Are Brand Ideals Too Idealistic?

During a UK radio interview on Sunday, January 8 with journalists at The Monocle, as part of their two-hour Monocle Weekly program, we discussed the concepts in my book Grow.  It was a fun and lively interview, with questions about various brands, what happens to ideals in an acquisition, and how an ideals-driven approach is different from corporate social responsibility.

But the discussion got most interesting when the journalists bantered about my take on the higher-order ideals for the 50 brands I studied in the research for my book.

They did not totally buy it.

Isn’t the ideal of Johnnie Walker just to make great whisky?  It’s not to celebrate journeys of progress and success.

Isn’t the ideal of Starbucks just to make a good cup of coffee?   It’s not to create connections for self-discovery and inspiration.

I admit at first blush this notion of higher-order brand ideals feels pretty conceptual, and a bit idealistic.  Perhaps even a tad “American.”  Sir Martin Sorrel, in writing his comments to me about the book, said “When you start reading Grow, you may well feel a little skeptical about the ideal and its bottom-line value.  But you’ll soon become intrigued—and then utterly convinced.”

I am glad the Monocle journalists challenged me.  They are right that Johnnie Walker must make great whisky, and that Starbucks must make a great cup of coffee.  And Apple must make great devices, Pampers must make great “nappies,” Red Bull must make drinks that supercharge your energy, Petrobras must distribute high-quality energy, and IBM must deliver competitive data services.  But if that is their only aspiration, they will not attract talent and innovate in ways that make life better for the people they serve.  Without an ideal to guide an organization, people lose their passion to create and do meaningful work.

One of my favorite stories in my book is the development of Apple stores, arguably the most successful retail initiative of all time.  Their ideal was not just to open cool stores for Apple to sell more devices and services; their ideal was to create relationships with people to help them be more creative, happier, and fulfilled.  That is what they recruited for, and what they measured.  And the result was rapid growth and the most productive sales per square foot than any retailer ever.

Is your brand ideal too idealistic?  My bet is that it is not.  I have found quite the opposite: most companies and brands aim too low, with a functional, unemotional brand ideal.  And that just won’t drive growth.

Categories: Business, Marketing

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One response to “Are Brand Ideals Too Idealistic?”

  1. Nic says:

    Jim, just getting into the audio book version of ‘Grow’ and really enjoying it. Do you have any thoughts about how the principals you talk about apply to the non-profit industry. At first glance non-profits should be ideals driven, making the world a better place.



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