Excerpted from Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Copyright © 2019 by Lindsay Pedersen. Published by Lioncrest Publishing.
When you scale, you must empower others to make decisions, because as a leader, you cannot be everywhere. The more you scale, the more you rely on others to help you build. By enabling you to push decision-making outward and downward, brand replicates you as a leader, so the business scales even in your absence.
Brand provides a North Star to guide employees to grow the business you want to build, and to do so with autonomy and cohesion. They are using the same song sheet as you are, so they can make decisions that are on-brand just as you can. In addition to extending you as a leader, brand strategy gives your employees more meaning in the work they do for you every day.
As venture capitalist Dan Levitan shared with me, “unless you stand for something clearly articulated, you can’t scale your team.” Levitan, who co-founded venture capital firm Maveron with Howard Schultz in 1998, has funded and advised illustrious startups including Zulily, Allbirds, Cranium, Drugstore.com, Pinkberry and Everlane.
Andrew Sherrard served as CMO of T-Mobile. He told me, “We are trying to grow and scale our company. And the way we do that is by pushing more decision-making out to the edges while still ensuring they’re grounded in the common principles. Getting the attention of employees and partners can be just as hard as sustaining the attention of customers, so they need shorthand too. Our shorthand at T-Mobile is we’re here to change wireless for the better. So, employees can make their decisions accordingly without senior leaders needing to weigh in every time. It ends up creating the ability for us to act much more quickly than if we didn’t have a brand that was unified and thought through.”
To scale, you need everyone focused on what matters. For them to know and internalize the thing that matters, they need a visible North Star. Your brand strategy is that North Star.
Within your organization, brand should not be tucked away tidily inside marketing. Just as a strong P&L is not only the concern of the finance department, and a compelling culture is not owned solely by HR, your brand should not be solely a marketing responsibility. Use brand company-wide as your beacon to guide decision-making everywhere, including innovation, pricing, sales, promotion, and partnering. When brand is owned by everyone in the company, it amplifies all efforts throughout your business.
People are hungry for clarity and will shine when you provide it. At Patagonia in 2016, teammates were brainstorming ideas for a marketing splash for Black Friday, the biggest sales day of the year. It was a junior employee who suggested the audacious idea that the company donate 100% of Black Friday sales to the environment. He had so internalized the Patagonia brand that he could make a bold, deeply on-brand suggestion despite his short tenure and junior status. Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario reportedly approved his idea within minutes.
For startups, frequently there is a brand strategy that has not yet been made explicit. Tarang Amin of e.l.f. Cosmetics, shared with me, “Often founders have a brand idea in their heads even if they’ve never articulated it. But articulating it is a tool that will make it more powerful. It’s quite helpful to get everyone on the same page with your brand strategy, particularly as you scale.”
The brand living in the founder’s head can work for a time. But at some point, the founder either is going to want to work less or is going to want to scale. This is when it is a gift to make explicit the implicit.
Suzanne Senglemann was CMO of Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP Snacks when she shared with me that her founder did just that. “With Angie’s, there was a brand strategy, it just lived in our founder’s brain. She knew what she wanted to do and what she didn’t want to do. She knew the feeling she wanted to convey… Then there came a point when not having it overtly articulated prevented scale, actually created a bottleneck to scale. At that point, we articulated it on paper in a framework, and that was freeing.”
Jeremy Korst, previously General Manager for Microsoft Windows Marketing, agrees. He even credits brand with one of Microsoft’s most successful product launches. He told me, “Where brand really gets powerful for me is as an internal prioritization tool. These internal teams are craving clarity and singular purpose.” He saw this when his team was developing Windows 10 and used the Windows brand strategy. “They had this tool to clarify choices – it was a decision-making tool for everyone. This helped make Windows 10 the most quickly adopted version of Windows in its entire 30-year history. It’s because clarity is so empowering.”
Seamless Web, which merged with GrubHub in 2013 and went public in 2014 as a combined entity, uses the principles of brand across the company. Jonathan Zabusky, who was CEO of Seamless, shared with me that brand guided his decisions when building Seamless Web on everything from company culture to marketing, from partnering and hiring to exiting people.
“Brand is all-encompassing for all of our stakeholders,” he said. “It permeates every part of the company, internally and externally. I think that’s the dimension that people lose – they associate brand simply with marketing. But it’s everything. It’s the way that we make difficult trade-offs, from business strategy, to which sectors to go after, which geographies and market segments, to who we hire and who we ask to leave.”
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If you want to scale your business, and if you hope that it endures beyond you, then dig deep and identify your focus through the lens of brand strategy. This will fuel you to capture value today, and scale beyond your current state.
Without focusing, the wind is in your face. Without a clear understanding of why you are here, it is hard to convince customers and employees that you have a reason for being here. As Dan Levitan put it, “I don’t think anything differentiated or anything extraordinary or anything enduring can come without a definition of what you stand for.”
Any business with longevity endures because it brings something truly different and needed. A brand strategy brings that uncommon thing to center stage, so everyone readily sees it and uses it and reinforces it and lives it.
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