Building brand: Focus on the need-to-do, not the nice-to-have

There’s a clear line between the things you need to do to build a brand and the things that are nice to do.

Where and what you spend your time and energy on can be the difference between being a Zappos, Patagonia, Apple (or any of the brands that I like and I’ve talked about this year) or being here today and gone tomorrow.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I think the number one need-to-do for anyone building a brand is get a solid understanding of what promises you can keep. But there are other needs that come in handy.

You need to get the right people on the bus (to paraphrase Jim Collins). You need to know where the bus is headed, what the destination looks like and how you’ll behave as a group along the way. The right people aren’t a guarantee you’ll succeed in building a great brand, but the wrong people will doom you to failure. To quote Zappos CEO Tony Heish: “Even if you’re a superstar at your job, if you’re bad for culture, we’ll fire you”

Yes, you need a logo or some marker so people can pick you out in a crowd. Don’t overthink this one, I’ve never heard of an org that failed due to a “bad” logo, but plenty failed because they spent too much time overthinking it and lost focus on the first two points.

You need a product or service that people want and maybe even need. And it doesn’t hurt if it has something going for it that the guy down the street doesn’t have.

You need to get your back office operations in order. Hopefully before you tell too many people who you are. There is no faster way to break your promises to people than to ramp up demand before you have the delivery piece sorted (and no I’m not talking about setting up a shipping account somewhere). Are your hows in place? How will you make ‘it”? How will you answer customer questions? How will you distribute? Just to get you started.

You need to tell people about yourself, I’ve used this quote from Thornton May before but it perfectly sums up why that’s important: “You might be the best thing since sliced bread, but if I don’t know about you it doesn’t do me a damn bit of good.”

How you do that will depend on who you are trying to talk to and where they hang out – and when viewed through the lens of who and where, lots of so-called ‘needs’ from a communications standpoint can quickly become ‘nices’; so be deliberate and don’t let the “because everyone else is” rationale overtake your reason.

Things that fall into the nice-to-have bucket will change depending on where you are in building your brand and what kind of organisation you are. But in general the nice to haves are pretty much any “bright shiny objects” that distract you from things that will build real value and ensure you can keep your promises.

Stop and ask yourself. Does this help us keep our promises? If the answer is yes, great, full steam ahead, it’s probably a need. If the answer is no then there are better ways and places to spend your valuable time and energy in building your brand.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at


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