I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for Simon Sinek.
I’ve read most of his books and watched pretty much all of his videos. The way he so clearly and powerfully delivers his philosophies is magical. My first exposure to him and his ideas was his TED talk about inverting the typical marketing approach, something he called “The Golden Circle.” Sinek was really onto something with this idea, expounded in his video—and book of the same name—Start with Why. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s worth a watch or read. But he was missing one important piece: Where. As in “Where are we going?” Vision.
The best organizations have it, and as a result, they suffer lower employee turnover and superior brand loyalty. Vision is powerful, and someone within any organization is responsible for establishing it. Usually—and most times, appropriately—it’s the CEO. When you add in “Where,” Sinek’s Golden Circle is complete with the four elements that must congeal to achieve authentic brand alignment: vision is the “Where,” purpose is the “Why,” strategy is the “How,” and products and services are the “What.” The most effective organizations align on these things, and reinforce them with actions, not just words. When there’s alignment, employees know what to do, marketers know what to say, and customers know what to expect—and all of those things match.
One can find an exceptional contemporary example of a beautifully aligned brand in Impossible Foods. Applying our modified Golden Circle to Impossible Foods, top-to-bottom organizational alignment becomes blatantly apparent: Where are we going? Toward a meatless world by 2035. Why? Because animal farming is destructive and unsustainable. How do we get there? By challenging traditionally held beliefs about plant-based meats. And lastly, with what? A line-up of animal-free meats that are as good as the real thing. Even a cursory review of Impossible’s website demonstrates that everything about the Impossible brand—scratch that, the Impossible organization—is precisely aligned with that top-down vision. Great business leaders establish a clear vision and then assemble around it all the structures, philosophies, and processes required to realize it. When vision is clearly communicated, the right people will find themselves drawn to it to help bring it to life.
“When there’s alignment, employees know what to do, marketers know what to say, and customers know what to expect—and all of those things match.”
Aligned brands realize that, from a marketing perspective at least, there is no longer a meaningful delineation between the different departments in an organization—everything is brand. With the ubiquity of digital recording devices, there are very few times when no one’s watching. (Just ask Uber and Travis Kalanick about those 4.7 million views of a very un-planned branding moment.) The CEO chatting with a driver is just as important an instance of branding and relationship-building as a perfectly targeted Instagram campaign—and potentially more so. And it’s imperative that these messages are congruent. If they’re not, misalignment abounds, and that’s where brand-killing anxieties like dissonance, uncertainty, and lack of trust fester. Misalignment is the hallmark of an inauthentic brand. Can you imagine if Impossible’s CEO Pat Brown was caught chomping on a t-bone steak? Heads would roll! And Impossible’s brand alignment would suffer.
If all of this makes achieving brand alignment sound simple, sorry. It’s not, for myriad reasons. Many organizations just weren’t born of such lofty aspirations. Others operate in industries that don’t afford the opportunity to embark upon ambitious, world-changing visions like Impossible Foods. More still just haven’t taken the time to sit down and reflect on such introspective topics. None of which is alignment-prohibitive, by the way. It just means you have to be more pragmatic in developing the foundational language upon which alignment will rest. It’s companies like these who benefit most from engaging a brand partner. Much of the value we add for clients results not from creating a vision, but from uncovering it—from shepherding leadership and stakeholders through discussions they’ve never had or dedicated the time to have. We help executives, marketers, salespeople, and operators get on the same page, so that they can move fearlessly into the future, together, toward one common vision.
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