Dain Dunston

The Language of Leadership

Dain Dunston

Archive for January, 2014

You are what you read #2: What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee Yohn

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Think about the great companies you know, the great brands you’ve made part of your life, even part of your personality. Did any of them get there because they had great advertising? The answer is no. Great brands are built by great people who promise something relevant to customers and deliver on what they promise, year after year. If great advertising is part of that delivery, that’s wonderful. But companies that last are built from the ground up by the application of great principles in practice.

That’s what my friend Denise Lee Yohn’s What Great Brands Do, released this week from Jossey-Bass, is all about. It’s built on the idea that “branding” has nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with “operationalizing” the core purpose and brand promises of the company.

“Brand building is in no way confined to advertising and marketing,” Denise writes. “The proliferation of social networks and the pervasiveness of marketing in recent years may give the impression that companies should elevate the brand communications function, but growth in brand equity and influence comes from an entirely different way of thinking about and using brands.” She calls this new way of thinking “Brand as Business.”

Denise has worked as a brand builder for some of the world’s best companies and has observed well when her clients have done it right and when they missed the mark. She compiled that experience into Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest.

1. Great Brands Start Inside

It always starts with the culture and the culture starts with people. And that means all the people. “Your brand has to be supported by everyone, from investors to suppliers and everyone has to be on board. … When you start brand building with brand communications, you’re simply expressing your brand. When you begin with reforming the company and recommitting your company culture, your brand produces a direct and lasting impact on all areas of your business.” That means you treat people coming in the back door—from job seekers to the cleaning crew just as you would treat the customers coming in the front door. It means that you’re promises are true at every touchpoint.

2. Great Brands Avoid Selling Products

When Nike says, “Just do it,” they’re not saying, “Just buy it.” They’re telling us each to go for our goals, to stopping making excuses, to get up off the couch and live up to our potential. Their selling us our own dreams. Nike looks back at the genesis of the “Just Do It” campaign as unlocking the genetic code of the company. “Digging deep for that genetic code has made all the difference for Nike,” Denise explains. “It has used its brand essence as a source of inspiration.”

3. Great Brands Ignore Trends

Every company that followed Apple into the smart phone business was following a trend that Apple established with the iPhone. But Apple wasn’t following a trend, it was starting one. Not that you can’t make money following a trend. But you can’t build a great brand that way. “Great brands ignore trends because they are unwilling to surrender their company culture and connections to the customers to the whims of the marketplace.” Great brands get out ahead of trends—or as we said in Nanovation, “at the intersection of trends”— and “create futures in which they (and their customers) thrive and grow.”

4. Great Brands Don’t Chase Customers

Denise offers the example of the Rolling Stones, who’ve outlasted every other rock band in history. When they started, they alienated large parts of their audience by flirting with the girls in front of their boyfriends. The girls loved it and their message was clear: we don’t care what you think. We are who we are. It was exactly the right message for the times but more than that, it was the right message for the millions of people who became Stones fans. “Brand managers who chase customers may believe they’re doing the smart thing, seeking to maximize the breadth of customer appeal. But chasing customers can drive down profits, blur your brand message and put your truly loyal customers at the end of the line behind people who will never be your fans.” By focusing on your user base and being true to them, you build a stronger brand.

5. Great Brands Sweat the Small Stuff

Great brands focus on the details of brand touchpoints. Denise shows how Singapore Airlines has consistently been the world’s top rated airline by making the small stuff their business. “Singapore Airlines is a great example of how a company operationalizes its brand values so thoroughly that the ethos of ‘sweating the small stuff’ suffuses the company’s business processes, the epitome of brand-as-business philosophy.” She points out that the passenger’s experience is far more finely furnished that that of the company brass, whose offices are modest and functional. As a result of their detailed customer focus, no other airline has been able to match Singapore’s consistency in delivering on their brand promises.

6. Great Brands Commit and Stay Committed

It takes guts to sacrifice the sacred—like short-term profits or stock price growth—in order to maintain your brand integrity. But if you’re really committed to your brand promises, you’ll know when to make that call. “By its very nature, commitment to a brand platform requires a brand that continues to deliver value over the long term. Brands therefore must be sustainable and integral—sustainable in the sense that their relevance is evergreen, and integral in the sense that they create value for everyone involved.” That doesn’t mean that you keep making typewriters as the rest of the world turns to word processors. It means you’re so connected to the needs of your users that you’re the one who creates the next new technology.

7. Great Brands Never Have to “Give Back”

In Nanovation, we hit on this when we talked about companies that build corporate social responsibility (CSR) into the fabric of their business strategy, rather than as a year-end check to a charity. Great companies do well by doing good, by adding value to society. “Consumers are tired of companies who take with one hand and “give back” with the other. Great brands use the power of their brands to inspire change.” Consumers are very careful with their brand loyalty. And if you want to earn it, you’ll have to be about more than your financial results. You’ll need to stand for making a positive difference in the world.

Those of you who have been following as I’ve been blogging the early chapters of my upcoming book Branded to the Bone will understand why I like Denise’s book so much. She really gets it and she’s one of the few today who understand that brands are built from the ground up by integrity of purpose, integrity of people and integrity of action. The book is filled with lots of stories and concrete examples. Get it on your Kindle or iPad and start building a great brand.

(Photo: Petty Officer 2nd class Dawn Leclair performs maintenance on a General Electric F110-GE-400 jet engine in the Jet Shop aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) underway in the Persian Gulf on Nov. 29, 2004. Leclair is a Navy aviation machinist’s mate. DoD photo by Airman Kathaleen A. Knowles, U.S. Navy.)

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The Revolution Inside: The Two Questions that Will Rock Your World

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keep-calm-and-start-a-revolution-6This week, millions of people are making their New Year’s Resolutions but the sad fact is that, according to The Journal of Clinical Psychology, only eight percent of them will be successful in achieving their goals. So if you really want to change your life this year, you need more than the same old recycled resolutions you trot out year after year. You need a revolution in how you approach change.

It’s what I call The Revolution Inside, one of The Four Resolutions of a Leader. It’s revolutionary because you can’t lead others until you can lead yourself and you can’t lead yourself until you make some fundamental changes in how you wire your mind. And it starts with knowing yourself.

This is not a new idea. The words “Know Thyself” were carved over the entry to the temple at Delphi, where tragic Greek leaders went to get their questions answered. The trouble was, people would look up at that inscription and they would smile and nod and say, that’s nice. Then they’d go in and pay a lot of money to get their question answered. But in most cases the answer they got back never made any sense. It was always a riddle. The ironis is, had they really known themselves, they could have answered their own question. Or, even more important, they could have asked the right one.

The priestesses who ran the Oracle were no dummies. They had it very well thought out. They put the Temple way up on top of a mountain, so you had a lot of time to think as you walked up there. The idea of a long hike up a mountain was to help you still your mind. With your head bowed as you stepped up the trail, you would be engaged in your physical body and your mind would calm down.

ATH Delphi Apollo Temple panorama_bAnd then your reach the top, where the temple is. What are you supposed to see on a mountain top? You’re supposed to have a better view of things. You go to the mountain top to have deep insights, not to ask stupid questions. You stand on the mountain top and take a deep breath. You think about the question you are asking. You think about why you’re asking it and what you really want to know: the question behind the question. You take a moment to get real quiet inside so you can hear yourself think.

After all that, when you reach the door of the temple and see those words over the entry—Know Thyself!—you can stop, because you’ve probably just answered your own question.


“If I had twenty days to solve a problem, I would take nineteen days to define it.”

Albert Einstein


The Revolution Inside begins with the ability to know yourself. But suppose you don’t have time to climb a mountain every time you need clarity? Here are the two killer questions you have to ask yourself.

The Two Questions that Will Rock Your World.

When I coach leaders, this is where we start. Every morning when you wake up, ask yourself these two questions. Every moment of the day, from the moment you get to work until the moment your head hits the pillow. Before you write that e-mail, pick up that phone or walk into that meeting. Every time you walk through a door. Two simple questions.

Question 1: Who Am I Being?

The language is very specific. It’s not about who you want to be. Who you ought to be. Or who you aspire to be. Those are irrelevant ideas. The only thing you want to know is, Who am I being right now, right here, in this moment? That’s all.

Maybe you’re irritated. Maybe you’re balanced. Maybe you’re completely hunky-dory. Which is it? You need to know. Maybe you’re about to blow your top. Maybe you’re looking for a way to avoid bad news. Maybe you’re freaking out. If you don’t know that about yourself, you’re heading for a fall.

Who you are being is important. But it’s not as important as knowing. Because in the moment that you truly know who you are being, you can change in an instant.

And that’s where the second question comes in.

Question 2: What Do I Want?

You want to rip somebody’s head off? Go with God. But is that really what you want? Probably not. Probably what you really want is a problem solved. A relationship improved. Or a moment of transformation. This question, like the first one, is focused in the here and now, in the moment.

All those “resolution” desires—I want to lose weight, I want to find love, I want a billion dollars—are future-based. They’re probably irrelevant to the door you’re about to walk through, unless maybe it’s the door to the gym. But even then, if you really ask yourself what you want in the moment of entering the gym, your answer is probably more like, “I want to focus on my workout.” The ten pounds you want to lose will come as a result of that desire to focus.


“All experience happens for one purpose only: to expand your awareness.”

Paul Ferrini


With practice, these two questions become as one. Asking yourself who you are being actually changes who you are being. You soon find that just asking the question puts your mind into an alert, focused state. And in that state of presence, asking yourself what you want changes what you want. Chances are, you find yourself wanting to be in a state of alert observation and intuition, a state of curiosity about the world around you and what wants to happen.


“So far, the evidence seems to be compelling. What seems to be happening is that information is coming from the future.”

Brian Josephson, Nobel Physicist


And That’s Where The Revolution Occurs.

Leaders who know themselves operate from a state of present clarity. They are more perceptive and able to read behind what people are saying to understand what they are really asking. And when you can understand the people around you—when you identify who they are being and what they want—you can help them fulfill their own destinies, which is what leadership really is.

And now that you understand that, let me ask you this: who are you being? And what do you want?

Interested in digging deeper? I’m working with executive teams on Leadership Presence Coaching. Reach out and let’s talk about how we can start a revolution in your leadership.

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