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What Great Brands Do

It’s not easy building a great brand. Many businesses try. Few succeed.

Denise Lee Yohn has been part of the brand-building game for the past 25 years. Her experience began first with insider positions at great brands like Sony and Jack in the Box. Second, as a consultant with Frito-Lay, New Balance, Oakley and other well-known brands. And third, as a lifelong student of the brand-building game.

She’s finally written down the advice she has followed and given on how businesses can achieve rarified air in her first book, WHAT GREAT BRANDS DO.

This one line sums up Denise’s smart “brand as business” advice: “Your brand can’t just be a promise; it must be a promise delivered.

Her book goes deeper by sharing seven principles that brands follow to become great. When businesses follow each of these principles they start to build a great brand because you cannot build a great brand before you build a great business—the process is simultaneous. It’s “brand as business.”

Here’s how Denise explains what “brand as business” means…

Every great brand defines its brand as its business. It puts its brand at the core of its business and goes to great lengths to make sure there is no daylight between managing the brand and managing the business.

In an email exchange with Denise I asked her to cite a brand that follows her “brand as business” approach. She cites Amazon.

DENISE: Amazon’s mission is “to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online” and Bezos talks about its commitment to three things: the best selection, the lowest prices, and the cheapest and most convenient delivery.

Amazon really lives up to those ideals.

It’s the first place that most people go to look for products, read reviews, and check prices. It has set the standard by which other e-tailers are judged and its footprint continues to grow. At the same time, Amazon is clear about what it offers and doesn’t try to be what it’s not. The shopping experience is streamlined and straightforward, not particularly stylish or fancy. As such, people who are looking for the kind of experience Amazon offers are drawn to the brand and have developed a real sense of trust in it.

One of the more provocative brand-building principles Denise shares is great brands avoid selling products. Obviously, this begs the question if great brand don’t sell products, what do they sell? Denise has something to say about that…

DENISE: Great brands offer emotional connections by meeting emotional needs or through an identity that it helps its customers experience or express. They know that a product is merely a means to an end – a way of fulfilling a desire, doing a job, fixing a problem – and customers care mostly about the end.

Nike isn’t in the business of selling shoes – although it sells plenty of them. It’s in the business of inspiring and helping people feel like athletes. Its long-standing success as a business and a brand is due to the way it connects with people through aspiration and achievement.

Interested in learning more about Denise Lee Yohn’s book WHAT GREAT BRANDS DO? Visit these blogs, they’re part of the Post2Post Book Tour for Denise’s book:

Monday | Jackie Huba
Tuesday | Phil Gerbyshak
Wednesday | Paul Williams
Thursday | John Moore … (hey, that’s me)
Friday | Jay Ehret

Beyond Thinking Different to Doing Different

Originally posted on December 31, 2004

Bruce Mau, a designer, thinker, articulator, and massive change provocateur, has a lot of ideas on a lot of things. His Incomplete Manifesto for Growth is a list, an incomplete one at that, of 43 ideas to get you beyond thinking differently but doing differently.

As 2013 turns to 2014, the message of doing differently is one we should all heed. The first incomplete ideal is featured below. Heed and enjoy.

For all us marketing types, December is an interesting time of the year. It’s a time where we are busy finishing projects for this year while at the same time visioning projects for next year.

Earlier this year I spent time committing to paper various exercises business teams can do to better vision who they are and why they exist.

These exercises were designed to help businesses find THE PASSION CONVERSATION that can spark long-lasting word of mouth from customers and employees about a brand, organization or cause.

If you find yourself in need of better understanding what your business stands for, why it deserves to exist and what exactly appeals most to your customers then these three “Passion Exploration” exercises might help.

You game for playing?

If so, here’s my suggestion. Gather together a small team of no more than 16 people, but no less than eight. Be sure to go outside of your department and include people from other areas of your business. (Bonus points for including people who interact directly with your customers.) Pick one, two or do all three of the following Passion Explorations.

Passion Exploration #1 | WHAT’S OUR CAUSE?

Gather a group of employees together and split them into smaller groups of three-to-four people. Find markers, index cards and large poster paper. Have each small group work together to draw a picture of your brand as a superhero. Make sure they assign their superhero a superpower. Then, ask the following questions to spark a meaningful discussion:

  • What injustice(s) is our hero’s fighting against?
  • Who does she protect?
  • Why do people admire her?
  • Who are the arch villains?
  • What is our hero’s kryptonite? (What can render her powerless?)
  • How might this cause stand-alone from our brand? (How is it about far more than just us?)
  • What are some stories that tell us that this fight is something people care a lot about?
  • How might we invite people (customers) to join our superhero’s fight

  • Passion Exploration #2 | JUST ONE THING

    Again, gather together some employees. For this exercise consider keeping the group small, no more than eight people. Set the scene by having everyone imagine that your business can only do ONE THING for your customers. Yep. ONE THING. Have people write that ONE THING down on a note card and then, one-by-one, have people share what they’ve written down. Next, use the following questions to spark a group discussion:

  • What should our ONE THING be?
  • How could we do it really, really well?
  • What would make us remarkable at that ONE THING?
  • What would make it amazing and fun?
  • What is stopping us from focusing on that ONE THING?
  • How might we overcome those obstacles to better focus on that ONE THING?

  • Passion Exploration #3 | WOULD YOU BE MISSED?

    It’s easy in the midst of our never-ending workload to forget about the value we add to others’ lives. But that’s the very reason we’re in business in the first place. This exercise explores just that, the passions that people have for why we do what we do. Gather a small group together and for 30 minutes answer the following questions:

  • Who would miss us if our business ceased to exist?
  • Would our customers be able to find another business that treats them as well as we do?
  • Would our employees be able to find another employer that respects them as much as your business does?
  • It might be nice to also do this same exercise with your customers, adapting the questions a bit. Listen for and discuss the possible shared hidden passion conversations inside the answers to why customers and employees would miss your business. If you happen to discover that your business wouldn’t be missed, then you’ve got some serious matters to address in what’s left of 2013 to make the most out of what’s possible in 2014.

    Did you like this post?

    If so, sign-up to receive the monthly Brand Autopsy newsletter and you would’ve already read this. As a bonus for anyone signing up for the newsletter, you’ll receive a two-page tip sheet for encouraging customer advocacy.

    The Passion Conversation playing in the Idea Sandbox

    Paul Williams from the Idea Sandbox is a freak. He knows it. I know it. And if you didn’t know it, you’ll certainly know it after listening to the “podcast” he did with me to highlight tidbits from THE PASSION CONVERSATION book.

    Yes, it’s true. I skipped out on doing the podcast with Paul. Instead, I was at the Trappe Door enjoying some tasty Belgian beers. Good thing Paul found a replacement for me. And, the replacement did a great job weaving in references to Preparation H, One Wipe Charlies, and Whole Foods Market. I’m still wondering how Stephen Hawking was able to join the podcast. Paul must have connections.


    Paul also shares the transcript. Here’s a snippet:

    PAUL: Please elaborate on the idea of products having a “soul.” A soul for a product is an interesting idea. Please use the words “consortium” and “palette” somewhere in your answer?

    johnmoore:Hmmm. Okay, let me see what I can do. Products that are much more than merely palatable have a seemingly broad combination, or consortium, of attributes that lends itself to making people feel better about themselves. The other day at Brains on Fire, Geno Church went around our offices sharing with us how much he enjoys using Ursa Major’s face tonic. Clearly, using this product makes Geno feel better and the ladies here would chime in that his skin looks more supple than ever.”

    Jackie Huba and The Passion Conversation

    I’m honored to have Jackie Huba feature THE PASSION CONVERSATION on the Church of the Customer blog today. We’ve known each other for about 10 years, that’s when she published CREATING CUSTOMER EVANGELISTS. Her latest book shares customer loyalty lessons from mega pop star, Lady Gaga.

    Jackie was one of the first people to the read THE PASSION CONVERSATION and was gracious enough to give us this blurb recommendation:

    “Love is the missing ingredient in developing loyalty with customers. In THE PASSION CONVERSATION, the smart folks at Brains on Fire expertly explain how to develop deeper connections with customers who in turn sing your praises to everyone they know.” — Jackie Huba

    On her blog today, Jackie asks me to go a little on some of the ideas from the book. One question she asked had me share a story I know from Whole Foods Market early days…

    The Whole Foods Market we know today began in 1980. That’s when John Mackey and few friends opened up a health food store. At the time, the founders didn’t have dreams of building a great brand. Instead, they had dreams of selling healthy food to people. That was their passion. However, a year after the first Whole Foods Market store opened a massive flood in Austin, TX wrecked the store.

    The founders thought all was lost.

    During the long cleanup process something special happened. Customers came to help cleanup. It was at that point the founders of Whole Foods knew they were onto something special. When their customers took time out of their personal lives to assist in cleaning up all the mud and debris, the founders realized they had created something far more than a grocery store. They had fostered a passionate community of people.

    This story has become Whole Foods Market folklore. I’m sure other successful businesses have a similar story of a specific moment in time when the founders realized they were onto to something special. If you do not know the story of why your business was founded and when it knew it truly connected with customers, then I suggest you find that story. Once you find it, you’re certain to tap into a passion conversation. *** READ MORE ***

    Mack Collier features The Passion Conversation

    Mack Collier and I go back years. We’ve both been blogging long before blogging become trendy. (Anyone here remember his MoBlogsMoProblems blogspot URL? How about his on-going ranking of the Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs? I certainly do.)

    Mack is a long-time ambassador for encouraging businesses to foster brand ambassadors. Heck, he’s written a how-to book on designing social media strategies to tap into the power of brand ambassadors. He stays busy consulting, speaking, and has been gracious enough to feature THE PASSION CONVERSATION book on his blog today.

    His post is a Q&A we did and Mack came out swinging hard with questions. One of his questions wanted to know why more brands don’t create ambassador programs. My short answer included…

    Showing love to customers in order to receive love from customers is messy work. It ain’t check the box and it’s done. It’s much more than that.

    You have to treat brand ambassadors as individuals and not as customer segments. You have to be willing to let go of rigid brand guardrails and allow the ambassadors to speak in their voice and say the things they want to say in the ways they want to say them. You have to be ready to respond swiftly to the wants and needs of ambassadors. You also have to find ways to measure success because whatever results you deem as success takes time to happen.

    Loving customers over the long haul ain’t easy. It’s messy work. Not enough brands are willing to get that messy for something that takes time and isn’t easy to measure financially.”

    You can read more of Mack’s hard-hitting questions and my volley of responses on his blog. Please join us.

    Book Bites from The Passion Conversation

    Denise Lee Yohn and I go back a few years. We first connected online through our blogs and then our paths crossed at a conference. We talked marketing, branding, and business books then and today, we do the same.

    Denise keeps a top-notch marketing blog sharing lots of insights into designing better brands and delivering better customer experiences. Early next year Jossey Bass is publishing Denise’s first book, What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest.

    Today she is sharing brand book bites from THE PASSION CONVERSATION and a podcast discussion we had about core concepts from the book.

    Her post today totally nails the book’s major takeaway:

    Authenticity is such an over-used word these days but it epitomizes all the points The Passion Conversation. The authors write from a genuine place of love for what they do and they encourage that quality in others: “Life is better when you embrace loving your customers and employees, and supporting their passions…Life is better when you move from the marketing business to the business of inspiring people.”

    Don’t stop with reading the summation, spend a few minutes and listen to our podcast discussion. It’ll serve as a primer on what a passion conversation is and where to start finding it. *** LISTEN NOW ***

    The Marketing Spot meets The Passion Conversation

    Jay Ehret is The Dean of Marketing Know-How at The Marketing Spot. He’s been helping small businesses look bigger for years. Plus, he’s been sharing marketing knowledge nuggets online way before it was cool to do so.

    I’m honored he chose to be a part of The Passion Conversation online book tour. Jay asked great questions. One question was about… can a business just decide to start loving its customer in order to benefit from the passion conversation. To that, I replied with this:

    ”In order for a business to have customers fall in love with the business, the business must first fall in love with its customers. A business can’t just turn on the love switch. That’s convenient love and not unfailing love. In the book we quote a well-known bible verse from 1 Corinthians that talks about how love is patient, kind, not boastful or proud, is always hopeful, and endures through good times and bad. This is love you can’t fake.” ** READ MORE **


    photo credit: Kerry Woo

    Since THE PASSION CONVERSATION has been published, we authors have been busy spreading the gospel at conferences and company get-togethers about how loving your customers can spark a long-lasting romance full of meaningful conversations.

    Next week the spreading of the gospel will be shared from five bloggers I deeply respect. It’s an old-fashioned, can I say really that?, business blog book tour kicking off on Monday, Oct. 21. I hope you’ll join us. Here’s the lineup:

    Jay Ehret | Mon. Oct 21

    Denise Lee Yohn | Tues. Oct 22

    Mack Collier | Wed. Oct. 23

    Jackie Huba | Thurs. Oct. 24

    Paul Williams | Fri. Oct. 25

    Early on in the writing of THE PASSION CONVERSATION we stumbled upon a long-forgotten Harvard Business Review article titled, “How Word-of-Mouth Advertising Works.” It was published in 1966 and we couldn’t help but think how much further along the marketing world would be if it had heeded the article’s advice.

    Ernest Dichter wrote the article. Dichter, who you ask?

    ERNEST DICHTER is a name every marketer should know. He was an Austrian-born psychologist who spent a lifetime studying human motivations and applying it to marketing brands. He’s known as the father of motivational research and credited with coining the term, focus group.

    Dichter’s pioneering research techniques and analysis changed the way that giants like Chrysler, Procter & Gamble, Exxon, General Mills, and DuPont sold products to consumers. His advice to the prestigious clients was essentially to humanize the brand in order to connect better with people. Psychobabble it wasn’t. It was indispensable marketing advice then, today, and tomorrow, no doubt.

    Let’s revisit Ernest Dichter’s seminal (yet slept-upon) Harvard Business Review article from 1966 on Word-of-Mouth Advertising.

    Steeped in his in-depth research on consumer motivations, Dichter’s article explained consumers reject advertising messages because they are “more a sales tool than information and guidance.” He goes on to explain consumers reject advertising claims because they feel “threatened” by the “cold commercialism” of advertising messages.

    However, his research from the mid-1960s revealed. “When the consumer feels that the advertiser speaks to him as a friend … the consumer will relax and tend to accept the recommendation.”

    Whoa! Where’d that knowledge go for the last half-century?

    Imagine how much further along we’d be if more marketers in 1966 had taken note of Dichter’s smart findings on the importance of humanizing brands.

    In this article, Dichter goes deep into in reviewing the psychology of word of mouth recommendations by outlining the motivations for why people talk about a product/service. He also lists the motivations for why people listen to and act on a recommendation. Keep in mind, the following marketing perspective is nearly 50 years old. Reading it now feels like we’re going back to the future of marketing.

    Reasons Why People Talk

    Dicther’s research revealed that a person will talk about a brand if he “gets something out of it.” Meaning, the talker receives self-satisfaction from mentioning a product or service to someone. In particular, Dicther outlines four motivations for why people talk about a brand.

    1. Personal Experience
    First-hand involvement with a product will spark someone to talk because “… it is talk about the product which confirms for the speaker his ownership and joy in the product, or his discovery of it.”

    2. Self-Confirmation
    Dichter details eight types of self-confirmation people seek through talking about products and services, including: “gaining attention,” “showing connoisseurship,”having inside information,” and “spreading the gospel [by] converting the listener to use the product.”

    3. Being Nice
    Here the prevailing attitude is the need and intent to help, to share with the other person enthusiasm in, and benefits of, things enjoyed. Products serve mainly as instruments which help to express sentiments of neighborliness, care, friendship, and love.”

    4. Influenced by Advertising
    Since it is difficult for consumers to avoid exposure to advertising, many people have turned to accepting it for its independent attraction and entertainment value. Thus entertainment value and originality of ads have become topics of talk.”

    Reasons Why People Listen

    In Dichter’s study, he analyzed nearly 500 instances of purchases made resulting from word of mouth conversations. His analysis found that people determine whether to listen or ignore brand-related word of mouth conversations based upon if (a) “the person who recommends is interested in him and his well-being” and (b) “that the speaker’s experience with and knowledge about the product are convincing.”

    Dichter dug deeper to identify speaker types who have the greatest influence in making a word of mouth recommendation click with the listener. The most influential of these speakers are:

    1. Industry Experts
    Under this header are those persons who, on the basis of their training and/or work, appear to be closer to the product and more knowing about it than the average consumer.”

    2. Celebrities
    Included are movie, theater, TV, and radio personalities whose ‘authority’ is attributed to prominence in show business.”

    3. Knowledgeable Passionate Fans
    The connoisseur may know as much or more about the product and its background than the expert, but he does not make his living in connection with it; he merely enjoys it and his know-how about it.”

    4. Closest Ties
    What is meant here is the influence of mother, father, big brother or sister, husband wife, boyfriend or girlfriend which expresses itself not necessarily by means of verbal communication, but by the speaker’s actions.”

    Reasons Why People Act on Word of Mouth Recommendations

    Dichter writes about the critical factor of having an “A-ha” experience for people to act on a word of mouth recommendation. His analysis explains how mass advertising fails to effectively produce “A-ha” word of mouth experiences.

    Instead, Dichter reasons that a “… recommender is often much more capable of establishing … a dialogue of conviction … [leading to an] A-ha experience” than is traditional advertising.

    According to Ernest Dichter, four factors make word of mouth marketing more effective than traditional advertising. These four factors are:

    1. Authentic Passion
    The real meaning of a product and of its effect to the user is revealed not only through the choice of the speaker’s words, but also through the discharge of emotions in inflection, face, and body expressions, and gestures.”

    2. Genuine Compassion
    That the speaker is genuinely concerned with the listener’s well-being or has his advantage at heart becomes eminently believable in cases in which the recommendation is geared to, and takes into account, the individual needs or special circumstances of the listener.”

    3. Actual Proof
    Tangible evidence” that a product works, as seen in real life, “…serves to strengthen the impact … of a recommendation in cases in which personal intention or product relationship are not sufficiently convincing in themselves.”

    4. Semblance of Secrecy
    When the speaker displays a “reluctance to divulge the source or brand name of a product” it can serve as sign to the listener that the product is so uniquely desirable the speaker doesn’t the want masses to know about this secret brand. “This refers to the well-known psychological phenomenon that the harder it is to get a desired object, the more desirable it becomes.”

    It’s amazing this article is nearly 50 years old. So much of Dichter’s word of mouth marketing analysis rings true today. As mentioned earlier, imagine how much further along we’d be if more marketers in 1966 had taken note of Dichter’s smart findings on the importance of humanizing brands to spark word of mouth marketing conversations.

    SOURCE: Dichter, Ernest (1966), “How Word-of-Mouth Advertising Works,” Harvard Business Review, 44 (November/December), 147–66.