The Good-to-Great Framework, for Brand Building

These days, so many marketers are recommending new, revolutionary or exciting ways to generate marketing change, often by upending the status quo. In challenging times, the urge to do so is stronger than ever. Here’s a switch. I’ve just finished reading Jim Collins’ (author of Good-to-Great) latest book: How the Mighty Fall. Rather than focus on revolution, Collins calls for a renewed focus on business fundamentals.

I am impressed by how the Good-to-Great principals might be applied to building great brands. As marketers work to establish a legitimate place in the C-suite with senior leadership, the Good-to-Great principals suggest an approach to brand building that is guided by a responsibility for the organization as a whole. Collins points out that companies that fall from greatness almost never do so out of complacency, but in fact do so despite (and often because of) undisciplined, aggressive change and growth. This sounds all-to-similar to the unbridled creativity of some branding initiatives.

Following is an outline of Collins’ Good-to-Great Framework, with my thoughts on how they apply to marketing leaders building great brands, during good times and bad.

Good-to-Great Framework, for brand building

Stage 1: Disciplined people.

Collins shows that the most effective leaders must be both ambitious and humble. He identifies great leaders (“Level 5 Leadership”) as those committed first to the organization, not themselves. Brand building can’t emanate from a “not invented here” mentality, or as a thumbprint that some executive hopes to leave on the organization. “First Who, then What” demonstrates that brands emanate from the tribe culture, the fiber of the organization (as well as from a relevance to markets and customers)

Stage 2: Disciplined thought.

“Confront the Brutal Facts” is Collins’ second paradox, which can be applied to marketing leaders, who must believe in the potential of their brand building success, while also taking in new data with a readiness to make the tough choices and course corrections. “The Hedgehog Concept” of brand building: what are you 1) best in the world at, 2) deeply passionate about, and 3) what drives your economic engine? This is fundamental brand positioning at its best.

Stage 3: Disciplined action.

“Culture of Discipline” points to building a brand culture, not simply a marketing campaign overlay. The brand program must have accountability and measures rather than random creative freedom. “The Flywheel” points to the essential nature of the integrative whole of the brand building strategy. Brand building has no single defining action, no one “big idea” that will drive success. Rather, brands are built on the collective momentum of managing all facets of the program, which generate complementary value by working together.

Stage 4: Building greatness to last

“Clock Building, not Time Telling” focuses on multiple generations of leaders—and of marketing programs. True of both business building and brand building. “Preserve the Core/Stimulate Progress” is the last and greatest of Collins’ paradoxes. It identifies the need for an organization to balance the preservation of what makes it extraordinary (call it brand DNA), with its need to create anew, without confusing the two. New, built upon the strength of the core, is powerful. New for newness sake, is in danger of irrelevance or of being outside an organizations’ ability to deliver to customers.

Great brands, like great companies, are built over time and are based on clear knowledge of business fundamentals. As marketing leaders seek to influence the direction of business, we will need to work with a full knowledge base of business and sensitivity for the organization in which we hope to build great brands.