Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Building a Charismatic Brand: Part 5 > Cultivate

What is a charismatic brand? It's any product, service, or company for which people believe there's no substitute. Charismatic brands have a clear competitive stance, a sense of rectitude and a dedication to aesthetics. Why aesthetics? Because it's the language of feeling, and in a society that's information-rich and time-poor, people value feeling more than information. In this series we will discuss the five disciplines (differentiation, collaboration, innovation, validation, and cultivation) of branding that must be mastered in order to have a charismatic brand.


Your business is not an entity but a living organism. Successful businesses grow and adapt to their changing environment. Ditto your brand. We call this brand cultivation. In contrast to the old corporate identity paradigm, which prized militaristic uniformity and consistency, the new brand paradigm possesses dynamism and vitality. It sacrifices the perfectly mundane in favor of the exciting, and sometimes, imperfect brand. Good branding lives, breathes, and is humanized. It's cultivated through process and growth.

Brands, like people, can wear different clothes and still be recognized. Like a person, what makes a brand a brand is deeper than appearances and moods. It carries a sense of reputation, apart from its "look." A living brand is a pattern of behavior that grows out of character, not a stylistic veneer. If a brand does not project a sense of humanity and depth, it loses believability. But when the company's external actions align with its internal culture, the brand resonates with authenticity. So ask yourself this simple question: "Does your company's behavior match your company's image?"

The secret of a living brand is that it lives throughout the company, not just in the marketing department. Therefore, every brand contributor should develop a personal shockproof brandometer. No decision in any department should be made without asking, "Will it help or hurt the brand?" This requires an unwavering, central point-person, ever policing the company's brand face to the public, a strong CBO--chief brand officer--who can steward the brand from inside the company.

Continuing education programs is key to getting everyone on the same page. And since, branding is a cultivating process that can be studied, analyzed, learned, taught, replicated, and managed, it's the CBO's job to document and disseminate his/her brand knowledge and transfer it in whole to each new manager and collaborator involved in the process.

A good comparison of brand cultivation is Amazon versus Starbucks. In Amazon's attempt to extend its book niche with its music/camera/computer/appliance/baby/furniture/toy lines, it lost 31% of its brand value. All the while, Starbucks stayed focused and protected its brand as it spread across America and increased its value by 32%. It cultivated its brand without sacrificing its central focus and niche in the marketplace.

Differentiation to collaboration to innovation to validation to cultivation, back to differentiation. Each lap around the branding circle takes the brand further from being a listing of commodities and closer to being a force to be reckoned with.*

*Source: Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap (Berkeley: New Riders Publishing, 2003).

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