7 Habits of Highly Effective Brands

By Jenna Lebel A good friend of mine introduced me to the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. The bestselling book and one of Time’s “25 Most Influential Business Management Books” provides a framework for attaining personal goals and effectiveness. Each chapter presents an overview of a particular habit and the habits consist of knowledge, skill and desire. Knowledge guides us with what to do, skill helps us understand how to do it and desire provides the motivation to do it. Brands work in the same way, with different habits of course, as they try to achieve their brand goals and overall effectiveness. Here are the 7 habits of highly effective brands.

Habit 1: Begin with the end in mind

This is actually one of Covey’s habits for individuals. I think it’s important for brands too. Identify your long-term big hairy audacious goal first and work backwards to achieve it. It’s crazy to think that Microsoft wanted “a computer on every desk and in every home” in the mid-80s. But because they were visionaries in their approach and had the end in mind they were able to make computers a staple in homes across the world. This habit is entirely based on imagination. As an individual it tackles the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and as a brand it answers “How big do you want to grow as a company?”

Habit 2: Understand first, market second

Communication is arguably the most important skill in life, for both brands and people. The foundation for good communication lies within understanding. Understanding is a critical habit for brands. Brands need to understand customers, their needs and desires and what your brand means to them. Customer understanding fuels relevance (another habit below) and is the roadmap for change. T.J. Maxx understands their audience (actually all of the TJX companies do). Their audience wants an ever-fresh selection of fashion at great values. The entire brand’s messaging and initiatives deliver what consumers want and need based on this understanding. Their customers love getting a great deal at their stores and telling their friends about it so the brand created a Maxx Finds application for sharing shoppers’ finds with the world. 

Habit 3: Focus on the experience

Marketing used to be about products and services. Now it’s about the experience. Marketers want their brand to be a part of the consumer’s life, not just a product in their life. To do this, you must focus on the experience. Apple is a brand that sells technology products, but their focus is not on the product itself, but what the product allows you to access (and a lot of this has to do with their visionary leader). iPhone users don’t just think of their device as a phone, they think of it as a source of information, entertainment and connectivity. It’s more than just a product to them and that’s because Apple makes an experience out of everything they do.

Habit 4: Find your core purpose

Your core purpose is the why of your business and serves as the “heart” of the vision for your brand. The core purpose is essentially the company’s contribution to making a difference each day. Disney’s core purpose is delivering happiness. Will Disney be able to successfully deliver happiness to everyone in the world? Maybe not, but it’s their reason for existing. And they make decisions and create content and products that tie directly with their core purpose keeping them focused and on target.

Habit 5: Stay relevant and adapt where necessary

Relevancy is tough to define, but important to accomplish. We say something or someone is relevant at a certain time because of how well they are connected to the matters at hand. Relevancy is determined by consumers and the environment around them. Brands need to adapt to stay pertinent to those consumers and the changing landscape.  IBM has transformed time and time again because of changes in the industry. The once computer giant has now adapted to be considered a software giant. But some brands don’t adapt so nicely. Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday after years of struggling to successfully adapt to an increasingly digital world. This habit is critical in determining whether your brand flourishes or falls.

Habit 6: Soar with your strengths

Know what you do best and be the best at doing it. Each quarter our management team meets to show results of the past quarter and strategize and plan out the quarter ahead (Dave briefly talks about it in his latest post here). As part of our planning, we take a look at our company sandbox. The sandbox is not meant to encompass everything you want to do, just what you want to dominate. It’s your sweet spot. Your sandbox doesn’t inhibit growth; it instead allows you to dominate a certain area and expand in order to dominate other areas. The North Face does this well. Their sandbox is producing high-performance climbing and backpacking equipment for avid outdoor athletes and explorers. I wouldn’t consider myself an outdoor athlete and certainly not an explorer in this sense, yet the brand appeals to me. The North Face knows their strengths and dominates that area while allowing them to grow to reach a broader audience with a wide variety of product offerings.

Habit 7: Position and differentiate

In addition to identifying strengths, brands need to also be able to accurately position and differentiate themselves among their competition. Positioning is the process by which marketers create an identity for their product or brand in the mind of their target audience. Coca-Cola is a brand that has been forced to re-position and differentiate themselves time and time again. Once positioned as a soda company, they are now a full beverage company owning juices, sports drinks, and water among others. As their brand evolved over the past 125 years their positioning changed from a focus on refreshment(s) to a unique focus on creating special moments. The DNA of their brand is rooted in the memories created by the consumption and interaction of their products around the world.

What other habits do you think extraordinary brands possess? Do any of your favorite exhibit the above habits?