You know those really big decisions that come across your desk every now and then (or maybe every hour of every day)? How do you make those decisions? The “right answer” is that you take in all the information, reflect on the possible outcomes, and select the course of action that makes the most sense.
But for an executive operating in the fog of war, it can be difficult to think through those intricacies and get the decisions right. Deciders-in-Chief can get tied up in knots because they lose track of the big picture. I mean the Really Big Picture … not the everyday big picture stuff that they deal with. In other words, not the “we need to get marketing up to speed” stuff so much as the “should we enter a new market” stuff.
What we need is a guiding light that we look up to in order to find our way, a constant reminder that this is how to follow the path we said we were going to travel. We need to focus on “What We Stand For.”
What You Stand For is the cornerstone of your company’s brand.
Your brand is not your logo. Say it with me: Your brand is not your logo. Your brand is your story, and your story is your strategy. In other words, your brand becomes your business strategy. Now, the actual strategy will get into far more details, but the best companies have a deep understanding of who they are, and who they aren’t. That is their brand.
Read Good to Great or Mavericks at Work, two business classics that very clearly make the case that the best businesses focus on what they do best and where they want to go, and are not knocked off course by external goings on. The companies profiled in these books are sustainably great, largely because they understand deeply what they’re all about; it’s a deep belief, not a temporary condition.
What You Stand For is the essence of every company, and it’s why branding is so important for any successful organization. If you’re from some other part of the business outside marketing, you might not be all that keen on the notion of branding. You might even think it’s a waste of time (hey, we’ve run into those folks).
If you feel that way, fine—this post isn’t for you. But I’ll argue to the death that you’re wrong. When we see companies that are successful and beloved, we can begin to understand that the sense of what they’re all about permeates the entire organization.
The CEO talks about it nonstop—and no one rolls their eyes. The rank-and-file believe in it—and that’s why they choose to work there.
A strong brand defines everything you do.
Your What You Stand For needs to be big. It needs to be worth doing. It needs to be a rallying cry. It needs to resonate in the C-suite and in the mailroom. Because that’s what makes it stick in everyone’s mind when they’re confronted with a decision, from Is this merger really the right thing to do? to Should we go after the Peterson account? to How should we design our employee benefits program?
Your What You Stand For should become a central character in the living, breathing story of your company. It should be in the room when those decisions are being made. When the core purpose of the company is at your fingertips and top-of-mind, which way to turn on those big decisions becomes obvious. Sometimes, making those big decisions will sting and you might not want to do it. But you’ll know it’s the right thing to do, for your company, and for your customers.
If you say you’re going to stand for something, you need to stand up. When you do, your strategic path forward will start to seem obvious.