Slow brand wins the race

Slow brand wins the race

The ‘slow’ movements around the world which began with Slow Food, have since expanded into various areas of thinking and doing underpinned by the ideal of taking the time to make a connection.

Reading the terrific book Slow Fix by Carl Honoré got me thinking about the idea of “slow brand” (I sense a movement in the making!). Actually, the term might be a misnomer, because really the greatest brands have always been slow brands – years, even decades in the making.

The idea of a brand as something that can be created in an add water and stir kind of way (or more specifically add agency and stir), seems downright silly when taken in context of the most highly regarded brands in the world.

The ongoing cycle of decision and action, embedding what they care about through their businesses and out into the marketplace to connect with others who also care about it is at the very foundation of building any brand.

Nothing could be more in alignment with the ideal of the slow movement than the way organisations like Google, Amazon, Apple, Patagonia, GE, etc have over decades continued to refine and invest in connecting what they do, how they do it and why they do it with customers, employees, partners and all manner of stakeholders – resulting in the brands we all think of today.

What about newcomers on the scene like Airbnb who are grabbing column inches and blog chatter with their brash new business model and high profile identity?

I’d say the proof will be in the longevity. Ten years ago people were abuzz about MySpace until an upstart called Facebook stole their friends. Fifteen years ago Pets.com was the darling until it quickly joined the dodo on the extinction list taking $300 million in investment capital with it.

It’s all too easy to mistake name recognition or awareness and some marketing buzz for brand. Not saying that those things don’t have their place and value – they do. But the masquerade that it is brand – sponsored by agencies worldwide – is great for their business models and often not so great for the businesses which believe their own hype and then forget that building a brand is work. You need relentless focus and no small measure of fanatical discipline to take what you care about and consistently align it through everything you do.

If Pets.com had thought connecting what they cared about back into the fundamentals of their business was as worthy of their time as making Super Bowl commercials with sock puppets they might still be around today – the Amazon of pet supplies!

So for me the jury is out on the new guys. Let’s see how they do over the long haul.

And here’s the really good news of slow brand. You (mostly) get to build as you go. Apple didn’t emerge as a fully formed technology juggernaut amazing us with their seamless experiences – and even now they get stuff wrong.

Patagonia made plenty of product missteps before they figured out the formula the drives their customers to post photos of the #wornwear they’ve owned for years on Instagram.

GE has used their imagination to refresh, realign and rejuvenate many times across the 100+ years since Edison and his friends founded it.

And I think that’s probably the most rewarding and most powerful part of the whole slow brand idea. It’s a process. You’re never there. It’s a constant evolution and alchemy of learning, application and adjustment.

What a relief. No more “bet the farm” pressure of if we get this wrong we are dead. Sure there will always be decisions you might make that could put you out of business. That’s just part and parcel of the high-wire of being in business. But most failures can be recovered – over time and with slow brand principles. After all, if we know one thing it’s that no one gets things right every time.

So what are slow brand principles? Here are five to get you started. (I’m working on a much longer article on this topic that will expand this idea some more so stay tuned.)

  1. Put what you care about at the heart of your brand (that’s your purpose and values).
  2. Relentlessly align everything you do around and to it.
  3. Actively say no to things that don’t.
  4. Admit mistakes and evolve as you go – you won’t get it right every time so embrace getting it wrong and learn from it.
  5. Sweat the details of what and how, get into the dark corners that you usually don’t think about.

As always, the ultimate brand principle is to keep your promises. Fast or slow, you simply can’t build the brand you want if you are aren’t doing that!

See you next week with “Yes, you can measure that”.

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 michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.

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