Business Advice

Why achieving your brand takes unheroic work

Michel Hogan /

After giving a talk for Florence Guild at Work Club in Sydney last week, one attendee came up to say thanks, and departed with the comment: “I’m off to so some of the unheroic work you mentioned”.

It’s a phrase I often use. And while I wish I could claim it as mine, it is, however, from Jedediah Purdy’s book For Common Things.

His full quote reads: “Yet a political achievement cannot be taken for granted. It is always either a continuing accomplishment or an eroding one. It requires the sustenance of unheroic work.”

When I first read those words I felt you could easily replace the words “political achievement” and have a great statement of what it takes to achieve a brand: ‘Yet a brand cannot be taken for granted. It is always either a continuing accomplishment or an eroding one. It requires the sustenance of unheroic work.’

Brands are achieved not created. They take time and are the compilation of thousands of unsung actions and decisions made daily within organisations. A sustaining and sustainable brand indeed requires the sustenance of unheroic work.

The attention and credit too often go to the glitter and limelight of the ‘hero’ campaign or high-profile initiative. The headline-making antics which people mistake for brand take centre stage and overshadow everything else.

Yes, it is fun to be on that ride, to see the results splashed across billboards, airwaves and on posters around the office. However, the tangible and meaningful things which result in the brand are not found in the grand gesture, they are in the small stuff that people don’t notice — until they do, usually when something goes wrong and creates a problem or when a promise is broken.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield eloquently highlights the need to “sweat the small stuff” in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and I couldn’t agree more. In space flight, an overlooked detail can kill you. In business, the ramifications usually aren’t so dire, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. The news is littered with stories about small things which became big things.

And the small stuff is often unheroic work. Think:

  • Keeping the shipping dock free of rubbish and clutter so parcels can come and go smoothly (Fed Ex);
  • Replacing a hoodie with a broken zip even though it was purchased in another country and the receipt was long gone (Patagonia);
  • Remembering the name and coffee order for a person attending a conference, even though you’ll likely never see them again (International Conference Centre cafe); and
  • Stocking shelves, making the 100th cup of coffee for the morning, analysing data, taking a few extra minutes on the phone with an elderly customer, helping a colleague get a report finished, and the list goes on.

Unheroic work is about doing the everyday things that keep our organisations functioning and are the building blocks of people’s experience. It is the small stuff we all do every day, often without thinking, because someone needs to do it. And it’s the doing that provides the sustenance to the brand result.

But it’s not just any doing. Because when the doing is not aligned with identity, when it is done without care and deliberation and untethered from what we care about, then the brand result erodes.

However, when the doing is aligned with what we care about and helps make that visible to others who care about it too, the brand is a continuing achievement.

See you next week.

NOW READ: Examine what you intend and avoid toxic promises

NOW READ: Why Samantha Wills is “going out on a high” and closing down her $10 million jewellery brand

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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