Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Branding from A to V

What is the life cycle of a successful business today?

"Successful",defined by staying on the S&P 500, is 18 years. That's less than two decades to launch, nurture and grow a company, a far cry compared to a lifespan of 30years in 1983 and 57 years in 1958.

Those sobering stats come from Mark W. Johnson, whose new book is called "Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal." Given that harsh reality, Johnson spells out why he believes the name of the game today is building a brand capable of riding the waves of change that come with doing business in the Digital Economy.

Johnson believes Amazon is one of the best models of a modern brand.

Named after the largest river in the world, and growing from a trickle (books) to a tsunami of items and services, Amazon's initial goal was to include a product for every letter in the alphabet. Since launching with a splash in 1995, Amazon has grown to the largest online retailer in the world. From its roots as a Web-based bookstore, Amazon’s product line now includes movies, music, books (all digital or hard copies), plus computer software, video games, electronics, apparel, furniture, food, toys and a mind-boggling "much more." It operates standalone websites serving Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, and China.

Right from the beginning, Amazon's ability to transform and anticipate shifting trends was embedded in the company's DNA. "If you want to continuously revitalize the service you offer to your customers, you cannot stop at what you are good at," states Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO and founder. "You have to ask what your customers need and want, and then, no matter how hard it is, you better get good at those things."

Someone who shares and uses that philosophy to extend the lifespan of his business is Richard Branson. His Virgin brand has a customer franchise that is so strong, it can be applied to a vast range of businesses.

The Virgin brand has been slapped on radio stations, record companies, retailers, airlines (such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue), mobile phone companies, broadband ISPs (Virgin Media), train services, motor vehicle sales, credit cards, loans, life insurance, car and pet insurance, home insurance, mortgages, pensions, savings and investments, music festivals, recreational experiences (such as using a sheep dog to herd a flock of sheep, and now space travel), network marketing businesses (e.g. Virgin Cosmetics), and much more.

And like Amazon, the Virgin brand is focused on delivering value pricing, great customer service, and innovation, and being authentic, people-oriented, hip, and associated with Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson and his personal reputation.

History shows many of the most successful brands were personally driven by a single person. Steve Jobs was both the inspiration and driving force behind Apple. Phil Knight lifted Nike, Howard Schultz spread the gospel according to Starbucks, Jeff Bezos has been navigsting and Sir Richard Branson took Virgin to the skies.

Bezos, Branson and brand-builders like them understand and apply a fundamental truth in making sure they extend the lifespan of their companies. It begins with how a company is defined in the first place.

Do you define your business by the products/serves you sell or by the customers you serve?

Choose the latter, develop a brand with which to communicate that message and there is no telling how long a business can last.

“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. What's dangerous is not to evolve”

Originally posted April 22, 2010

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