I’ve been travelling quite a bit lately. Some for business and some for pleasure. I have been through several airports and stayed in a bunch of different hotels. I’ve rented cars and taken shuttle buses, trains, and mass transit. All of these places are plastered with advertisements for products and services.
We are often exposed to products and services through these advertisements, especially when we initially become aware of a new offering. But we are also exposed to products and services through our use of them — the airline, the hotel, the rental car. As an overall picture of the quality and detail of service, the company’s reputation, and our use of the prime offering, we get to know the company’s brand.
People, too, have a brand. Of the many people I met in my travels, I gained a first impression of strangers or I furthered a relationship with old friends and colleagues. Like a product or service, each interaction with a person reflects his or her brand and enforces my desire (or not) for continued interaction.
In innovation and new product development (NPD) leadership, we generally consider a brand as a three-pronged approach to identifying the offering. The three elements of a brand are:
1. Clarity — the brand message must be clear and concise,
2. Consistent — each exposure to the product or person should maintain an expected range of performance, and
3. Compelling — successful brands tell us why they are unique and draw us toward them with an interesting story.
Let’s look at each of these elements in depth from both an innovation and leadership perspective.
It is no great wonder that most conflicts begin because of a lack of clarity. Occasionally, clear messages are disrupted by noise or a poor signal — like trying to talk to someone over loud music or when they have only one bar on their cell phone. More often, brand clarity is disrupted because of our own assumptions as senders or receivers of messages.
Consider Apple’s famous advertising slogan “Think Differently.” The product message was clear. In a crowded personal computer market, Apple told their customers and potential customers that their product stood out; it was unique. The product brand message appealed to users who value product novelty and view themselves as different from the average person. And, at just two words, we cannot argue against the concise message!
Contrast Apples’ brand clarity with a leadership brand message. Sometimes we encounter individuals who are told to focus on “leadership presence”. There is no clarity in this message since we each can interpret “leadership presence” differently. Does it mean making a quick decision and sticking with it? Does it mean working long hours or having a corner office?
Before we can coach an individual to improve his or her performance, we need to clearly identify the behavior to enhance or modify. I believe asking questions to clarify goals and objectives, and to agree on fundamental definitions, is important to improve our innovation leadership skills. Asking powerful questions is one tool we address in both Virtual Team Leadership Training and in the Innovation Master Mind group.
Product brands need to provide a consistent message. We have to recognize the product and be reminded of what it does for us. The product benefit message needs to be consistent so that we know we will get the same level of quality each time we engage a product or service to solve a problem for us.
While Coca-Cola has generally been a consistent brand for over 100 years, the company has had some high-profile stumbles with inconsistent brand messaging. The classic example of New Coke in the 1980s almost destroyed the brand. And again, in the 2000s, an honest attempt to promote their holiday theme led to inconsistent branding interpretations among diet soda drinkers. Of course, brand consistency is more than colors and logos, but these tangible perceptions of a brand help consumers consistently identify products and services with which they are familiar.
As an innovation leader, you also need to present a consistent brand. You cannot expect to be clam and reserved in a meeting with executives at the same time you shout and pound the table with direct reports. Our expectations of successful project leaders include consistent behavior that is honest, open, and forthright. When you are true to yourself, you will be true to others.
Brand messages must be compelling and engage the appropriate audience to want to learn more. Again, Apple’s “Think Different” campaign featured famous and admired people so that consumers would be interested in how they could also be “different”.
Product and service brands engage us with their (consistent) colors and logos but also with a message of how we will be better because of their offering. Swiffer™ promises us that we can save time in our housekeeping chores — definitely a compelling message. Scott’s Brand Fertilizer promises us a greener lawn and to be the envy of our neighbors — another compelling message. And Maybelline promises us the secrets to beauty — a compelling desire of every woman!
Leaders also must deliver a compelling message to inspire and motivate their teams. It is not enough to simple state project goals, schedules, and budgets. Effective leaders create a shared purpose for the project team and draw the team together to accomplish these objectives.
In Chapter 6 of PDMA’s Essentials 3: Leveraging Constraints for Innovation and in the Virtual Team Leadership Training, we discuss building shared purpose within a team. The compelling message starts before the project, in initiating and structuring the team. Team members who believe in the organization’s mission and values are readily inspired and motivated to complete tasks and activities leading to a shared goal. Successful innovation leaders keep the objectives and unified purpose front and center throughout the project execution stages.
How to Apply a Brand Message
With products and services, New Product Development Professionals (NPDP) are trained to analyze customer needs, benefits, and value propositions. We can compose brand messages that are clear, consistent, and compelling that reflect our customers’ values. The goal is to create engaging products that meet customer needs and delightfully serve and satisfy their expectations.
Every leader also needs to consider his or her brand. We need to clearly express our potential as leaders through consistent behavior and in motivating team members. Clarity and consistency in leaders is expressed by asking powerful questions and in the following the golden rule — treat every as you would want to be treated. Our compelling message as leaders drives and supports a shared purpose and a mission to improve all circumstances in which we are privileged to serve.
What is Your Product Brand? What is Your Leadership Brand?
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281–280–8717 to learn more about the Virtual Team Model Leadership series or Situational Team Leadership. If you are in the position of leading a virtual team, please check out our courses and coaching at Simple-PDH.com as well as Chapter 6 in PDMA Essentials Volume 3. Finally, if you are a CIO (chief innovation officer) or NPD (new product development) manager, you will be interested in the Innovation Master Mind (IMM) group. IMM is a 6-month peer coaching group that allows you to extend your NPD knowledge beyond NPDP certification and to collaborate with other CIOs and innovation managers.
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This was first published on the blog at www.Simple-PDH.com.