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Why Is Your Brand Like an Elephant?

March 25, 2019

Indian elephant illoWhile at breakfast with some new friends this past week, I happened to once again relay the tale of the six blind men of Hindustan, a famous Indian folk tale. In it, six blind men use their sense of touch to “see” an elephant. I was using the story to illustrate how different people experience brands in different ways and how it’s important to craft brand strategies that will address all those points of view. One of the people at the table very kindly complimented me on the metaphor. And that inspired me to notice that it’s been two and half years since we discussed brand constituencies in this blog. Time to rectify that now. Our tale begins in ancient India …

… where there were six very wise men, all old and all blind. They spent their days discussing and bickering over all the very important topics of their day. It happens that they heard of a wondrous beast called an elephant. The descriptions of the animal made no sense at all so they arranged to have one brought before them to “see” for themselves what all the fuss was about. On the day of the elephant’s arrival, they took turns examining it.

The first man felt the elephant’s side and determined it was a wall. The next felt the tusk and decided an elephant was a spear. The third felt the leg and thought it was a tree. The fourth felt the trunk and declared that an elephant was a snake. The fifth felt the ear and came away thinking an elephant was a giant fan. Finally, the sixth took hold of the tail and was disappointed to conclude that an elephant was nothing more than a rope. The story goes on to point out that each blind man was partially right … and yet they were all completely wrong. None of them had really “seen” the elephant.

Brands are just like that elephant in that they are also experienced differently by different elements within their markets. Markets are made up of constituencies. A constituency is any person or group whose experience/perception of the brand is important to its future. We use the term constituency instead of stakeholder because it’s more inclusive. Every stakeholder is a constituent but not every constituent is a stakeholder. Employees are stakeholders in that they have a stake in the brand’s success. That’s one reason the best employees want to work for the strongest brands. The press, by comparison, has no stake at all. They couldn’t care less if your brand succeeds or fails. They’ll happily report on it either way. But, as an owner or manager of a brand asset, you still have to care about how the press perceives your brand, because that perception is important to your organization’s future.

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OK – to hammer home the obvious now. In our illustration, the elephant is a typical brand and the blind men are the constituencies that are experiencing it. Every constituency experiences the brand in an entirely unique manner. Each has only one angle on the extremely complex organization known as a brand. The customers experience the brand in a way that is completely different from the way the staff does. And the staff’s experience is wholly different from the way the CEO experiences the brand, especially if that CEO is the founder of the company. (Founders, by the way, represent a special challenge to brand-building because, on the one hand, they’re closer to the brand than just about anyone else. Their knowledge of it is encyclopedic. On the other hand, their experience of their own brand is the most isolated one and often clouded by emotion. No one else in the whole world relates to a brand the way its creator does.)

Here is a list of typical constituencies that a brand may find in its market:

• Customers, Clients and Purchasing Decision Makers – the most important constituency
• Current and Potential Employees – or is this the most important?
• CEO/President/Founder – a constituency of one, an extremely important but isolated point of view

• C-Suite Executives

• Financiers – everyone from bankers to venture capitalists to rich uncles

• Boards of Directors
• Advisory Boards

• Vendors

• Competitors – do they see you as a wolf or a sheep?
• The Press
• Regulatory Agencies

Are there any other constituencies that might be crucial to your brand’s future? In this exercise it’s important to not leave anyone out. When the list is complete, you have defined your market. Then, the object is to discover whatever themes, patterns or common threads the different groups share in their experiences. If you find even one commonality, it can become the powerful differentiator in all your marketing communications – a compelling reason to buy from you and not from your competitors.

As owner or manager of a marketable asset, you can achieve real strategic value if you can get all the constituencies in your market to understand your brand in a consistent manner. You need to find a way to express a single brand promise that will be relevant to all of them. You don’t want anyone thinking: wall, spear, tree, snake, fan, or rope. You want everybody thinking: elephant.

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