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Will choosing a brand strategy box me in?

Lindsay Says

Choosing a brand strategy will indeed box you in.

You want to box yourself in. You want your customers to think of one thing when they think of you – the one thing that your customers desire and that only you deliver.

As with any business strategy, an empowering brand strategy opens one door while closing others. You choose both what to focus on – and what not to focus on. By drawing a line around what falls inside your brand purpose, you also exclude what falls outside of it.

This is the focus that fuels success. And focus is how you win.

Select Your Yes

Your brand strategy is your choice of purpose. In selecting your “yes,” you will necessarily mark many “no’s.”

Tarang Amin, chairman and CEO of e.l.f. Cosmetics, embraces the door-closing that brand requires. Brand strategy is “the choices of what you’ll stand for and not stand for,” Amin says. “When you choose to be one thing, you are choosing not to be something else. When you choose to prioritize a given benefit, you are deprioritizing others. Otherwise it is not a strategy.”

The Elephant in the Room: Focus Phobia

Now, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Choosing focus makes you nervous. Your fear tells you to keep doors open, not closed. But as Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton M. Christensen writes in The Innovator’s Dilemma: “Focus is scary – until you realize that it only means turning your back on markets you could never have anyway.”

In other words, the thing that makes brand strategy unnerving – choosing focus – is also the very heart of its power. The more you hedge, the more power you relinquish.

Compounding the fear of choosing is the knowledge that once you do aim for a compass point and make it explicit for others, there is nowhere to hide. You have turned on your North Star. And it’s so bright that straying off course sends out alarms. This clarity also becomes your power, as it attracts customers and employees. After all, if you were a customer or employee, wouldn’t you more likely connect with a business that goes to the trouble to get clear on why it exists?

So notice your fear and then be bold anyway. Leadership requires courage.

3 Steps to Courageous Brand Leadership

Here is how to spark this courage:

  1. Stop hedging. Internalize that you owe it to your business, customers, and employees to choose. You cannot be all things to all people. It's also a choice not to make a choice. Recognize that the act of choosing alone unleashes power.
  2. Cultivate empathy toward your customer. Listen to your customer intently to learn the true nature of the problem your business is solving and what it’s like to be your customer facing that problem. Develop the ability to channel your customer while making decisions that affect the customer experience.
  3. Define your brand. Articulate your business’s purpose explicitly, so that everyone can amplify and advance this purpose.

Make a Choice No Competitor Could Make

To stand for everything to everyone is to stand for nothing to nobody. To be liked by many is to be loved by none. So embrace the thing that only you bring. Make a choice that no competitor could claim – one that serves and delights your target customer. Forget about trying to please everyone. Open one door and close all the rest. Focus like a laser.

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