people wearing his company’s clothes. The company’s reputation – and profits – took an immediate nosedive that no amount of PR or apologies could stem. Customers who had been drawn to A&F’s cool and hip brand experience suddenly rejected the values behind their brand promise.
So, how do you create an authentic brand promise? You don’t. You can’t. A brand promise can’t be externally manufactured. It has to be discovered from what is already within your organization.
This discovery process includes self-reflective inquiries and challenging assumptions. It asks questions like, “What is our vision? Do we have a mission – or even better, are we on a mission? Do we live by a set of core values and service standards? What do we believe we do better than anyone else and do our customers agree?”
When you look at your brand from both an internal and external perspective and seek a true understanding of what is in the hearts and minds of your employees and your customers, you can discover a brand promise that is truthful, differentiated, relevant, and compelling. Yes, that’s positioning – but it’s so much more. It’s a strategic launch pad for bringing your authentic brand to life.