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Time To Take A Stand

Published In: The Blend - March 2008
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It stands to good sense then that the first decision of the business-owner should be made around position and stance.

Footloose and Customer-Free

Ever get the feeling when you stop and look around, that the world is somehow spinning faster and faster? Nothing stays the same. Nobody stops for a minute, for no one has the time. People keep on moving; whether following the next big thing, pressing ahead to stay ahead or just running to stand still. Ours is a world grown restless, anxious to get wherever we’re going just a little quicker, and apparently ready to ride whatever technology will take us there.

For the business-owner, this can be more than a little disconcerting. Should we stay or should we go? As the world hurtles by, the temptation is to take a flying leap and hitch a ride to wherever it’s headed.

In the struggle just to keep up, many of us grow as footloose as the crowd we follow. Our new mobility takes us to all sorts of places, but we never stay anywhere long enough to make it count. This is the age of the outwardly mobile and it’s easy to believe that a headstrong rush to whatever’s next is the only way to go.

But sometimes, the head doesn’t offer the best counsel to the business-owner. Sometimes, our head is set spinning by the rate of progress and our feet are obliged to follow. And sometimes, we’re so busy moving on that our customers can’t find us.

Our customers can’t find us? There! I thought that might get your attention. Some of us are so busy staying ahead that we’re leaving our customers behind. But how can that happen? Surely keeping up can only be a good thing?

Taking A Stand

Step into the shoes of your customer for a minute: it’s quite a frenzy out there. The world is moving faster. Everything’s a blur. There’s endless choice, a stream of faces and voices calling out their wares. Nothing’s fixed in this place. Sure, it’s fun for a while but soon your head grows dizzy and you want to orientate yourself and get your bearings. Which do you look to for reference: the spate of objects rushing past you or the fixtures that are rooted to the ground?

Now step back into your own shoes, the shoes of the business-owner. How does it feel to hurry from one place to the next, fearful of missing out on something, sometimes arriving in a place just as everyone there is moving on to somewhere else? How does it feel to be always on the go? The mobile life can be attractive, but more often than not, it leaves us off-balance and indecisive and gives us little basis on which to build our relationships with our customers.

It’s time to take a stand. If we want to enjoy more than fleeting success, we must swap the shifting sands of fashion and fad for more permanent ground. Otherwise, we’re unable to gain any real purchase or traction. Of course, none of this is new. The scientist Archimedes offers us more than the startling image of a naked philosopher leaping from his bath and running down the street, crying ‘Eureka’! Like many of the great thinkers, he applied his brilliance to many activities. In the ancient world, Archimedes was better known for his groundbreaking work on leverage. He’s credited with developing many of the systems of pivots, pulleys and levers that enabled the early civilizations of Greece and Rome to pile massive rock upon rock at heights far above the heads of the stonemasons. Archimedes was fully aware of the significance of his work and his boast to the world is worth repeating here: ‘Find me a place to stand and I’ll move the world’. Just picture it for a moment: this puny figure challenging the world order. Our natural modesty might prompt us to laugh at his hubris but as business-owners and brand-builders, we can do worse than ask how we might apply his thinking to our world.

Standing Our Ground

For when it comes down to it, the business of building a brand is the business of leverage. The global brand names have a heft and a reach that far exceeds their natural strengths and resources. They enjoy powerful and profitable relationships with their customers because they too have found a place to stand from which to move the world. How else might we account for the ability of an otherwise unremarkable, black, sugary and carbonated beverage to conquer the world? Or the power of one music-player to ensnare the popular imagination, regardless of its obvious shortcomings? Our rational selves urge us to keep things in proportion when we set out to devise the mechanics of our business but the great brands enjoy disproportionate success. They do so because their owners recognise that there are other forces at work when it comes to influencing the buying decisions of others.

It’s not only architects and engineers who appreciate the importance of leverage. Athletes of all kinds will be familiar with the importance of taking a stance. The boxer, the wrestler and the tennis-player must be poised and ready to make the decisive move. The great players enjoy a remarkable positional sense. They know where they must be to have maximum impact.

It stands to good sense then that the first decision of the business-owner should be made around position and stance. These two are essential in establishing leverage. When we understand who or what we wish to influence, we can choose our ground. What are the key issues for our customers and where do we need to position our business in order to best address them?

Call it ‘drawing a line in the sand’ or ‘nailing our colours to the mast’ or whatever you will, but this key decision obliges us to stand for something (which, in turn, means that we stand up for our customers and stand against whatever threatens to disturb them). Perhaps our customers’ ambitions are menaced by their competitors or by anonymity or by apathy? Maybe they’re under threat from the demands of modern life or a sudden crisis of confidence? Understand what’s important to your customers and the hazards they face and choose your ground accordingly. This is the true meaning of positioning and it offers us immediate reference points to guide our own business approach and activities.

Keeping On Our Toes

When we choose a position and take a stance, we are now poised to leverage the strengths and resources of our business. We can use this pivotal advantage to extend our influence beyond our immediate reach. The well-placed business no longer needs to chase the market. The market now comes to it. We see this in the leverage that the great brands enjoy with their customers, colleagues, suppliers and influencers. But how does this work?

Leveraging Customers: When we stand for something of value to our customer, our business is no longer cast in the role of salesperson or applicant. Taking a stand means that we approach our customers as equals, confident that we have something valuable to offer in exchange for their custom and reward.

Leveraging Colleagues: When we position our business clearly in our market, the role we wish our colleagues to play in delivering to our customers is equally evident. The business that stands for something naturally invites allies to the cause. It’s not a coincidence that the successful brands rarely complain about the shortage of ‘good people’ in the recruitment market. Their brand does a good deal of recruitment for them.

Leveraging Suppliers: When we are unequivocal about where we stand in relation to our customers, it makes it a lot easier for us to choose suppliers that help us to meet our customers’ needs. When they in turn understand what we’re aiming for, suppliers are much more likely to get it right first time, every time.

Leveraging Influencers: The growing authority we exert over the influencers in our market offers perhaps the greatest return on our efforts in building a brand. When we do not clearly stand for something, when we seem to ‘run with the hares and hunt with the hounds’, others have difficulty in talking about us to others. Whether they are critics, analysts, inspectors or just simply effusive talkers, influencers tend to appreciate strength of character and resolve in brands – it makes their job a lot easier.

Head (Not Feet) To Move Around

In the rush of daily life, it’s too easy for the business-owner to follow one trend after another. The urge to be fashionable is powerful. The lure of the new, the trendy and the technologically advanced is difficult to resist. But we must resist it. Otherwise, we’re in danger of abandoning the bedrock of our business, the place in which we can position our offer to exert the greatest influence on our market.

We must firmly stand our ground, confident that when we’ve taken our stance, it’s the job of the head to move us around so that we face our customer. Poised and ready for action, we can stand out in our market and stand up to the competition.

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Published In: The Blend - March 2008
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About 'The Blend'

Time To Take A Stand is one of ‘The Blend’ series of articles in which Gerard Tannam takes a look at how to cook up a great brand, samples some of the ingredients you'll need to make one of your own and weighs up the impact of branding on different parts of the business mix.

Gerard is the founding Managing Director of Islandbridge, a business that delivers brand direction, planning and corporate communications across a wide range of sectors including retail, property, hospitality and tourism. Recent clients include Temple Country Retreat & Spa, Musgraves Food Services, Choice Hotels, The Westport Woods Hotel, Liffeyside Properties, Littlejohn Health Centre, and DIT School of Hospitality Management. For more on putting your brand to work for your business, get in touch with Gerard Tannam on +353 1 495 3330 or [email protected]

 

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