Michael Lee of Madam: the two key questions every brand needs to ask itself

No Suspense. No build up.

Here they are:

What does the brand love?

What does it want more of in the world?

Two simple questions that are designed to help define what the brand is all about, what it believes in, what drives it, what gets it out of bed every morning, what brings the best out of it, what makes audiences want to spend time with it.

Basically, what turns it on, more than what it does.

Questions that (thankfully) cannot be answered by the usual litany of marketing demands: increased product awareness, customer retention and loyalty, market share growth, reaching a new Millennial audience, consumer trial and showroom traffic.

Answer these two and you have a set of principles to help focus the brand, build a backbone to keep it on track under stress, a compass for new product development, a strategy for content, a guide for sponsorships and endorsements, and a social media strategy to enjoy.

Most importantly you build a platform for consumers to engage with the brand.

We know that a brand can’t just sit on a shelf anymore, perform a function, come in various colors, prices, flavors or sizes and expect to capture consumers hearts, minds….and wallets.

It has to go out and meet people. Talk about stuff. Socialize.

Even a can of soup needs to have a POV of what is going on in the world these days.

Let’s see if this makes sense: If I only talk about myself, what I do well, where I come from, what I think, what I’ve done, I will be the most boring person at the table. No one will want to talk to me.

But if I talk about what interests me, what I love, be it the Yankees, Paul Smith, The Velvet Underground, Options Trading and Taxidermy, we have a chance to find something in common to talk about and build an enjoyable conversation.

We have found something in common, something to share, something that engages, entertains, and informs both of us.

So what of a few brands we know, love and want more of in the world?

IBM loves and wants more smartness in the world. It believes that we make progress as a business, as a nation and as a race by becoming smarter. Everything they do, every product they produce enables us to be smarter. Having the idea of smartness at its core creates a simple link between such diverse activities as the ‘smarter ideas for smarter cities’ work out of Paris, US work featuring a blind runner who relies on IBM’s RunKeeper to help him run some extreme cross-country routes, to their Watson super computer having a heart to heart with Bob Dylan.

Volvo loves and wants more safety in the world. Enabling the brand to talk equally excitedly and passionately about the new Volvo XC90 SUV, to their 18 wheeler trucks on the ‘epic split’ spot, to such diverse ideas as Volvo Life Paint.

Apple loves and wants more creativity. GE loves and wants more innovation. Red Bull loves and wants more energy, Oreo loves and wants more wonder. Disney loves and wants more fantasy, and Coke (until recently) loved and wanted more happiness. (Yes, very interesting to see how that move works out).

Those are a few enormous Fortune 500 brands but what about some of the newer disruptor brands like Uber? (I’m not overly sure, but I’ll take a stab at it). Uber loves and wants more mobility. Convenient mobility. Currently Uber is in convenient mobility of people, and generally doing it well and is loved by its audience. It will be interesting to see how that develops into the convenient mobility of things.

Another one? Let’s try Etsy, (another stab in the dark) but I think Etsy loves and wants more individuality in the world. It celebrates the individual. There is nothing cookie cutter about the Etsy brand, its offerings and its generation.

The best brands in the world, the ones that have clear identities and clarity on where they are going, have answered the two questions. And answered them simply.

The bigger car companies and some tech companies seem to struggle more than most with this. What does Ford or Chevrolet really love? What of Microsoft? Would Yahoo be in a better spot if it had asked itself these questions? American Airlines, what do they love beyond presumably, an on-time take off?…I have no idea.

Many brands appear to be obsessed with an endless series of tactics (and I’m sure many of them successful). But nothing fundamental to the brand and its people, no flag to fly, no passion to follow, no conversation to be part of.

Anyway. It’s an enlightening and important exercise to explore, I think, and fundamental to how a brand progresses (or not) and it lets you see whether your brand has a reason to be, beyond a function to perform.

This article first appeared in Forbes.

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