Legendary marketer Jan Gooding said she likes to think of “brand as a campfire around which the organization gathers and makes sense of their proposition.” Let’s unpack this statement and think about how we all can apply it.
Our organization’s value proposition is whatever value we claim to create. A value prop is an assertion. The reputation we build while living out that value prop becomes our brand. Brands exist at multiple levels. Corporate, our coworkers, people with the same functional job title as us, even ourselves individually – we all have brands because we all provide value to someone.
Coca-Cola is an iconic example. Coke wants to be associated with happiness. Whether it’s friendship (“I’d like to buy the world a coke”), holidays (the polar bears), or health conscientiousness (Diet Coke), they’d like to propose we associate the product with a positive emotion. It’s a simple ask, and it works.
Coke is everywhere due to the strength of the brand and the brand is strong because Coke is everywhere, yet there have also been missteps. As Gooding would say, sometimes the story around the campfire gets off track. The assertions and the markets clash. Example: New Coke. The world of Coke drinkers rejected it. Not long after, back around the campfire, the organization evolved the story and went back to “old” Coke (without branding it that way, because in soda, old doesn’t equal happy, it equals flat).
We’re not Coke, but what can we do?
1. We have to assert the value we create. Not just what we do – but what our customers/employers/coworkers actually see value in that they are willing to pay/trade with us for. Remember, Coke wants to be a part of our happiness, not to charge a premium for the bubbly sugar water in red cans. Even at the smallest intra-company scale, we need to think about the value we are creating, not just providing.
2. We have to gather our organization, teams, and coworkers around the campfire to talk about the value we create. Nothing exists in a vacuum. When we actually have a conversation about what “we” value, what “they” value, and how we’re building our brand’s reputation, we are creating what the accountants call “goodwill” – the idea that what we do is special.
3. Finally, we have to be willing to change our mind as the story changes. Customer preferences are hard. Even Coke has had missteps and massive wins. Both came from campfire conversations about what it meant to be associated with happiness. We have to keep gathering around the campfire to share our current stories and experiences.
Our campfire talks should revolve around what the experience of working with us feels like. We all have brands. We all have reputations. There are value propositions to assert anywhere there are givers and receivers of value. Gather the right people around the campfire and talk. The opportunities to get brand right is too important to ignore.