I remember when one of my brand managers came into see me to try to get my approval on a small tactical print ad. I didn’t know much about the ad, because it was a small ad, on a small budget. But here I was, ready to approve. I looked down and saw something so boring. It was likely on strategy, but it would never capture anyone’s attention, it would never drive anyone’s desire, and most importantly no one would love the brand. It was just awful. But I’ve always prided myself at being a believer in the bottom up approach to management. I couldn’t crap all over it. So we both sat in silence as I stared down at the ad in front of me. I didn’t know what to say, I wasn’t sure I could really even give feedback on how to making it better. So I asked one of the best questions I’ve ever asked in my life.
I said “do you love it?”
The brand manager shrugged his shoulder said “no, not really. It’s ok”
And that was one of the worst answers I had ever heard.
I slid it back across the table and said “bring me back something you love”.
If you don’t love the work you do, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand?
If you don’t love it, you won’t fight for its life. Having executed many great marketing programs over the years, I can safely say I can remember the fight like it was yesterday. Somewhere along the way, there would be a fight. That might be with your boss, your boss’ boss all the way up through the organization. It might be with the agency, whether it’s the creative director of VP of Accounts. Or it could be with director on set.
Will you work hard enough to make it perfect? Greatness takes passion, precision and dedication. While most of my marketing life was 8-6 pm, I knew that about 10 times a year I’d work till 1am. But I went to bed proud. If you don’t love it will make sure everything is just perfect.
Approving OK is the slippery slope to OK. You start to think “good enough”, you start to lose pride, Yes, there always constraints: deadlines, budgets alignment. But if there becomes a culture where OK is accepted than that becomes the goal. I talked to one potential client who was #5 in the category. They were buying into everything I was saying. Looked like i would be helping them out. Then they phoned and said “we know we are #5, but we’ve decided #5 is good enough, because even we improve our brand we’ll just be a stronger #5” Wow.
Explaining what a Marketer does to non-Marketers is odd because we don’t really do anything. We don’t make the product, we don’t make the ads or public relations and we don’t even sell it. Yet the Brand Leader is held responsible for sales, share and profits. And they should be. While we don’t do anything, we do have a say in everything that goes on about the brand and we sit in the seat that can inspire everyone around you, or it can be the one that inhibits creativity and suck the life out of everyone around you. As you sit in the Brand Leader role, the worst thing you can ever do is say “Yes” to OK ideas.
If you’ve ever said “Yes” to an OK idea, you know that you lost a bit of who you wanted to be. And you know the work can only get worse.
Execution is Half the Battle and OK is the Enemy
As a Brand Consultant, I can tell you that strategy is only half the battle. Execution is the other half. That execution could show up in print ad like above, or even a new product, or a waiter serving table 16. Never settle for OK.
Rejecting OK work is not easy, especially if you have a reputation for playing it safe and approving OK. It is always tempting to look at all the work that’s been presented to you and figure out which one is the best. So you pick the 6 out of 10, and make some recommendations that might it up to a 6.5.
Because you don’t really do any of the work, not only do you need to REJECT OK, but you have to inspire the greatness to come from others.
Execution does matter. While we want great execution against great strategy, I’d say that great execution against an OK strategy is better off than OK execution against a great strategy. In today’s crowded marketing world, where consumers see 6,000 ads a day, standing out is more important than it ever has been.
If you are up for the change, you should start at the beginning of the process. Sit with your lead account person and lay out your deepest thoughts on how you want your passion for the work to come shining through. Find the language that translates your passion accurately at the outset and then be consistent to that passion throughout. Here’s what I have said in the past: “I know we need an Ad that delivers the strategy, sells more product and drives share. But I also need an Ad that I love, that I’m proud of and something I can hold up and say I DID THIS”. I always felt “I have to love it” is the highest bar you can set. It also gives you the out by saying “I just don’t love it”. Tell your account person, you are building in extra time in the process just so we can see if we can really push to get to great.
But saying is one thing, doing is another. Be consistent at every stage because people follow how you say it as much as what you say. Write an inspiring brief that is open on creativity, and isn’t filled with support points or mandatory requirements. Ask to meet the creative people before the first creative meeting so you can talk about your expectations that you want to create work we all love. At the creative meeting, you need to stay open, positive and push for different because that is usually where greatness lays. Follow your instincts first. Absorb the work in the same way your consumer might. Reach for words that describe your instincts and how you feel about the work. Stay open and inspiring. Do not get into all the details or the changes you want–save those for a post meeting email. Talk only about the work you love–don’t even talk about the ones you don’t like. You want your positive energy to come through.
It’s one thing to inspire but it’s another thing to actually go for it. I find it strange that Brand Leaders always push for a strategic point of difference no matter how small–but when it comes to execution many of us fear sticking our neck out and looking different. When it comes down to making the choice, you need to show everyone how serious you are by taking a chance on greatness and not just picking the safe options. You have to be wiling to fight for it, because you can imagine that there will be push back. This is your opportunity to shine, your opportunity to inspire everyone on your team and your opportunity to push for true greatness for your brand. And you’ll bring back those feelings of excitement that you had the day you decided to get into marketing.
You can only Reject OK, if you are willing to inspire greatness.
To read more about Beloved Brands and how to turn love into more power and profits:
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- How to Write a Brand Plan: The positioning statement helps frame what the brand is all about. However, the brand plan starts to make choices on how you’re going to make the most of that promise. Follow this hyperlink to read more on writing a Brand Plan: How to Write a Brand Plan
- Consumer Insights: To get richer depth on the consumer, read the following story by clicking on the hyper link: Everything Starts and Ends with the Consumer in Mind
I run the Brand Leader Learning Center, with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders. To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here: Brand Leadership Learning Center
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About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand. I only do two things: 1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better. I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth. And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge. I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.