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Your brand strategy is your business’s North Star.
It defines your unique and resonant promise, making the case for why customers should choose you. This promise then filters your decision-making so that all you do as a business makes your promise ever more true.
Before you can grow true to your North Star, you need to know what that North Star is. You’ll want to choose a promise aligned with your values and strengths, fueled by a deep customer need, and unique to your business. You’ll want it to be rooted in incredible truths about your business today, while also expansive and aspirational for years to come.
Choosing this North Star will be among the heaviest lifting of the strategic work you’ll do as a leader. And not all moments are equally conducive to such mental heavy lifting. The essential condition for this moment is psychological safety. Your psychological safety. You need to feel psychologically safe in order to do this important work well.
What psychological UN-safety feels like:
What psychological safety feels like:
You may be thinking, "Well that will never happen. We are busy. We are always mired in the day-to-day vortex of busyness." In fact, this rationale explains how rare it is for a company to have an expansive North Star.
It will always be easier, in the short term, to stay mired in solving the short-term worry du jour. It requires a steely act of will to craft the conditions for the exercise to succeed.
So you have to really want this bold North Star. You need to have decided that it is worth it to put the importance above the urgent. It takes leadership courage and it takes resolve.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders were peering into the lion’s mouth. The anxiety permeated the personal and the professional. Some of the wrenching questions on our minds: Can I prevent layoffs? How do we stay safe? How will my elderly parents fare? How will my children (and I) cope with closures of school and day care? Should we change pricing? Should we change our business model altogether? How can we stay relevant?
Peering into the lion’s mouth in the spring of 2020, we sought merely to survive the encounter. We were in a hyper-alert, fight-flight-freeze state that contracted our vision to the short-term. We lacked a feeling of physical safety, let alone psychological safety.
The less safe you feel, the more short-term your vision. This contracted state helps us survive, but is not ideal for helping us thrive. It’s useful while facing a lion on the savannah, but not for creating an expansive future.
The spring of 2020 was not an ideal time to create a brand strategy.
It’s always useful to have a North Star, but when it is particularly useful is when your vision is contracted and you cannot see the way. When you most need a North Star is sometimes when you’re least capable of conceiving it.
Bruce Lee once said that during a crisis, you don't rise to the occasion, you fall to whatever was your prior practice. This rings true with brands as well. In a crisis, you tend to fall to whatever was your practised behaviour before. If you had built and cultivated a brand promise with honesty and single-mindedness before the crisis, then that North Star served as an invaluable asset during the crisis.
If you're starting to feel that your crisis is abating, that you have your feet under you again, don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
There will never be a perfect time to carve out safe psychological space to build a brand strategy. But the fruit of this work sets your trajectory to thrive. You be the one to decide if that is worth the effort.
If you are no longer peering into the lion’s mouth, and you know how much you needed guidance when you were in that moment, now is the moment for a brave brand strategy. Step back and give your whole self to crafting your North Star. It will be a gift you give to your future self, and to your future business.
Lindsay is a Brand Strategist and Founder of Ironclad Brand Strategy, which builds brands using an exacting and analytic method. Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered a deep appreciation for the executive charge: to create sustainable value. Ironclad advises companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, IMDb, T-Mobile and Starbucks. Lindsay holds an MBA in Business from the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business.
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