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What Goal Have You Set For Your Brand?

February 18, 2019

BuoyA few weeks ago, I wrote about charting a course to brand performance. To completely torture that maritime metaphor, when your brand is performing well, it’s like having your boat perfectly outfitted and your course plotted. At this point, your brand should be working efficiently for you. But where are you going? Most owners and managers of small and middle-market buildings have no idea. They point their vessels, imprecisely, toward “success” or “increased sales”. But that’s just like steering toward the horizon. A business needs a more specific goal. And, luckily, one of the benefits of constructing a brand strategy is that the goal becomes immediately apparent. Once you have assessed your products and services, matched up to your market’s values, assessed your storytelling capabilities and surveyed your competition’s positioning, you’ll see a rich goal that is readily available to you. And you’ll have plotted a course to it, one that neatly sails past shallow water and treacherous rocks.

Again, brand strategy focuses one’s sight to a specific goal. Instead of making vague promises like “We’re going to be the best car company in the whole wide world.”, a brand strategy will point to something more useful like “We’re going to be the number one transportation choice for growing families that appreciate safety and economy.” That’s a far superior goal for a number of reasons.

Fuzzy goals like “success” or “more sales” or “be best” are unmeasurable and so unachievable. You never know when you’ve found success because maybe you could have been even more successful. How can you tell when you’ve reached the horizon?

A focused goal, one that’s identified by a sound brand strategy, is tangible. Everyone in the company can understand it and see what how their job function contributes toward reaching it. And everyone knows when it’s been achieved. At that point, you can plot a new course to an even richer goal.

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Of course, nothing’s ever easy. The devil is in the details. You can’t reach your goal by obsessing over it to the exclusion of everything else. You have to look at it in context.

When I was much younger, I got hired to help a man deliver a sailboat that had just been sold. We were taking the boat from the seller in North Carolina to the buyer in Florida. After that, we were to take the train back. I had absolutely zero experience on boats but the captain had more than enough for the two of us. And, as long as I did what he ordered, quickly and precisely, I was fairly useful as a crewman. So I did my best when told to “furl that sail” or “make fast that line”.

When time and conditions were right, the captain gave me sailing lessons. Under his watchful eye, I would take the helm and decide when it was time to tack or run downwind or whatever. After a few days, the captain said it was time for me to solo. We were crossing an immense sound somewhere in Georgia. We got out the chart a plotted a course toward a buoy much like the one in the photo above. We noted some shallow water, a sandbar, off to the port side but our course took us safely past that. The captain pointed out the buoy, a tiny thing bobbing far off on the horizon. OK he says. You have a fine boat and a charted course. I’m going below. Wake me up when we get near the buoy.

From the helm, I kept the bow of the boat aimed directly at the bobbing float. I have to say – it was a thrilling experience. Being alone on deck with nothing but the sound of water lapping on the hull and wooden masts creaking in the rushing wind, left me almost giddy with excitement. There was something about being totally self-sufficient, too, that added to the euphoria. I had the sense that I could go anywhere in the world, utilizing nothing but the power of the wind. But, for now, I only wanted to get to that yellow buoy, still dead to rights, ahead. And I concentrated my entire focus on that.

Then suddenly I ran aground.

Long story short, I was so obsessed with my goal, I had failed to note water conditions. A sound, in nautical terms, is where a river, or combination of rivers, open up to the wide sea. So, as I was steering south, the water was rushing eastward to the Atlantic Ocean, and it pushed me onto the sand bar we had noted when we plotted the course. By focusing only on the buoy, I didn’t notice I was drifting off course. From far away, the buoy’s position on the horizon seemed unchanged. I thought I was approaching it from the northwest. The view was exactly the same when the boat’s position slowly shifted and I was now, unknowingly, approaching from the northeast.

When the captain ran up on deck, he knew exactly what had happened. His first view was to the stern and he could see the boat’s wake in a long, lazy arc. My attention had been riveted forward, on the buoy alone. If I had checked my wake from time to time, I would have seen that same arc. I would have known that I was in danger of running aground and I could have avoided the shallow water. (Luckily, BTW, no injuries and no damage.)

Implementing a brand strategy is similar in that you have your goal noted and your course plotted out. But you can’t obsess on your goal to the exclusion of all else. Like water currents, market currents are continually churning. Your positioning may evolve without you even knowing it. It pays, from time to time, to observe your market with a keen eye. You’ll find that you probably won’t need to alter your overall strategy. But you may have to make some tactical adjustments to stay safely on course.

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