Turning your brand into the authority

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In this article in Business Week, Howard Schultz talks about how the mighty Starbucks brand lost its way – mistaking aroma rather than coffee for the core of its business and embraking on a strategy that saw it shift seriously off-course. The problem, as Schultz explains, is that by the time the company realised that they had diluted their brand position, breakfast sandwiches had become 3 percent of the company’s total revenue. Getting back on track was a big call. He did it anyway.

We talk a lot these days about thought leadership – but really, I see that as a component of a bigger objective: market authority. You may or may not want to be the biggest in a sector, but the article says there are three actions that you need to take if you have lost your mojo and, like Starbucks, are looking to re-establish brand authority.

I actually picked up five:

The first decision is obvious – decide what you want to be the authority in as a brand, and keep the faith. Schiltz recognised that while CDs, movies, and breakfast sandwiches all represented revenue streams, they also cluttered stores, diluted the brand and eroded its authority.

The second decision is about doing everything you can to retain and foster that authority. In Starbucks’ case, that meant perfecting new roasts and shutting down every store in North America for an afternoon to retrain its baristas.

Thirdly, stop doing those things that don’t reinforce your authority, even if they were your ideas in the first place.

Fourthly, stay away from the middle ground – because while that common congregating place might be the most comforting, especially in softer market environments, it is also the place you are most likely to suffocate any authority you had in the marketplace. It is the place where you are least likely to cultivate distinction.

Finally, to be the authority, share responsibility for being the authority with the whole workforce: “… make it clear to employees everywhere … that each tiny decision they make is just one more opportunity to passionately and obsessively move the company in the right direction, not the common direction.” Get there one action and one person at a time.

3 thoughts on “Turning your brand into the authority

  1. Sage advice, There’s a risk with product extensions, mergers, strategic partnerships etc that are not often considered when the finance bods see the dollar signs. I’m watching Air NZ closely as they extend their offering to cruises, taxis, rentals etc.

  2. Great post Mark.

    I wonder about Air NZ also. They are in a very competitive market firstly with competitor airlines but also with travel shops. If they can make better margins on holiday packages and it is not too much of a behaviour change for consumers then why not include as a new offer?

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Kaleb. I’m told the trans-Tasman is one of the most competitive airspaces in the world. One of the great ideas that I think has served Air New Zealand well and should continue to do so is their concept of being “the most New Zealand of airlines”. It’s a lovely point of authority, and there is evidence of it right across their ops – from Grabaseat (Kiwis love a bargain) to the Black Plane (no country is more passionate about rugby).

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