The Hard Work Is the Real Work of Branding

Grinding

The branding process is often associated with a moment:

  • A breakthrough idea
  • A new name or new brand identity
  • A new strategy

These moments are visceral and powerful, but they’re not brand building.

The real truth is far less magical. Brand building is a process where you lay down small incremental improvements day after day to serve your customers just a little bit better. It’s grinding.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson — who has backed some of the hottest tech startups such as Twitter and Etsy — writes, “Grinding isn’t very satisfying. It is hard to stand up in front of everyone and say ‘we are going to fix things around here bit by bit with a lot of hard work.’ Big flashy moves are an easier sell most of the time. But they don’t work nearly as well and are prone to complete and abject failure.”

Fred’s quote really hits at the heart of what branding is all about: hard work to improve your business bit by bit.

But those bits are where you truly find competitive advantage:

  • Creating operational efficiencies so that you can keep up with demand to deliver your products on time and on budget.
  • Hiring and training great people so they can deliver exceptional customer service every single time.
  • Taking the time to listen, analyze and understand your customers so you can create products and services that are truly valued and distinctive in the marketplace.

Your brand is directly tied to how well your business functions. If you’re not grinding on the hard things that matter, you’re not building a strong brand.

But what matters? This is the irony of hard work: It’s strategic.

Without a clear strategy, doing the hard work of brand building is almost futile. You can be overwhelmed and busy, but not actually making the changes that advance your business.

So it’s not just grinding, it’s strategic grinding!

Strategic grinding is a nice turn of phrase, but what does that really mean?

Working with dozens of clients over the years, I have found that the traditional or conventional approaches to branding are flawed. They are too front loaded. Too much effort is placed on ideation and brand development, and not enough is focused on execution.

For instance, after a major rebrand companies will experience a sales lift for six to twelve months. Why? They are proud of their brand, and they tell everyone about it. This naturally generates brand awareness which translates into increased sales. Yay! 🥳

But it doesn’t last! Once the buzz wears off, the organization reverts back to where it was. It’s like homeostasis.

Brand strategies are derailed by an organization’s unstated desire to maintain equilibrium.

Your company has the systems, culture, and talent required to maintain the status quo — where you are right now:

  • Rate of growth
  • Profitability
  • Employee satisfaction, turnover and retention
  • Brand awareness
  • Customer engagement

If you look at the past three years of data, you will find there is a state of equilibrium in your business. A good place to see this is in your sales performance metrics:

  • Average number of new sales per month
  • Average size sale
  • Customer churn
  • Customer lifetime value

When you examine three years of sales performance data you will start to see patterns. This is your company’s equilibrium. Chances are those four performance metrics are pretty stable, and a new “brand” won’t change them.

The only thing that overcomes an organization’s homeostasis is grinding.

Strategy execution is one of the most important elements of Sticky Branding’s approach to working with clients. It’s a core value, and it’s baked into all of our methodologies.

In fact, the very first step in our strategy work is to teach our clients a set of principles on strategy execution. This lays the foundation for how we will align the team, set expectations, measure performance, and get things done.

When you do the right work on the right priorities, you’re brand building. It’s not sexy. It’s often not all that rewarding. But it’s what matters the most!

What do you think?