Recently I was sitting in an Executive meeting in which conversation was centred on rethinking the company’s vision and brand. To be honest what should have been an engaging, energetic conversation was rather like pulling hen’s teeth. There wasn’t much to enthuse over and I made a mental note to revisit the ‘why’ behind this lack of energy and engagement.

However, one of the participants shared a story that immediately sparked my imagination and was something worth sharing. He was talking about passing through customs between South Africa and Mozambique. It was a somewhat dour and laborious process until one of the Mozambique customs officials noticed his company’s logo on his shirt. With a broad smile he started tapping the logo and speaking excitedly in Portuguese.  “I didn’t have a clue as to what he was saying but I knew he was happy and I realized the power of our brand,” said the Executive.

What kind of response would your brand elicit? Would your brand stand the translation test and be something that would generate that kind of response? Perhaps it is not relevant given the scope of your business but it is certainly a worthwhile question to consider.

Great brands are not accidental. They are the end product of intentional activity. They are the result of hard work and of guarding the right things along the journey to greatness. I am no brand expert but I do know that your brand is important. It is the symbol of what you stand for and the test of one’s brand is something that is always determined from the outside-in. No matter what you think, the litmus test is always about what others think; no matter what you believe, it is about what others believe about you.

Smart leaders understand this and pay careful attention to their company’s brand. Howard Schultz of Starbucks talks about walking into a Starbucks (after he had stepped down from being the ceo) and smelling burnt cheese (a result of the Starbucks breakfast offering). Instantly he knew that this was far from the purpose for which Starbucks had been established and he knew then that he had to do something. It was a realization that culminated in Schultz resuming the mantle of ceo (and yes, he refuses to use capital letters in designating the title). He talks about the “smell of the place” and smart leaders pay careful attention to the “smell of the place”. Internally that translates to the ‘organizational culture’ and externally it translates to your ‘brand’.

Smart leaders choose the words around such issues carefully and deliberately. It can be tiresome work getting to the right wording but those words, once decided, need to inspire and mean something. All too often they are decided, only to be placed on the wall somewhere – and forgotten. Smart leaders understand the importance of consistently linking words to actions and to ensure coherency between ‘who we say we are’ and ‘how we behave’.  Smart leaders understand the importance of getting authentic agreement around vision and values and that, as when one engages in the task of getting physically fit, there are no short cuts.

Your brand has to be lived. The other day I was on a flight when a group of loud and obnoxious ‘adults’ made their way on board. With little regard for anyone else on the flight they were of little credit to themselves or their company as they all boldly displayed their company shirt and logo.  I wonder if they had any notion of the damage they did to their company through their thoughtless behaviour that day? I’m sure they didn’t but the reality is that they did do harm to a company who I think would have expected more from them.

Your brand is important. Everyday is an opportunity to either enhance it or detract from it. It goes beyond the hype and spin that brands usually come wrapped in; it is all about how the brand is lived.

But as I said, smart leaders know this and they are attentive to it, starting with themselves.

TomorrowToday Global