Branding is a very important part of doing business, but it is yet to be taken seriously by the world’s MBA programs. Behind each successful brand is a good story, but before you get to tell it, you first need to think about who you are, what you do, why you do it, who you do it for and why people should care. Unless you’re clear about what your values are and to whom those values should resonate, you’re essentially throwing pasta to the wall and hoping it hits someone. Joining Ben Baker in this conversation are Bill Harper and Christian Jennings of wmHarper. There is a Nike lurking behind each emerging brand. The only way to unleash it is to overcome your fear, work with somebody who knows what they’re doing and build your brand systematically from the foundation up.
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The Nitty-Gritty Behind Every Successful Brand With Bill Harper And Christian Jennings
We’ve got another great episode for you. The topic is going to be branding, it is so important. It is something that most people get wrong. Marketing today is point, shoot, then pray and hope that you got in the right direction. Sometimes they don’t even point. We’ve got to get to a point where people are thinking about who they are first, what they do, why they do it, who they do it for and why people should care before we start telling our story. I brought two experts into the den. We’ve got Bill Harper and Christian Jennings, both from wmHarper. Welcome to the show, everybody.
Thank you so much for having us. We’re excited to be here.
Let everybody understand a bit of who you guys are, what you do. Bill, why don’t you go first? Then we’ll let Christian do clean up on this one.
I’m Bill Harper of wmHarper. This is my fourth advertising agency. We are much in line with exactly what you’re describing. Everything about what we do is filling that gap of making sure we’re removing the guesswork from marketing and branding by knowing the insights from the consumer and the category before we go and make recommendations. This is much in the right vein for us and we’re pleased to be a part of the discussion.
I am Christian Jennings. I am the Executive Vice President here in wmHarper and I serve in a role we call the integrator role, which is helping to bring a big vision to life. I don’t think I need to add too much commentary to what Bill said other than I think he’s a bit modest. One of the things that we do well is uncovering insights and opportunities that the other guys either missed or couldn’t find in the first place and helping people to identify their path forward through those insights.
I was crawling through your website. First of all, you guys have a beautiful website. I love your website, but you guys got the Venn diagram here with business consulting, brand campaign, consumer insights, and in the center, it’s unified brand. It’s taking everything and bringing it together. It’s not the fact that, “We’re a branding agency. We’re a research firm. We’re a consulting firm.” You’re all three. That’s a powerful thing that’s missing in the world nowadays. There are so many agencies out there that are more than happy to go out there and advertise for you or market for you but few of them are willing to take the time and put in the effort to understand who you are as a company. What’s the value that you bring to the table first before we tell the story? That’s where I want to start. Let’s talk about my favorite word. My favorite word is brand. What does brand mean to each one of you? Let’s take the conversation from there.
I think it’s an interesting question because I almost want to go back and say, “What’s a scenario in which brand fell apart?” The difference between branding and advertising is, advertising is standing at the top of the tallest hill you can with the loudest horn you can afford, shouting about yourself in the hopes that somehow it becomes relevant to somebody else. A brand is the ability to show how intuitively and empathically you understand another person’s situation so you can change their emotional state for the better. The problem with that is that most people don’t understand what that means. You’ve got to put that into words that folks get. Imagine that you have a Porsche buyer and a Prius buyer. No matter how discounted one is, you couldn’t have enough bullet points to sell one to the other.
You go to the Porsche person and you say, “I’ve got this car here and it gets 100 miles to the gallon and you’re doing your part to save the planet,” and so forth and so on. The Porsche person goes, “I’m a performance person. What I want is to put my foot down on the floor and have my head thrown into the trunk. I want to be able to go through corners like I’m on rails. I want the passion and excitement of my hair on fire.” Conversely, you could say the same thing to the Prius owner. “Look at this amazing car. It’s a rolling piece of history and look at all the beauty and the things that it does in the performance aspects and all the rest of that.” He says, “I don’t care about any of that.”
The thing that makes brand work is the understanding that it is never everybody who has a wallet. It’s about aligning with the values that people have and in truly understanding what those values are that are shared between the founders and the leadership team of the business and the people who ultimately have to be behind the success of that business, the consumer, customer and user, however you want to describe them and making sure that those are in alignment. Little has been done to foster that since the internet came along. You go back to the issue of fragmentation of media then the adoption of MBA mentality and leadership teams to say, “Now I can buy it and track it. I don’t want any of that stuff that’s fluffy.” Now all of a sudden, the agency relationship is free.
They start gathering groups of people that are specialists. Those specialists ultimately fragment the group. CMOs are no longer paying attention to brand. They’re hurting the cats that they’ve hired, and you can see how brand gets lost in the shuffle. This amazing concept and everything that’s happened over the years has moved us further and further from it while giving the illusion we have greater and greater control. It’s been fascinating to watch from a historical perspective, but what it’s done to business is unmistakable. It’s breaking it into pieces.
Christian, why don’t you jump in and we’ll have a conversation about that?
I think it’s quite simple. It’s shiny object syndrome. People have forgotten the importance of brand awareness. They’ve forgotten the importance that the brand brings to the table, which ultimately is a purpose. The values that Bill is talking about is people getting behind a single purpose. You’re trying to throw spaghetti at the wall, so to speak and try to hit everyone, you’re never going to truly connect with anyone. Having one purpose is that brand piece and the shiny object syndrome is what I like to refer to it as. That digital has brought into the world has caused people to chase whatever is the win for today, or how can I make a quick impact and forgetting about the long-term benefit of focusing on brand.
I love that you brought up short-term versus long-term and what you were saying about purpose. The combination is that we’ve become a society of short-term memory. We truly have because of companies being public and everybody’s going after the share price. It’s all about, “What’s my top line dollar?” You wonder why the CMO, the Chief Marketing Officer, is the shortest tenure in any PLC suite. The average tenure I think is a third of a CEO. The CEO last six years with an organization, CMOs can last 18 to 24 months if they’re lucky. A lot of it has to do with the fact that the vision and the role of the CMO is thinking long-term and thinking visionary and talking about, “Look at the experience of our customer. How do we communicate the story to our customer for the long-term?” Where the society is sitting there going, “What are you going to do for me now?” I could care less about where you were yesterday.
That’s an interesting point as well. When you think about the mentality and the scenario in which a CMO is brought into a company, think about a CEO that says, “I need a new CMO.” That’s the lion’s share of folks that are going into that role. Need a new implies that the old didn’t work and thus, they are already feeling the pressure of hurry up and perform. It means that by the time the person gets there, gives it the 2 or 3 months if they’re fortunate enough to get that to get the lay of the land, in other words by the time you know how to work the coffee pot, where the bathroom is, and who’s ring you have to kiss to get anything approved and through the company, they’re already on the chopping block for consideration of being let go. Twenty-four to 36 months as a ten-year span is dangerous when you consider it’s going to take them a month or two to figure out what’s already in play.
Not to mention, when you take into consideration, media planning and expenditure, creative campaign development, most of these folks walk into an environment where they’re on the run from the minute that they get there if they’re fresh. If they’re coming out of a scenario where they’ve already been taken advantage of, and the wind has already been knocked out of their sails a time or two, and they’re thinking to themselves, “I’ve got to show value,” then the belief that digital is going to save everything or social is going to save everything becomes even that much more expanded. Now it’s like, “I have to get a quick win on the board in order to show my value so I’m going to do tactics over strategy as fast as humanly possible so that I can show some return so that they believe in me enough that I’ll have a chance to do these long-term things in the future.”You are only appropriate for the group for whom the value structure that you have is the same. Click To Tweet
The challenge is almost never are they given the opportunity or are they able to return a positive movement back fast enough to be able to do it. It puts it right back into the same position that they were in again. If everybody could take a breath and step back, I think one of the biggest things that agencies bring to the table if they themselves are calm is objectivity. At the end of the day, everybody that’s internal is running like hell, hoping that they’re not on the chopping block, hoping that they can hurry up and get somewhere, having to deal with internal alignment problems on the rest of it. It’s an interesting road ahead. It’s no wonder when we talk to CMOs so frequently, they are such short attention span for fear that they’re always looking over their back at what’s coming and trying to make sure that they’re maintaining some relevance.
If you think about it, there’s fragmentation in the industry, but there is fragmentation internally within brands, within an organization. These CMOs that we keep talking about and them trying to show their value, it’s not just to the CEO. If they could get everyone around them to like them by quickly checking things off their bucket list, great. What happens however is nothing is guiding them. The strategy that we keep talking about, there is no strategy. The strategy is, “Make everyone happy so they trust me so I can do my job.” It’s a cycle that never ends. You never get out of the loop and doing the thing they asked you to do to get them to trust you to ever get to the other point. Imagine if you could walk in and tell everyone, “Stop, slow down, bring them all back together.
Let’s talk about this. What are our business goals? What are we focusing on this year? Now let’s talk about all the things you want to do and we’re going to have a shiny object bucket over here as well.” If they do not map back to these focus areas that should ladder back to this, it’s going to fall flat, therefore it gets tossed into the shiny object bucket. They don’t do that because of the need and the fear of not being able to walk in the door and hit the ground running.
The fear is you’re walking in the door thinking you’ve got one step out the door and you don’t have the ability to take the time to figure out what’s gone wrong before you walked in the door. Understand, “Do I have the right people in place? Do I have the right vendors in place? Do I understand the purpose and what the vision, the mission, and the directive of the C-Suite truly is? What are the things historically that we should be looking at that we should be drawing upon before we move forward?” The problem is that four weeks after you’re hired, there’s a set of KPIs that’s been thrown in your face and say, “You didn’t hit this metric. You’ve got the set of artificial metrics because IBM has a set of KPIs. These Key Performance Indicators, we need to have the same as IBM or Google or Microsoft or whoever.”
Instead of companies judging themselves by their own set of metrics and leading based on their own set of values and their own set of purpose, they’re constantly chasing everybody else in the marketplace. How do you guys bring in the conversation? It’s something I’ve struggled with and I’ve succeeded in some places not of getting people to take that collective breath and get back to purpose, vision, brand and understand why it’s so critical for them to take that step back so they can take two steps forward.
At the end of the day, the big thing is showing themselves. One of the big things that we do is we reflect back to them what’s happening in the category and the repetition. We try to get them to breathe a moment. This goes back to the structure that we have. I was pleased that was the thing that caught your attention about the company, because I think so many times, and I’m specifically speaking now to Accenture and Droga5, the wrong dance partner is leading in that relationship. You have this massive company in Accenture. It totally structured the wrong way. It’s get in as many people as possible to build as many hours as possible to create as many standardized solutions as possible and dump it off at the front desk along with your invoice.
“Here are my 10,000 pages of suggestions. You read it. By the way, my bill is on page two.”
They bought Droga5, which is all about creating sustainable meaningful, relevant DNA within a company and trying to get that to systemically be adopted. The wrong dance partner is leading from the beginning. I think the reason that we saw an advantage in pulling together the combination of business consulting, and I’m going to get specific about what that is and why it’s there, plus consumer insights plus integrated campaign development is because you have to be able to get the leadership team into alignment in order for them not to bite each other’s heads off. If sales and leadership and marketing don’t understand the problem, see the problem, see the information and the learning and the education together. They don’t understand that together and have been in the same room where everybody had a chance to talk about it and everybody had a chance to give their feedback and everybody came to consensus. There is no way in the world, any campaign, no matter how good it is, is going to have the chance to last.
It can’t because there’s not enough there. There’s too much potential for re-interpretation, turf war, etc. The whole idea is to come in and say, “You don’t want to guess anymore.” You already changed agencies again. The reason is that you can’t get to where you want to go. Let’s go ahead and have that open conversation. In order to get there, you’re going to have to take precious two minutes to go through this and create a standardized vocabulary that everybody can use to explain what the problem is. Once we’ve explained the problem to the point where everybody feels that they’ve gotten it out and we have had a chance to get to consensus on how we see the problem, what we think the problem is and what we want from a solution, then we’re going to go and we’re going to get you a bunch of information that’s going to help guide us so you’re not making assumptions.
Take a look at how much the industry has made assumptions again and again and you literally are rolling through all of these other groups and saying, “From the consumer standpoint who has a boss that doesn’t like them, whose husband or wife is going to leave them if they miss their daughter’s recital again, who has a new puppy and a flat tire and this and that and the other.” You’re going to leave it to them to go cipher out between almost exactly the same competitors, how they’re supposed to be relevant and different? No. They’re so unaware of this because they’ve had their head down. That’s the first step. We teach them what a commodity is. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a CEO or a CMO in a meeting, stop and take a picture of this slide that we put up. It’s hallmarks of commodity thinking.
We have a better product. We have better people. We work harder, we care more and all we need are a few more sales. I’ll have CEOs, their mouths drop open and they pick up their phones and they go, “I’ve got to send this to everybody. Could you send this thing to be framed?” They’re like, “This is who we are.” The answer to your question is first, get them to stop and see how they’re doing it exactly like everybody else. The second is to give them a vocabulary and a space where they can get to a place where they’ve slowed down enough to be open to change. If that part of the process doesn’t happen, we simply won’t take on clients anymore that won’t do it. What happens is that they fire us.
They’ll blame it on you. I’ve been in that same situation.
You forgot one step, which is setting the stage from the beginning. How do we get them there? Day one, before they even sign on the dotted line is to say to them, “We’re going to come in and show you how you’re broken.” Before we even get there, you need to be open to it. Rules of engagement are, “We’re going to tell it like it is. You get smart talk from insanely people, period. We’re not here to blow smoke up your ass. We want to make it happen. If you’re truly ready for that and to make change, then let’s do this.” Setting the stage before we even walk in the door to unpack the problem is the biggest hurdle to getting to the endpoint.
We run an exercise that blows people’s doors off. What we do is we take the marketing department, the sales department, the ops team, the finance team, the legal team, whatever. We run them in small groups and we say, “Tell us the story of the brand. Who are you? What do you do? What makes you different? What makes you special? Who are you valuable to?” What we do is we bring in a graphic recorder and that graphic recorder creates the whole graphic and say, “Here’s what the marketing team thinks. Here’s what the ops team thinks. Here’s what the sales team thinks. Here’s what the CEO thinks.” You put them all up on a board in the same room.
Nine times out of ten, they don’t match. That’s where most agencies and most companies and most people don’t get it. Everybody within your organization are probably not on the same page. It could be onboarding. It could be purpose. It could be dialogue. It could be the brand story. There are a lot of different reasons. If we don’t all start internally from the same place, with the same set of values, mission, vision and understanding, and not just words on a page, truly internalize it and believe it, live it. How are the customers supposed to decide whether we’re a value or not?Your brand is not about you. Your relevance is based on how much you change somebody else's emotional state for the better. Click To Tweet
I see one other problem. This is maybe our strongest weapon in getting people to shake out of that reverie, continuing down the same path every single time. The four most important words that we give to every client and this start with why, and it precedes understanding about the structure of brand or purpose or any of the rest of that is it’s not about you. This is a room leveler. You walk in and you say, “It’s not about you.” Nobody is anything more valuable than a doorstop to someone else’s arm full of groceries. When we sit down and we get together with these companies, the very first thing I say is, “Who wants to hear about our agency? Come on, raise your hands. Who wants to hear about how great we are, how many awards we won, how great our last campaign ran, how much money we made for somebody else? Come on, put them up.”
There’s always some joker in the back. I’m like, “Tell my mom to send the check back.” The point is they’ve stepped over the most important part. What motivates you and excites you is what motivates and excites you. Your relevance is based on how much you change somebody else’s emotional state for the better, period. There is no B2B. There is no B2C. There are only P2P. That’s it. It’s people to people for people, period. At the end of the day, the person who’s sitting in an office trying to move towards comfort and away from the pressure is no different than the consumer who’s sitting at home trying to move away from the pressure towards comfort. If people understood that, then they would understand that it’s okay if what makes you excited is painting purple cows. There’s an audience for that.
If you want to go out and do that, then when you go make purple cow paintings, you’ve got to understand why people value the purple cow painting so that you align what’s important to you. Brush stroke, framing, size of purple cows, telling the purple cow story, because nobody else tells the purple cow story. I don’t care. Whatever it is, aligns with the people that are buying from you. They go, “I can only ever find pictures of brown cows or black cows. Finally, somebody understands those of us that are out there wanting to have purple cows in our house.” That’s what it is.
If they understand that that’s where it aligns and people make the decision emotionally first and justify it logically second, then they have something. If we’re starting from the place of, “Let me tell you why we’re great. Let me tell you how we’ve succeeded,” it’s we speak. It’s as effective in business as it is as a cocktail party. If you walk up and start telling, “I want to let you know I’m the youngest partner in the company. Last year I made $4 billion and I was the fastest one to get a Rolex in company history.” Lucky for you, I’m moving on. Who cares about that? I think that there’s so much that even precedes the thing we’re talking about as a fundamental that’s been missed. It’s the root of all of it.
Jeff Bezos says your brand is only how people view you when you’re not in the room. I’m paraphrasing. It’s as simple as that. People want to know how you’re going to solve their problems. People want to know that you care. They want to know that you care about them, that you’re listening to them, that you’re understanding and valuing them. If you can’t do that, why should they care about you?
People want to walk out of a room and say they get it, which we know translates to, “They get me,” which ultimately is what leads them to feeling safe and whatever choice or decision they’re making. If they feel like you get them, then you want them.
We’ve got the what’s in it for them. We’ve got the understanding foremost who your clients are and who they’re not. Getting back to your commodity diagram, where everybody is sitting there taking a picture, the CEO is taking the picture. Most companies have this viewpoint that if someone’s got a Visa card in a heartbeat, they’re our client. That’s something that we have to rail against. Something that we’ve got to fight against and say, “Just because somebody’s got a heartbeat, just because somebody’s got a Visa card with a little bit left on their limit, they’re not necessarily a client of yours.”
This is another thing that we try hard to instill in everybody is no Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker stays a boring farmer. There has to be a cause to join. Your customer, your consumer is the one that wants the something as much as you do in terms of change or made better, or what have you. That can be a beer, a vacation property, a yacht, a pencil. It doesn’t matter for every one of those things. You are only appropriate for the group for whom the value structure that you have is the same. That’s why demographics don’t hold a candle to psychographics. If you have a Harley, go down the street and a 17 and a 70-year-old’s head swing around, no demographic profile in the world is going to be able to capture how those two things are relevant. What you’re talking about is a love of the sense of freedom, a love of a sense of exploration, “I am free to go and explore the open road. I am free to make the most of my downtime. I’m free, whatever.”
That’s their brand.
It was one of the best lines Harley ever wrote when it was a billboard. That was what made it so fantastic is they didn’t need a visual that says, “You in the minivan, how long are you in for?” That was perfect because you could immediately imagine in your head what the scenario was where that happened. Some guy in a leather jacket, leaning over and tapping finger on some poor guy who’s driving his kids to the next mall event or skating rink or whatever and he’s like, “This is about getting away and getting some me time.”
It’s got to be something that both sides value together. The perception of that is they care. The perception of that is they understand me. No brand actually understands any people. Volvo does not call me and say, “Did we make you feel safe this week?” That’s not the way that works. What they can do is set up an obvious structure of reputation that precedes the brand to say, “This is what we value, and this is why we value it. It’s the one thing that we stand for and believe in and honor and support. If you also feel that same way, then we’re probably a good place for you to align.”
Christian, you’ve got something to add to that?
No. I think that covers it well.
I remember being in Sturgis. For people who don’t know, Sturgis is the big Harley-Davidson motorcycle festival. Two hundred fifty thousand people descend on Sturgis every single year. As a twelve-year-old, we were leaving Sturgis as the Harley started rolling in. I ended up getting a ride on the back of a couple of great big guys with full tattoos. They got me on the back of their bike and took me up and down the street. I fell in love. I’ll never ride a Suzuki. I’ll never ride a Honda. It’s the feeling that I got. It was the emotional attachment that I got to the brand and the memory that that evokes. Every time I hear that rumble, I know that it’s a Harley rolling down the street. I know exactly how it feels. It’s funny because years ago, I went into a Harley dealership and I was talking to the guys. I sat down and we got up to about $55,000 on the bike that I was looking at. I said, “I’ll buy it today on one deal of one deal only. Does it come with couple’s therapy?”
If it didn’t come with couple’s therapy, I was getting a divorce as soon as I rolled up on this thing. I realized it wasn’t going to happen. For me, it was the building of this thing. It was the chrome, the leather, the passion. It’s how it felt underneath. The fact that they were able to talk in the language and bring the emotion of that freedom that you were talking about. That’s the brand that Harley-Davidson is. It’s something that’s powerful that people tattooed on their bodies. Nike is another one that has strong emotional ties to the brand. That doesn’t come through advertising. It comes from a creating a shared sense of belief. The great brands out there understand what their clients believe and give it to them and embrace it and sit there and say, “We are one. We are together. Because this is what we believe together, this is the hill we’re going to fight and die on together.” I think it’s an incredible thing.Fear is our greatest enemy. It’s what stops us from taking the leap. It’s what stops us from standing out. Click To Tweet
Most businesses are afraid to be their individual self. You said this and it was such an accurate statement. Many of them try to judge their success, their achievement, their standing based on someone else. This is one of the biggest distractions and limiters to entrepreneurial founder, leadership team, whatever you want to say, their ability to achieve. If you start from a place of measurement, you can never achieve whatever you were capable of. There is no competition. There is, “I am one advertising agency. Our team is one team in this thing called branding. I paid zero attention to any of the rest of them because I don’t care what they achieve. I care what we achieve.” I think if more people were willing to take that as their stand, they would have a whole lot less failure.
It’s like the fear of failure is the thing that makes them act like a commodity, which ultimately results in their failure. If they would embrace failure, fail harder and get on with the process and say, “I didn’t walk day one. I fell down.” I forgotten which comedian said, this was so funny, “Walking is not your thing or you’re going to crawl for the rest of your life.” It doesn’t happen, but we don’t know who is back then. We don’t think about it. You’re only taught failure later. You can unlearn failure quickly. Bravery is a learned thing. Most of these companies have limited themselves artificially by thinking that somebody else’s success somehow is a reflection on what they can or can’t achieve. That is a huge downside for these businesses because they’re capable of so much more.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to fear. Fear is essentially our greatest enemy. It’s what stops our clients from taking the leap. It’s what stops them from standing out. It’s why they refuse or afraid to pay attention to one particular customer based on those psychographic beliefs. What about all the others? We have to challenge them frequently. Does it matter if they’re not the right audience for you? Fear is the one thing that is holding everyone back from taking that leap. I wish I could simply remove the fear for our clients.
Somebody told me that something like 65% or 70% of all strategic plans never see the light of day because people are terrified. “What if it fails? What if it doesn’t achieve as great an opportunity? What if I get fired by putting this forward?” If you’re running your business from position of fear either as an employee, a leader, a founder, whatever, you’re right. You’re putting yourself in a position of, “If they do better, we’re doing worse. I think we’ve got to get better.” When I see my competitors doing great things, I’m the first person on the phone going, “I love that campaign you did. I think that’s awesome.” It doesn’t diminish my work. I think that was innovative. I thought it was creative. I thought it was insightful and that you deserve credit for that. It’s not a jealousy thing. The whole industry gets better when we sit there and say, “I didn’t even think that was possible. Now that gives me something else to strive for. How can we as a team harvest our creative juices or whatever and create something that’s as cool and be able to support our clients even better.” That’s the thing that a lot of people are missing.
You bring up such an interesting thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard clients say this and it does every time like I’ve gotten old enough now that I laugh when I hear it. I used to hold it in, but now I don’t. I laugh when I hear it. They say, “We’ll act like Nike when we become Nike.” I go, “No. It wasn’t like that.” It was that Nike acted like Nike as soon as it figured out what Nike was going to be. Steve Jobs was bombastic from day one. He was like, “I don’t care that it hasn’t been built. I can figure that out. I’ve got a guy in the garage. I can solder some crap together. Seven of those boards and a couple of those things. I’m going to hook up a TV monitor to it. I’ll have what do they call it? A computer? I’ll have that for you in a week.”
They didn’t care that it wasn’t right. The difference between looking at the world in terms of what is versus what if is massive. It’s the freedom that most companies need to be able to achieve the goals that they keep saying that they want. You’ve got to let go and say, “GEICO was around 78 years before somebody slapped a gecko on it and suddenly it was interesting. Chick-fil-A had been around for how long before somebody decided to put cows up on a billboard with a paint brush and it became interesting.” These brands were no different than every other brand. Every brand has Nike in them. Most leadership teams are way too chicken to ever let it happen. They stand in their own way and they blame everybody else.
The truth of the matter is that they should take their hands off the wheel. I find it breathtaking that you won’t argue with your dentist about how to drill your tooth. You won’t argue with your mechanic about how to fix your car. You won’t argue with the cable guy about stringing cable in your house, but people will grab the reins quick when it becomes marketing because they think they know it, and they don’t. The question is, did the campaign that was put in front of you achieve the goal you wanted to get to? That’s a value-based play. It isn’t about how many hours it took to do it. It isn’t about whether you didn’t like it or you did like it, or it made you nervous or it made you uncomfortable or whatever. None of that crap matters. The question is, did it get you to the place you wanted to be? I know you used to, the minute a campaign works, everybody was in favor for it from the beginning.
Everybody was standing behind it, lock step and barrel as much as they fought you tooth and nail in the boardroom but as soon as it was successful, everybody loved it.
They all want to take the admit call, “As a matter of fact, we had that idea. I think it was together that I wrote it down on a napkin note.”
“At the conference table, I came up and wrote that on the blackboard.” I said, “What if we did this?” The agency ran with it.
Who could blame them? It was brilliant. It was insightful. It’s not taught. I’m waiting for Harvard to start taking marketing seriously, so the rest of the MBA programs do. Right now, it’s taken as an offshoot. By the way, you’ve got to take marketing. Most marketing programs are that way. As a result of it, the MBA programs and the thinking that comes out of them is all internal focus. There’s a reason why consulting firms can charge $400 and $500 an hour because it makes sense to them. It’s operations, management, distribution, whatever. All of these things make perfect sense and they’re measurable. “I spent this money. I watched this thing happen and that was better.” They try to do it with marketing. It’s like, “That’s fluffy. It’s supposed to be relevant to somebody. I don’t even know what that’s all about. Go away. I’m not paying a whole lot for it because I don’t believe in it.”
Meanwhile, as Jim Stengel, former CEO of Procter & Gamble discovered in his six-year study, businesses that put this effort, purpose at the middle of everything that they do outperform the S&P 500 by 400%. It’s not fluff. It’s very specific and it’s very straight forward. It’s a lifelong battle that we all as marketing people commit to when we step in the ring. One that says, “It’s an uphill battle for most of the journey, you’re going to have to educate people. They’re not going to believe in you. They’re going to be fearful. They’re going to lose their jobs. They’re going to fire you incorrectly.” The joy of it, hearing that golf club hit the ball the right way and make that beautiful little tink sound that it does every once in a while is enough to keep you in the game.
This has been an incredible conversation. We could talk for hours on branding. In fact, we should. We’d all feel much better because of it. I have one question I want to ask both of you. This is a question I ask every single person. When you leave a meeting and you get in your car and you drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you’re not in the room?
We’ve said it over and over. I want them to walk away and go, “They get it. They know what they’re talking about. They got me.”
I think that’s the only answer because if they feel that way viscerally, then they’re open to the journey of change that they ultimately need to make. A lot of companies say they want them to say they were smart, or they were impactful or this or that. At the end of the day, we, like every other form of communication, fall under the same scrutiny for the same goal for achievement. Did they say that we got it? Did they feel safe and important when it was done? If they did, then we were successful. I’ve been in a room with a bunch of smart people and I walk out, and I wouldn’t give them my business. I said, “They were smart,” or what have you. If you give the sense to people when you walk away that you got them in their circumstance and understood what it would take to make it a better one, then you’ve achieved your goal.
That’s why certain firms are good for certain companies and other firms are better for other companies because we all have people we can serve. We all have people we can add value to. There are other people who are probably better served by other people. The people that you guys serve and the people that you work with are better off because of it. Thank you both very much for being on the show. I enjoyed the conversation immensely. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation and thanks for being with me.
Thank you so much for having us.
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About Bill Harper
Throughout his career, he’s been obsessed with helping businesses discover their true purpose – and turning that insight into exceptional experiences that bind brands and their customers together. When consumers believe that a brand truly ‘gets them’ anything is possible.
Whether he was helping to launch CarFax Vehicle History Report to the consumer market, positioning Delsey as North America’s lightweight luggage leader or preparing start-ups like Bleep CPAP to disrupt their category, he has been passionate about turning consumer insight into category leadership.
He believe that every brand has the potential to dominate their category – to create a contagious, market-shattering impact on their customers and competition. In fact, he is hell-bent on changing the world by giving brands and their leaders the ability to realize their full creative potential. That’s what he live for.
Since 1998, he have created brand strategies and creative campaigns for more than 300 brands around the globe.He had the great privilege to engage audiences for brands like EverBank, Music & Arts, Delsey Luggage, Red Hot & Blue, Denny’s, Precision Tune and Enterprise Rent-a-Car to name a few. On their behalf he have uncovered unique insights into the consumer set, created campaigns that positively disrupted their categories and caused countless competitors sleepless nights. (If they’re not yelling, I haven’t done my job.)
At Carfax Bill created the first-ever consumer campaign – successfully launching them into the B2C market. His campaign for Delsey Luggage established the brand as the #1 provider of lightweight luggage in North America. And the strategic campaign for Music & Arts Center helped position the company for it’s $90MM sale to Guitar Center. Currently, he spend my time building wmHarper, his fourth advertising/strategic branding agency.
He is an optimist at heart. He believe that every good idea has a passionate message standing behind it and would love to meet people who feel the same way.
About Christian Jennings
“Don’t ask the world what it needs. Instead, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who are alive” `Howard Thurman
They call her the EVP of Getting Shit Done. No, really. As per her co-workers. As an integrator, her instinctual mindset is to do whatever it takes to ensure success. She loves a good opportunity to roll up her shirt sleeves and make it happen – whatever “it” may be.
She is a natural-born integrator – see the vision; believe in the vision; make the vision a reality. She is also responsible for EVALUATION of big ideas and finding a path forward. She ensure ACCOUNTABILITY at each and every level. She is also responsible for TEAM DEVELOPMENT – find and identify their passions, build development plans around their passions, oversee development to ensure those passions become a reality. Lastly, a team culture junky. She truly believe that it’s not enough to just hire someone based on their skills. They have to be a culture fit, meaning they live and breathe our core values. Those are employees that make coming into work an exciting experience, each and every day.
She believes that solid relationships are THE foundation to success. She is always been passionate about building relationships. Whether it’s acting as a strategic partner to a client, to partners or finding that perfect blend of skill and passion to make a team work like a well oiled machine.
An accomplished brand, content, and digital marketer motivated by a desire to reinvent the marketing space by driving results through a more connected approach.
Prior to WMH, she co-founded an award-winning influencer marketing agency, and have worked with brands in both the B2B and B2C arenas, from startups to Fortune 500 companies like IBM, Microsoft, Samsung TV, Procter & Gamble, Revlon, Chrysler Group and Carlson Rezidor Group.
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