Stop branding. Start leading.


Get a picture in your mind of a brand that you would go to the ends of the earth for. We all have at least one. Something you’d always buy. Someone you’d always vote for. Something you’d travel to go to the concert of. Something you’d tell your friends about without their asking.

What are the characteristics of that brand? Let me give you a list, and let’s see how close it matches what you have in your mind’s eye.

It’s transparent and honest. It does what it says it will. There is no buyer’s remorse. It’s not over-marketed (in fact, you might not even be aware that it is marketed).

It’s forward looking. It’s on the winning side. It won’t become obsolete any time soon. It’ll take you into tomorrow.

It inspires. You’re somehow connected to something larger than you and it. It matters more to you than the transactional relationship you have with it.

It’s competent. It gets the job done every time without fail. It’s a standard-bearer in its industry. It doesn’t just say it does something, it has patents for that something.

It engages. You’re a part of its story. Its taglines and promises involve you. It probably doesn’t tell you it’s passionate about something—it tells you why you’re passionate about something. And you can interact with it and its people on the social web.

It’s remarkable. People care about it beyond its function. It matters to the world. It’s on an edge somewhere, somehow. And it’s shared and talked about because of that.

What do you think? Pretty good list? (Feel free to add more characteristics in the comments section if you want).

This list didn’t come from a marketing or branding book, blog, or thought leader. I modified a list from an old dusty leadership standby called The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. They interviewed over 75,000 people to describe the characteristics of people we’d willingly follow, and these are the characteristics that rose to the top of the list (except Remarkable, which I took from Seth Godin via (I’d argue) Jim Collins, another leadership guy who’s hedgehog metaphor is just as apt when talking about remarkability of brands as it is when describing the importance of a singular focus in strategy… probably another post altogether, that).

I’m convinced these characteristics are also of brands that people would willingly follow. Makes some sense when you stop to think about it. Because what does a brand really do? Inspires us to take action, yes? Or maybe (not to get too lofty) it inspires a shared vision. It taps into the value or values we share with it, and inspires us to do something.

Inspire a Shared Vision is actually another Kouzes and Posner notion. It’s one of five practices of exemplary brands leadership (probably another blog post altogether, that).

When you really dig in, the power behind exemplary brands aren’t their marketing departments. It’s a clear sense within the entire organization of how to lead stakeholders. How to engage them, inspire them to follow. And if you’re with me on this, maybe we should ask ourselves why we spend so much time looking at marketing best practices for insights on how to move people. Maybe we should spend more time looking at leadership practices and developing our leadership acumen.

Or at the very least, open our eyes to how these disciplines intersect.