By Tom Hirons, President & CEO
“George, you have to stand for something.” These are the words President Ronald Reagan spoke to George H.W. Bush in 1992 as Bush trailed Gov. Bill Clinton in the race for the White House. Politics aside, there was a reason Reagan is remembered as a great communicator.
A sign hung on the wall of Clinton campaign manager, the “Ragin‘ Cajun”, James Carville. It read, “The economy, stupid.” This sign was a reminder of research that clearly showed that if the election hinged on the economy, Bill Clinton would be the next president. If the election hinged on almost anything else President Bush would win his second term.
President Reagan intuitively understood this. And, when President Bush asked for advice, President Reagan astutely gave the same advice we give many of our clients: “… You have to stand for something.”
What do you stand for?
What position do you own in the marketplace?
What one thing clearly comes to mind when people think of your brand?
Answering these questions begins with research. In politics, we eschew research-driven positions and celebrate those few who stand for what they believe (celebrate but rarely elect).
Self-perception and aspiration do matter. But in business, what matters most is what the members of your target audience believes in their heart of hearts, or want to believe. Ask them. Ask more than how they perceive you — ask the believability of the position and how their behaviors would change if they came to know you differently. Look for passion. Look for positions that resonate with and move your target audience.
Lie? Absolutely not. For position to resonate, it must be one that you can uphold in every interaction with your target audience. It must be, or it must become, true.
Brands that figure this out reach new heights. Southwest Airlines’ brand promise is, “Dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.” This is not a sterile promise. It is embraced by and empowers every member of the Southwest team. As a result, we see television commercials of baggage handlers celebrating their “Bags Fly Free” policy. Flight attendants sing and joke. And we all take any open seat. This is an organization that knows its brand and lives its brand in every interaction.
So, what do you stand for?