Fast Company

Staying on Your Game in '06

It's just two weeks into 2006, but already many new year's resolutions have been broken, and for those still hanging in, the stats don't look so good. In fact, I've heard about 95% of resolutions fail.

I take a different approach. Instead of annual resolutions, I view life and my branding profession as a game, a competitive event that is exciting and rewarding. You don't often hear sports commentators speak of championship resolutions, but rather skills and winning strategies.

As I move into the new year, I set aside a couple of days to reflect on the past year. I make a list of all my metaphorical wins and losses, and the key plays that contributed to those outcomes. I look at the MVPs in select industries, peruse their key stats and then, most importantly, I compile all the highlights of the year that really make me feel great. Because if your job doesn't make you happy, get a new one.

Branding, marketing, and sales are all challenging activities. If you don't stay in shape, you're bound to get hurt. Without a sound game plan, you're as good as burnt toast.

To stay on top of your game, I say forget the resolutions. Set clear, accountable goals, and try some of these key plays to start acting like the MVP that you are.

These are some things that helped me score big this year.

  • Attitude is everything. Passion and confidence will increase the value of your brands. Believe in what you are taking to the market, or make changes.
  • Regularly exercise your brain for full creative performance. Innovation and creativity in business and branding are tie-breakers every time. Don't take your mind for granted. Build in daily mental exercises that challenge your thinking. If you are right handed, draft a paper with your left hand, and vice versa. Do crossword puzzles. Experience new environments. Draw instead of writing and write if you like to draw.
  • Shake off setbacks as practice time. Without failure, we would not recognize success. Don't stress over missteps; learn from them and move forward.
  • No risk, no anything. Great branding is not for wimps. It's for leaders who are not afraid to go where others don't dare. This applies to every facet of your brand: the name, how you do business, and certainly how you touch the market.
  • Don't try to please everyone. You will never do it. Focus on the hardcore advocates of your brand; this will help even more people love you.
  • Invest in learning for you and your brand team. About the time you figure it out, there is a new and better way to do it. The world of branding moves a lot faster than you might imagine. As a brand leader you've got to allocate time and money for continued learning in technology, research, and execution methods.
  • Watch other games. If you spend all your energy looking at just at your industry, you will see a lot of the same stuff. That's how commodities operate. If you want to pioneer in your category, you've got to spend time looking at other industries.

Now that we've covered some general winning plays for the next year, here is what I believe are the three most important practices of a true brand champion.

  • Build communities. Whether your community has 40 million members like MySpace.com or a few thousand like moomom.com, an online community can be a powerful means to nurture an incredible brand. Starting with an opt-in avenue, folks join others with like interests and values who are somehow associated with your brand. Moomom.com is an online beehive of pro-organic moms. The community is connected to Organic Valley, a co-op of 723 organic farmers.

As a society, we are rejecting traditional authorities (and traditional advertising) and placing more trust in tribal types of communications. Brands that build relationships through communal means will be big winners.

  • Give and you shall receive. Organizations that incorporate giving back into how they do business will win on all fronts. Here's great example: WOMMA, The Word of Mouth Marketing Association is trying to raise $20,000 for charity. In conjunction with an upcoming conference they are auctioning 20 passes on eBay, with 100% of proceeds going to the cause. For full details visit http://www.womma.org/wombat/blog/2005/12/were_auctioning.html
  • Which brings me to the final 2006 brand booster:

    • Buzz up your brand. For years, word of mouth has been building businesses and brands, but only in the past few years have marketers considered this WOM a real strategy and a worthy investment. In the game of branding, any size organization can win customers and earn brand equity with well-designed and trackable buzz-generating programs. Give the market a reason to talk about your brand. Surprise them, stir up controversy or just deliver something wonderfully unique.

    This week, on January 19 and 20, WOMMA is hosting a Word of Mouth Basic Training conference in Orlando. I'll be there and will cover highlights in my February column in this space.

    Until then, play ball and brand on!


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