Principle 12 and 12.5 – Big Goals and Bold Actions & Choose Your Brand

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

We reached the home stretch, the last two chapters, or Principles for that matter, of the book. They are about energy and where companies with Sticky Brands get their energy from. What is necessary to break through revenue plateaus. That Sticky Brands don’t accept the status quo. And last but not least, some words of encouragement and advice. 

According to Miller, companies with Sticky Brands generate energy and motivation by setting big goals, goals that are guided by their purpose and values, what he calls aspirational goals. “When a goal is just about a number, it lacks the human element to drive action.” (page 181) People can engage with aspirational goals because they have meaning, they are tangible, and they lead to a different kind of behavior. They tend to foster confidence, resulting in proactive and more action-oriented behavior. “With the right goals you can shift your brand from being average to sticky.” (page 176) Miller gives a great example and I would be amiss not to mention it. It’s Steve Jobs’s pitch to convince John Sculley from Pepsi-Cola to join Apple: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” (page 176) You may not want to change the world, but the question remains: […] how is your company going to make a dent in the universe?” (page 176) What is your big goal that kicks your team into gear and keeps them so engaged that your customers will notice? 

With such a motivated team you will inevitably grow, and so will your revenue. And that’s great. But many companies reach a certain revenue plateau and get stuck there. Miller explains why. Your team, your systems, and your approach need to change. What brought you to the current revenue level won’t be enough to get you to the next one. The most important step is, you guessed it, to determine your next big goal, a goal that has an immediate and tangible impact on your business. And then it’s all about building the infrastructure, designing the systems, and training your team to make it happen. It takes vigilance and continuous evaluation to understand what is needed, what has to change, what can be done better.  

A great tool mentioned by Miller in this chapter is the SMART method. It’s an acronym and stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound. He uses some examples from the book to explain all five points. I found a great explanation on the Mind Tools website that goes into a lot of detail and explores it in a more general way. What I found very helpful on this website is the expansion of the acronym to SMARTER, the E and R standing for Evaluated and Reviewed. These two additions, Evaluate and Review, are emphasized by Miller throughout his book as being crucial. There are plenty of examples and word variations that may work better for your purposes, so feel free to choose the words that resonate with you. After all, “Big Goals [or goals in general] are only valuable if they drive action.” 

Have you ever heard the saying: “If it ain’t broke, break it!” Usually it’s the opposite, but in the context of Sticky Brands it makes a lot more sense this way. According to Miller “the status quo is the enemy of a Sticky Brand.” (page 187) Because accepting the status quo would mean staying where you are, not asking what the next step will be. But that’s not how businesses strive anymore. Who would have thought at the beginning of 2020 that the world would change so drastically? How many businesses needed to pivot to keep their doors open? It only underlines what Miller says about his own experience. He had taken over the family business and struggled tremendously. More than once he asked himself if it was such a great idea to leave his lucrative corporate job. His breakthrough came because he changed direction and did something new. He had to learn that “What had worked for them (his parents) in the past was no longer applicable.” (page 191). It also led to the 12.5 Principles that we “discussed” over the past 12 weeks. 

Wherever you are in your business endeavor, I’m sure you can find inspiration in Sticky Branding. Maybe you became curious and bought the book. I highly recommend it. I read it twice in short order to write my blog, and each time different aspects stood out. Here are some of my takeaways and likes:  

  • First of all, it’s an easy read. 
  • Clarity regarding purpose, goals, values…, you name it. Easy, right? Not necessarily. We are entrepreneurs for a reason, we have lots of ideas. Narrowing them down can be hard. But if we don’t, we run the risk of losing focus.  
  • And since I’m talking about focus: the author’s reminder of focusing on one aspect at a time. Too often we underestimate the amount of time and/or work it takes to finish a project. We take on far too much, resulting in burnout, feeling overwhelmed, and/or not making progress. 
  • The examples illustrating his thoughts and points. 
  • The Exercises at the end of each Principle, serving as starting points to get my creative juices flowing. 

Even if you don’t aim to create your own Sticky Brand you’ll find a lot of thought-provoking questions and ideas, many of which won’t cost you a dime. 

If you got hooked and decided a Sticky Brand is what you want to create, you have a great companion with lots of encouragement along the way. Just keep the book handy. “Growing a Sticky Brand is a way of life.” 

And now it is your turn. What was your favorite Principle of the book? What inspired you to make some changes in your business? As always, comments are welcome! 

See you next time,

Principle 11 – Proud to Serve

Book Discussion:
“Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller

We almost made it. So, stick with me (pun intended), and we’ll pull it all together in the last part of the book. In Principle 11 we find the following headlines:

The first part of Principle 11 talks about: “Be brilliant at the basics” (page 164). It’s the not so glamorous, often invisible work that’s done behind the scenes. Think of a theatre production. Everyone working on a production has only one goal: creating a magical experience for the audience. But what we see on stage is only a minor part of the work that goes into it. Many hands are needed. Someone designing the costumes; someone building the stage set; someone ensuring that the restrooms are clean; someone cleaning the auditorium, …. 

Sticky Brands pay attention to everything, even the work behind the scenes. They know and take pride in the most mundane things. Every moment counts towards a great experience.  

Just imagine you had to use the bathroom in the theatre, and it was filthy? OK, the performance may have been wonderful, but, I for one, wouldn’t forget my unpleasant restroom visit. 

“Sticky Brands sweat the little things.” (page 164) Even if it means cleaning the bathroom. Miller attaches this commitment and attitude to a clear purpose. “Their attention to detail is absolute, and it radiates through their products, services, hiring practices, operations, marketing, and every customer touch point.” We talked about this and the impact on company culture and employees in the previous two blogs. The focus here is more on the inner and “technical” workings of the company. Purpose fosters enthusiasm and the desire to constantly improve to better serve clients. The attitude of employees is more that of an artisan than that of a factory worker. They continuously ask the question “How can we be just a little bit better?” 

I’d like to start the second point “Good is not enough” with a question: When do you brag about something? I can’t talk for you, but I brag about products or services after something unusual has happened. 

Do you remember my blog about buying my Mini Cooper? I still remember talking with the sales rep about details of my car and later on sitting in the dealership going over the paperwork. Buying my Mini was a fun experience and out of the ordinary. That’s why good enough won’t work for Sticky Brands. They want to be excellent or, as many feedback forms state it, “exceed expectation. This Mini dealership certainly did. […] “you have to give your customers a reason to seek you out and choose your brand first.” And that includes sweating the little things as well. 

What can you do to make your customers remember you? Pick criteria that align with your purpose and that make you unique to your customers. This way it’s not just marketing, it’s who you really are. 

The next point is, if you “love your customers, they’ll love you back.” Meaning, if you give your customers your full attention they’ll notice. Miller uses an experience he had during an interview with Muldoon’s president Jimmy Muldoon. A long-time customer had a minor complaint. This is how Miller describes the situation: […] the whole tone of the company shifted on the spot. […] the office was under DEFCON 2.” (page 169) The Muldoon team pulled all information they had about this customer, talked with the service manager, called the customer service rep and attended to the customer’s concerns with the “utmost care.” (page 170)  

Complaints are opportunities for improvement. […] In our business, our current customers come first […] and we make sure they are satisfied.” (page 170) 

And it’s not just lip service. At the Family Business Forum in April 2013 Miller heard it first-hand. A presenter, the CEO of a large retailer of designer men’s wear in Canada, praised Muldoon’s Coffee, their quality coffee and service. He, the CEO, hadn’t intended to talk about Muldoon’s. His presentation was about successful family-owned businesses. Muldoon’s just happened to have presented earlier that day, and the CEO happened to have first-hand experience with Muldoons. So he used them as an example. 

And this leads us to the next point “listen and respond.” It’s your customers who will tell you what they like or what they want. You just have to listen. It’s the perfect feedback loop and the best opportunity to learn about your customers’ needs and/or concerns. Understanding their point of view gives you valuable insights for product or service improvements. I mentioned “Muldoon’s complaint” already. Miller cites another example, the CEO of FeedBlitz who said: […] “out-servicing our clients and out-listening our competitors” is “the only way we can compete successfully against free services like Google.” (page 171) FeedBlitz’ CEO even shared that when the company was struggling with three equally viable strategic decisions they found the answer on the exhibit floor by … you guessed it, talking with their customers. 

The last part of Principle 11 is about being seen as an expert in your field. I’m sure you know that this will take time and practice. Miller compares it to a craftsman and calls it the craftsman mindset.  

Do you know Malcolm Gladwell and his book “Outliers”? He refers to research done by Andres Ericsson, researcher and professor of psychology at the Florida State University. According to his research it’ll take about 10,000 hours to reach mastery through deliberate practice. It also explains that deliberate practice […] entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all.” (page 173) 

I believe Miller emphasizes this point because “Becoming an expert is a hard and difficult road, but the process is also extremely fulfilling – it’s a source of pride.” (page 175) It takes a long-term commitment, as mentioned before approximately 10,000 hours, for your team to learn. “Do you have the purpose and pride to push your team to develop their skills and capabilities to consistently improve and serve your customers? Is your work a source of pride?” (page 175) Because if you only do it for the money, it won’t work. 

Now over to you. Are you proud to serve your customers? What are you doing to sweat the basics, be better than good, show love for your customers, listen to them and have a craftsman’s mindset? 

Let me know in the comments below.

Principle 10-Part 2: Branding from the Inside Out

Book Discussion:
Sticky Branding by Jeremy Miller

Let’s continue our adventure about “Branding from the Inside Out” and see how values influence your team members or employees. If you missed Part 1 about how to find your company’s values, just go back and read up on it.

Have you ever talked with a customer service rep and you knew from the start they couldn’t have cared less about you and your problem? And on another occasion, have you spoken with one who gave you the feeling of understanding and caring, was really nice and patient, and, yes, solved your problem? Of course, you did. That’s what the next sentence means: “A happy employee brings your brand to life.” (page 155) It doesn’t matter if you have one or one hundred employees, each one of them represents your company and your brand. Each one plays an integral part in the way your company is perceived and thus in your company’s success.

Miller writes, and I feel it’s a no-brainer, that how you treat your team members or employees impacts how they will perform. How do you interact with each other, how do you make decisions, how much freedom does everyone have, how much do you care and show empathy, and much more… Happy employees make happy colleagues which in turn leads to happy customers.

Creating a supportive environment and culture take effort and nurturing.

Based on my own experience, communication is one of the most important building blocks. As simple as it may sound, its impact is often underestimated. Conversations are not created equal. Some are fun and easy, but others can be difficult. Especially difficult conversations take trust and openness to be successful for everyone involved. But that’s a topic for another time. Staying connected and being part of the team is important, especially in times like now. What can you do or what can your team do to stay connected? Here are a couple of suggestions that, thanks to today’s technology, help us. Have a “daily team huddle to catch up and discuss projects” (page 156). Have a virtual coffee break with your colleague to discuss a problem or bounce off some ideas. Meet for a beer, glass of wine, or, if you prefer non-alcoholic beverages, some juice on Friday and end the week on a fun note. If you can, take a walk together and talk. It is (always) the little things that make the (big) difference. They show that you care about your colleagues, team members, or employees and consider them valuable and your greatest asset.

Your caring is the building block for their commitment and attitude. Didn’t I say happy employees make for happy customers? Each and every team member, colleague, or employee is an ambassador of your company and brand. Miller writes: “Your people shape your brand.” (page 159) They can be your greatest differentiator when it comes to your competition. Competing on price is never a good marketing strategy and, in some cases, extremely difficult when we think about commodity products. So where do you gain leverage over your competition? By making sure your team or employees create the difference. After all, people buy from people. Emotions are involved.

Above I mentioned two versions of a customer interaction. Miller writes about one in his book. It’s about a company that sells truck parts. In celebration of their 40th anniversary the team came up with the idea of organizing a relay race over 200 miles to the company’s headquarters supporting their philosophy that having a healthy mind and a healthy body is important. Two things happened: “It (the relay race) invigorated the passion, respect, and camaraderie of the team” (page 159) through their collective training, and it mobilized locals to participate. That in return led to a major buzz in the communities along the relay race so that local newspapers, trade magazines and the local radio station featured it. “The more active your employees are in their community, the more relationships they will form.” (page 159) And as we’ve discussed in a previous chapter, people prefer to buy from people they know and trust.

To conclude Principle 10 “Branding from the Inside Out” let’s circle back to Part 1, my previous blog, and bring it together. Purpose, values, and company culture, are the backbone of every business big or small. They define who you are, how you deal with your people, team members, employees, and consequently with your customers. They set the tone in everything you do. The clearer you are about them, the more consciously you can use them to your advantage.

I hope this blog triggered your thinking about these more subtle Sticky Brand ingredients. What’s your company’s purpose? What are your values? What’s your company culture? And most importantly, how do you use them to your advantage?

Let me know in the comments below.

See you next week,