The Cost of Clarity

By October 12, 2011Blog
We have all watched brands lose their way.  We’ve seen established brands take the slow walk to irrelevance.  We’ve seen start-ups that crashed on take-off.  We’ve seen vibrant brands that were all the rage suddenly become as popular as cold gravy.
How does this happen?

Of course, there are many causes: lack of funding, internal cultural issues, market shifts, etc.  But I would venture to say that even those issues are more symptoms than causes.   I believe the true cause of failure is lack of clarity.  More specifically, a lack of clarity in three areas:

  1. Lack of Strategic Clarity:  This is manifested in an organization’s inability (or unwillingness) to answer this question: “Why are we here?”  I refer to this as the “spiritual” side of a brand.  This is the core element that creates the aroma of the “bacon-ness” of a brand that attracts audiences – both internally and externally.  Brands that have answered this question always have a starting point for making decisions, selecting the right people, etc.  Without this answer, companies tend to drift – from executive to executive, message to message, and audience to audience.  The issue of Strategic Clarity becomes even more apparent when the top decision-makers in a brand have vastly different answers to this question.  This issue can’t be fixed with an ad campaign (it might actually make it worse).  Instead, it requires an awareness of the problem from the top executives – and the willingness to change.
  2. Lack of Role Clarity:  Ron Price speaks often of this regarding internal cultures.  The question to answer is “What are we doing and who is doing it?”.  While primarily an internal efficiency and productivity issue, role clarity extends to the brand – primarily via customer experience.  When your employees don’t know their role, this is manifested on to customers – creating language like “That’s not our policy”.  Lack of role clarity leads to quality control problems, theft, mis-use of the system and more.  This issue extends to directly to customers as well.  Brand that tend to have purely transactional relationships with their audiences create a role for their customers that severely limits word-of-mouth. When customers don’t have the role of brand evangelist, at best you simply have their loyalty – that’s not enough.
  3. Lack of Market Clarity:  While lack of Strategic Clarity and Role Clarity issues may be the primary cause of brand failure, both tend to be more subtle and longer-term issues.  Lack of Market Clarity is usually obvious to everyone.  This is manifested in the question “What are we selling and who are we selling to?”   This is the world of reactive marketing, poorly executed marketing efforts, and squishy messaging – and an obsession with finding the right message.  Surprisingly, lack of Market Clarity affects brands that often have a good product and good people.  They tend to believe too much in the “Field of Dreams” – build it and they will come.  They tend to view marketing as “icky” – primarily because they see their less honest competition using marketing to out-hustle them.  Regardless, you need to present the right image, the right message, and the right offering – all to the right people.
When you think of “Bacon” brands such as Under Armour, Southwest, Starbucks, Apple, SAP, Victoria Secret and others you can see that they do well in all areas of clarity.  Conversely, you can see the brands that are struggling because of a lack of clarity:  AOL, GM, Burger King, and many, many more.

We know what doesn’t fix lack of clarity.  Ad campaigns don’t fix clarity.  More investment money doesn’t fix clarity.  Casual Fridays don’t fix clarity. 

So what does fix clarity?  Leadership.

If you are the primary decision-maker in your organization, it starts with you.  All three of these clarity issues can be solved with leadership.  As a leader, you must first face the truth, clearly define the problem – then lead the effort to change and improve.

Is your brand Oatmeal or Bacon?  Find out here.

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