The Role Of Emotional Intelligence In Brand Building, Part 2: Five Steps To Raise Your Brand EQ

Emotional IntelligenceActors were once known to say their “best work wound up on the cutting room floor.” The reference to a pre-digital era when people actually cut film and spliced it back together is quaint, but the essence of the statement resonates eternally in art and commerce.

After listening to many of my life-in-marketing war stories, my good friend and creative collaborator Michael Laskin suggested that I write a book called, “Hey! I Thought of That!” The book would document all the fabulous ideas of mine that wound up on the cutting room floor, flatly rejected by my clients when they were proposed only to be reconceived and successfully brought to life years later by other companies.

I never wrote that book because whining is so unbecoming. We’ve all suffered the frustration of seeing great work die on the vine and I’m not special in that regard. The marketplace eventually proved that many of my rejected ideas were indeed viable, but the cold, hard facts are that I either couldn’t get the buy in from the right people at my client organizations to make it happen. It would be easy to say that they “didn’t get it,” because they didn’t. But I failed to convince them.

As lovely as it is to have brilliant insights and groundbreaking ideas, none of it matters if you can’t execute.

Part 1 of this essay put forth the idea that Emotional Intelligence is critical to building brands. Part of that equation is getting beyond obvious product features and mundane observations to address the relevant emotional concerns of your target.

Equally, if not more important, is to do the same with all key stakeholders in the marketing process. As I learned the hard way, the best ideas in the world have no value if you can’t build the consensus to get them to the market in the first place.

We need Emotional Intelligence to fight back against the politics, personal agendas and silos of large organizations, where “not invented here” routinely kills the ideas worthy of consideration. Therefore, the following 5 Keys To Emotional Intelligence For Brands covers the internal challenges of brand building as well as the important outward, consumer-facing issues.

  1. Put Your Brand On The Couch

Apply the principles of self-analysis to brand analysis. If your brand personification is that of an overweight, compulsive eater of junk food, you can’t credibly turn yourself into a gourmet. If you stand for warmth, sharing and family values, not only will your current target be alienated by communications based on crude, sophomoric humor, but the new “cool” users you think you’re going to attract will only see you as a lame wannabe.

Just as it’s possible for people to change over time, brand personalities can be transformed as well. Old Spice is a great case in point. Known as your grandfather’s aftershave a few years ago, the brand was successfully revitalized for a younger audience. However, just as you can’t lose 75 pounds overnight, the Old Spice transformation required consistent investment and tremendous patience on the part of P&G. More importantly, the heart of the brand hasn’t really changed. 30 years ago it stood for confident masculinity. It still does, but has adapted to how the concept of masculinity has evolved.

Get to know your brand as the fully dimensionalized, living thing it is. Understand your brand character, embracing both its strengths and weaknesses. Recognize that the more radical change you seek, the more time it will take. As in psychotherapy, real change must come from the inside out. Superficial change without putting in the necessary foundational work – like redesigning a package before developing a sound positioning platform – will seldom work.

  1. Understand What You Really Make

This is an extension of Point 1, but important enough to stand on its own. Nike doesn’t make running shoes. They make personal aspiration. Starbucks doesn’t make coffee. They make community. Whitening toothpastes aren’t selling “whitens 3x faster” claims. They’re making confidence and sex appeal.

Great brands always stand for something bigger than product features. Understand the role your product plays in the emotional world of your target and put your focus there.

  1. Choose People, Not Concepts, When Selecting Internal And External Partners.

Why is the divorce rate nearly 50%? My theory is that people don’t always marry people. Rather, they marry concepts. The reality of who the partners really are and the true dynamics of the relationship are overlooked because the match seems so ideal on paper. Red flags are ignored, physical attraction is mistaken for love or the burden of solving all of one partner’s problems in life is unfairly and unrealistically projected on to the other.

The same principle applies to choosing marketing partners. Pick up any of the advertising trades and you’ll read about agencies being fired on any given day.

We need to choose the partners that are right for us, and it all starts by looking at the work. While this might seem overly simplistic, there are many times when people simply don’t think that this rule applies to them. Most often, this is when an agency or design firm is suddenly “hot” and you want some of that magic to rub off on you.

But if you’re running a casual dining chain in need of feeling more welcoming and warm, then don’t hire the design firm that’s built its reputation on stark, post-modern work, no matter how sterling their reputation. You’ll wind up hating them because they will never buy into your vision or truly understand your needs, no matter what they say at the pitch.

  1. Put Yourself In The Other Person’s Shoes.

Empathy is the most important quality of a marketer. Too many companies focus inward. For example, a website that lists a range of overlapping and seemingly random modules of software may be based on how the developers wrote code rather than how their users actually work.

Marketing people can also be quick to judge strategies or creative work by their own sensibilities rather than thinking about how the target might take in the communications.

Again, internal process considerations are equally as important to your ultimate success as are consumer-facing issues. Think it’s all about you and the work you’re doing? Think again. Superficially, your colleagues may seem to focus on the quality of your work, but what they are really thinking is, “How does this affect me?”

A quote from Maya Angelou I heard on an NPR appreciation of her life says it best. “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

  1. Don’t Be A Control Freak

We can plan all we want, but things will seldom go the way we’d like them to. You may think you know your consumers and your colleagues, but they will always surprise you. I have found that the marketing process, and more importantly, the process of collaborative, human interaction, is just like my golf game. The less I press, the less I try to control, the less complicated I make it, the better it gets.

The only reliable prediction about the marketing process, the game of golf and probably everything else in life for that matter, is that the unexpected will occur.

I once worked with a client who routinely trashed everything he saw in the first round of creative from his advertising agencies. Not very transparent and alternatively upsetting or laughable to those involved, he believed that showing his “toughness” and “high standards” would push his agencies to new heights. It was never successful. Moreover, any creative gems in those early rounds would be overlooked. He was so hell bent on being “the boss” and the one in control that he was literally blinded to the potential of the work.

Stubbornness and rigidity on behalf of defending one’s reputation or a need to appear consistent can lead to toxic consequences. I had a boss in the ad agency business that would not allow any of her people to utter a word that might contradict a position the agency had established in the past. This resulted in a one key client ceding leadership in a category it had invented because we refused to accept that the market had evolved and demanded a fundamentally new approach.

The real marketing hero is seldom the “genius” who single-handedly finds “the answer” and forces it on others (unless you’re the rare Steve Jobs), or manipulates others in order to get them to come around to his or her preconceived ideas. True, inspirational marketing heroes are motivators who lead with great thinking, but also blessed with an ability to win people over through enlightenment and empathy. Their Emotional Intelligence is highly developed.

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