Branding with Intension or by default? …Four questions to ask your brand manager

One of the most important items every company must address is its brand.

Some of the questions that come up when I meet with future clients include:

What do we want to be known for…what problems do w1brande solve for our customers?

Who are we today, and where do we want to be tomorrow in relation to the needs of the market?

What does your brand represent to your market?

What is the promise of our brand? 

Those questions get the conversation moving, but to talk about branding alone is not enough. Companies must brand with intention. Branding with intention means consciously deciding who you are, what you represent in the space you choose to play in, and most importantly clearly defining your value proposition. How do you want others (potential buyers and the communities they interact with) to know you? When I wrote my book Branding Backwards my goal was to help the business owner understand this concept of branding with intention or by default.

The market will determine your brand, and basically brand you by default if you do not intentionally brand your business.

You must clearly state the problems you solve better than anyone else and reinforce them in everything you do.

Ask your market what they feel your brand represents.

Do you find your brand promise is clearly stated in the voice of your customers or fuzzy and unclear?

When you ask clients and prospects what they feel your brand represents do you find their answers are consistent with your intention?

How much thought do you give to the promise of your brand?

Your “gut” and “intuition” are not enough…today

When I wrote my first post titled “ Do you know what you don’t know” I was brought back to a time when I was in my mid twenties serving a rapidly growing small company. I was a young manager and full of “piss and vinegar” eager to kick ass and take names. Our entire team was the same age give or take 5 years of age. We were growing rapidly and then hit a plateau . None of us had experienced this before so we hired a coach. One of the coaches’ reconditions was to bring in someone with more experience and a few gray hairs to balance the leadership team. At the time we hired Larry we were making decisions like we always did, but they were not working,and not having the desired impact. We hired Larry with his over 25 years experience and immediately we could feel his experience balance our decisions and quickly we were back on our rapid growth path.

I was so impressed with his calm and knowledgeable approach that I took him to lunch to figure out his secret. So over a great lunch discussing his past business experiences I asked the question burning inside me; “ Larry, how can I get what you have? This ability to see situations, analyze potential strategies in this different way?” I will never forget his answer ; “ Mark, you don’t know what you don’t know, and time and experience is the only way to get what you are looking for.” At that time I was frustrated by that answer. Now that I am the guy in my late forty’s with graying hair I finally understand what Larry was teaching me. Their is no better teacher than time. The danger comes in when all we rely on is our training and experience.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book Blink he talks about what Larry had back then. Was it a gut instinct, business intuition, or something else? In the book blink as one of the comments from my first post points out , over time , subconsciously we acquire information and this the author points out helps us make good decisions. Like other strengths however I believe relying on this alone can be a detrimental weakness. What Larry taught us was to take current market information and use the intuition to write strategies that result in explosive sales growth.

Intuition, “gut instinctcolumn-murketing2LG_0” if you will , is but one component of making good decisions.Your instinct and intuition are a culmination of your life experiences, training and education which ultimately helps you know what you know.It  also acts as a filter for what you see and experience in the future.

The problem occurs when you allow this inner voice to be your only decision making tool. Why? The biggest issue is your information is dated. The moment you experience something, it becomes the past. The unique set of circumstances that you experienced will never be exactly the same again. So how can we rely so much on what got us through the last challenge will get us through this one? The big risk is , if taken too far your team will no longer believe in you as the leader and label your leadership as “clueless” in their minds. Once this occurs you are destined for a downward EBITDA spiral . So how do we know if we are sounding clueless to our team? Guy Kawasaki wrote a brilliant blog titled How to tell if your CEO is clueless that  I recommend everyone read.

So are leaders clueless or just arrogant, both? The definition of arrogance is : an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions. Executives who rely on their gut instinct, their personal intuition alone are arrogant in today’s economy.

Today we face conditions unlike any we have ever experienced. Today is not like the great depression, the dot com bust, or the last time the oil fields were burning in Iraq. Today we see a toxic economic cocktail of ;housing declines and foreclosures, financial institutions in peril, oil prices climbing, a new President, economic advisors ( experts) grasping at straws, unemployment reaching 15 year lows…all shaken not stirred by access to  instant information causing huge swings in the stock market and ultimately consumer confidence.So I thought it would be interesting to ask CEO’s how they solve problems today.

When I surveyed CEO’s recently I asked a simple question; “where do you turn when faced with a problem in your business?” At first the answers were all over the board. However three answers bubbled to the top;

1. my network (I phone a friend)

2. my board, my business advisors

3. I get my team together and we figure it out

My concern with all of theses answers implies those you are turning to are closer to the conditions of the market of today than you are ( or have a bigger or smarter “gut”). I have to admit when I was faced with a challenge with a company I was helping in 2002 the first thing I did was reach out to my network, and that alone was wrong. Today requires critical thinking that includes a strong deep connection and understanding of to your  market, it’s needs, and it’s buyers coupled with instinct and experience to weather this storm. So what should we do , as we lead our organizations ?

Below are six steps I recommend;

1. quantify “what is” (without judgments attached)

2. build an intimate knowledge of your market and particularly its problems

3 understand your team, strengths, weaknesses, and insure you have a team with skills to solve the market problems you discover

4. look for what is working (and find out why)

5. humble yourself ( yes you heard me right) authentically  admit what you do not know, and seek information

6. as Steven Covey said “sharpen the saw” we must invest in self improvement,the book  what got you here won’t get you there does a great job of explaining this


Today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will not be like today. As leaders we must constantly balance our intuition with new market data and critical problem solving skills to be more agile to come out ahead in today’s market.

Where do you turn when you face a business challenge?

How’s that working for you today?

Image from Fast Company article; Going for the gut

Do you know what you don’t know?

When working with another executive inside or outside your organization, where do they fall on the Knowledge Matrix? The answer to this question will quickly guide you on how to work with them on a go forward basis.knowledge matrix


Quadrant 1 – Know what they know


Quadrant 2 – Know what they don’t know


Quadrant 3 – Don’t know what they know


Quadrant 4– Don’t know what they don’t know {most dangerous}


Of all the types of individuals above the Quadrant 4 executive is the most dangerous as they do not know what they do not know. Why? This individual lacks the emotional intelligence to admit what they do not know and as a result they make bad decisions over and over again. A sign of this type of leadership is a negative trending EBITDA .

As opposed to asking for help or seeking additional research, they guess, they assume, and they make key decisions based on their “gut”. The information they use for key decisions is often dated, and or skewed by an ego that outweighs their desire to win and time in the market many years prior.

For example, how many executives do you know that make decisions based on market research? In a recent survey, marketers admitted that 70% of the decisions are made for new products and or decisions for existing products without market data. Therefore, it should not surprise anyone the high frequency of new business failures and that 2/3 of new products are removed from the market within 18 months.

Far too many executives in leadership roles are “winging it” today when it comes to making decisions to drive their business. I promise you your market , your buyers and the buyer’s process for purchasing have changed over the past six months. We must get back to basics and make decisions with hard data as our budgets lack the wiggle room for poor decision making.


What Quadrant do you find most of your buyers in today?

Plot your leadership team, in what Quadrant do most of your organization’s leaders fall?

Where do you fall?

How can we insure we too do not become the executive in a leadership role who doesn’t know what they don’t know?

Golf match and buyer behavior?

Over my 25 years or so in business I have enjoyed golfing, and more importantly the relationships built hitting a little white ball with a 46” long stick into a 3” hole 18 times per round. Outings with clients break down barriers that never seem to be addressed around the board room table. Golfing with current and or future clients also helps create history, a series of shared experiences that helps build relationships.
It’s interesting if you back away from the game of golf and analyze the lessons you can learn about a new individual (buyer) you are inviting into your sphere of influence. Aside from admiring their Ping or Taylor made equipment or their amazing 310 yard drive, you truly receive a glimpse into the character, integrity and ethics of the individual and this lesson can become a strong precursor into how your future business relations will transpire with this buyer.

The coach

Some of my most memorable rounds of golf have been shared with the partner who always finds the positive and provides a suggestion to improve in the future. I have enjoyed the four hours with these individuals as they truly have a positive and giving spirit. You know the guys…you just teed off on the number one handicap hole, par five and your drive landed 250 yards out but in someone’s pool 30 yards off the right side of the course. Do they criticize you? Do they laugh or judge? No. When you are golfing with a coach they may softly compliment you on the distance your ball carried to reach that pool. They discuss how your swing was smooth, you had great contact, and they ask permission to give you advice. They may kindly state…” you know, look at your right knee, that ball landed in a direct line with your right knee at your finish…what do you say we have you change your alignment on your next shot?”
Should your buyer  exhibit the signs of being a coach?

  • expect a partnership in all you do
  • Do’s; layout future work step by step, keep them informed
  • if conflicts arise, you may need to probe this type of buyer to openly discuss the issue
  • this type of buyer is ideal to become a industry or product champion , and participate in dealer focus groups
  • Don’t talk to fast , don’t expect them to make snap/ knee jerk decisions

Johnny mulligan

For these partners a ball from their right front pocket is quickly retrieved and placed on the tee when their first drive goes out of bounds. Pay attention to their scores. If they count the ball that went OB then chances is they may be hitting another ball to keep play moving for you. Should they reach down into the cup after putting to retrieve their ball and say “another par” you may be dealing with someone who understands the rules, however has processed some exceptions to those rules for mitigating circumstances. These are the folks who pick up the “gimme “puts without being told to do so. They may drive the cart on the par three fairway although the a sign says “no carts aloud”

When doing business with these buyers you need to consider

  • it’s all about them, how they feel, not necessarily the company
  • winning personally may be more important than winning as a team or for the company
  • Do you get a sense they are overly competitive? Expect this in all you do moving forward
  • they may be on the impatient side
  • deep fear of a loss in a task sticking them with the title of looser as a person
  • Do’s ; flatter their ego, ask questions about their needs, provide direct answers
  • Don’t; interrupt, arrive late, or give too many details

Water Ball

When I lived in Ohio a number of our courses had water. You will know a Water Ball buyer when they are faced with a shot that needs to carry 144 yards over water and they reach into their bags for a “Bad Ball or Water Ball.” This may be a ball they found in the ruff two holes prior or a discolored yellowing ball with an Enron logo on it. These buyers mentally rationalize and prepare for the worst. They are actually willing to sacrifice the opportunity for a good shot on an old yellowing ball that will no longer carry the distance it once did to save the cost of losing a new ball.

A water ball buyer will:

  • be cost driven verse value driven
  • may trip over dollars to save pennies
  • when you visit their office you may see a number of charts and graphs displayed
  • when you present them a new product or new way of doing things, expect them to be suspicious
  • Do’s; be on time, prepared, speak in terms of saving
  • Don’t ; interrupt them, rush them, or make mistakes in written follow up

Punch it” or “go for it”

So you have teed off and you are playing cart golf, both  balls went into the trees on the far left side of the course. As you enter the forest and the light becomes dim you find both your shots carried a great distance. However to reach the barely visible flag you will need to thread your shot through  trees and keep it low enough to not become entangled in the branches shadowing the fairway. Do they go for it? Do they risk hitting another tree and possibly having a worst shot? Or do they hit the smart punch shot into the fairway and have an easy 100 yard approach?

If your partner chooses to go for it, keep in mind

  • win focused, risk taker
  • their office may be full of pictures at famous golf courses, trophy’s, awards
  • embraces challenges , not afraid of new products or services if they can see the risk has a high reward
  • because of this devil may care attitude at times, their biggest fear is someone taking advantage of their fearlessness
  • Know this buyer will fall into the demanding category
  • Do’s; focus on bottom line, the win, use words like; challenging , results
  • Don’t: not follow up, show up late, sell beyond the close, give too many details


All sports have their unique beauty. Aside from some stunning landscapes of Firestone and their old wooden lockers  I have found the true beautify of golf is it is a “gentleman’s game.”

You are not in a physical confrontation with another practitioner or relying on another team mate to hit you home. You are responsible for your own performance and corresponding score. Golf is a game of skill and honor. To truly improve you must accurately log each stroke to tally your performance. Is your game improving, in a plateau, or has it added five or so strokes?

If you find yourself with someone needing a pocket score counter that consistently tee’s up their ball 6” to 8” ahead of the tee marker you may want to consider

  • they will do anything to win
  • wining is all it’s about, and all encounters will be a competition, they win and you lose
  • expect that your dealings may not be 100% upfront and honest
  • Do’s ; set them up to win publicly in their firm, speak in completive language, keep your physical distance as to not crowd their space, find other influencers within the organization that can supply you a more accurate and thorough assessment should the need arise. Keep a strong paper trail and follow up all transactions in writing.
  • Don’t ; expect them to take a bullet for you or your company even if they were partially to blame, don’t make them wait for dinner reservations, meeting rooms

The volcano

If you have golfed with the club thrower, equipment or grounds destroyer I
feel your pain. I find these buyers the most disturbing as their stress must be very high to let missing a four foot put send them into an uncharacteristic tirades and a lesson for all those present in new ways to communicate. This individual obviously has a strong correlation between what he does, or does not do and whom he is. When the putts are dropping from 20’ out he is happy, fun, and a great guy all around. However when the 3’ put does not break or slowly twists around the lip of the cup for a gimme the fuse is not only lit, but instant combustion occurs without notice. These Folks I call volcano’s as beneath the surface lay a bubbling magma waiting for a break in the surface to spew forth. For these individuals, I recommend not allowing future complications to be attached to these individuals in any way. Be forewarned as someone who erupts among new acquaintances or strangers over a missed putt must be handled with kid gloves.

These individuals lack the emotional intelligence to process what occurred through a filter mechanism that rationalizes the occurrence that triggers the eruption.

Should you find yourself having to do business with one of these buyers I recommend the following considerations?

  • they will be very competitive, and moods will vary so you must be flexible, be able to dance on your feet
  • they often talk fast and talk over others
  • they change vendors frequently
  • Do; learn about them and their needs verse focusing on company needs. Expect irrational outbursts both good and bad. Do not own these outbursts as this individual will move on after the occurrence as if it never happened , set them up to win, expect a white knuckle roller coaster ride of a relationship
  • Don’t; try to quiet or soften the outburst no matter how embarrassing, don’t expect your relationship will shelter you from the explosions, don’t try to coach as they will see it as patronizing and only fuel the magma they spew.

Cell Phone guy

You have been invited to a golf scramble and when you approach the cart you notice your partners clubs are covered in grass stains. The bag is loosely resting in the back of the cart and his putter is mixed in with his driver and irons. The tear in his golf bag pocket dribbles balls every time your cart turns left.

When your cart partner introduces himself he likes to chit chat, seems to know a little bit about everything and everyone at the event and offers you  a  beer from the ice cold six pack he produces at 7:30 a.m. By the third Tee he has received five cell phone calls.

  • he likes to talk a lot, expect cell phone calls at all hours verse written communication
  • very social , will prefer work over lunches, nine holes after work with his buddies
  • may have a golf shirt on from your competitor when you meet next ( that’s a hint he wants one from you)
  • may show up to sign a purchase order without a pen, not organized
  • Do’s; be friendly, build relationship, show enthusiasm and energy, be a great listener
  • Don’t; be negative, dwell on details, or expect them to be on time or have picked up a pencil in the club house to keep score

Big Ben (Time keeper)

As you approach the fourth tee you are quietly informed by this golf partner you are trailing the appropriate course pace by 7 minutes and 15 seconds. This buyer has little if any emotion when dropping a 30 ft put or hitting a drive OB.

When he does speak it is very precise. He is most likely to have the satellite GPS and he will let you know you are 156.6 yards out. (That, .6 really helped in my club selection) You will notice they take a little extra time setting up for their tee shot and aligning their put. Chances are they viewed the putt from a variety of planes and angles before feeling comfortable to make the stroke. Their clubs are placed meticulously in order in labeled slots in their golf bag. Often times each club has its own unique head cover that is removed prior to each shot, and then returned to the club after the club has been cleaned.

  • you may want to not speak as often as they are comfortable in quiet
  • don’t expect chit chat, and never speak once they have stepped on the green
  • This is the guy who feels completely comfortable renting a cart and golfing alone Saturday mornings
  • Do’; be on time, be precise , expect them to read every proposal in detail and ask questions about the smallest detail
  • Don’t; don’t interrupt them, push or rush them, or make mistakes in your follow up
  • They like meetings and time in general well planed, and are comfortable to sit alone and complete their work
  • They prefer smaller groups
  • Their biggest fear is criticism of their work or mistakes

In summary,the game of golf is a strong indicator of someone’s overall values, attitudes and integrity. Golf can be a key tactic to support the strategy of getting to know your key buyers and how you can best interact with them and create a win-win.

Choose a buyer and schedule a round of golf and take note the type of golfer you spend the next four hours with.Let me know how you find their game relates to other experiences you have had with that buyer.

Tell me about any other buyer / golfer types?

Introducing the no smoke and mirriors approach to marketing and sales

The days of sales and marketing being two separate functions with independent performance indicators are over.

The buyers of today are better educated and have access to marketing created sales tools independent of their salesperson. The traditional sales funnel is now full of holes with customers and future customers coming and going at their leisure. Therefore sales models of the past are not working in the markets of today.

The paradigm of marketing and sales being two independent teams is a broken model.