Over the last ten years, I’ve had the privilege of talking to people in a lot of different kinds of organizations – from global consumer products companies to leading academic institutions, from c-suite executives to the long-tenured “keepers of the culture”, from marketing directors to plant foremen. I’ve asked about purpose, vision and guiding principles. Heard more than my share of employee frustration about bureaucracy, uniforms, and either lack of, or too much, direction from the top. I’ve listened as people have passionately spoken about the entrepreneurial spirit that founded their company. And as they have endlessly extolled the virtues of transparency, discipline, trust, loyalty…
But there’s one thing that never seems to make it into the lexicon.
One thing that is utterly critical to an organization’s ability to grow, to innovate, to develop the kind of relationships every brand says they want – but is all too often overlooked when organizations develop their vernacular around values, train employees to be leaders, or decide what kind of performance gets rewarded.
Not the kind of daredevil courage it takes to jump out of a plane, or scale El Capitan.
But the kind it takes to give up control. To say the unpopular thing. To open yourself up to criticism. Or push yourself or your organization to try new things. Recently someone told me they had asked the CEO of a multi-billion dollar construction company what was the one thing he wanted his employees to have. His answer? Sweaty palms. If his guys didn’t have sweaty palms, they weren’t pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone enough. And a company that’s stuck in their comfort zone is, by definition, not entrepreneurial, and more likely to be a “me too” than a pioneer.
If you believe in the power of word of mouth and are looking to ignite an advocacy movement – your organization is going to need courage. And a lot of it.
Is your organization courageous enough to:
- Speak up. Would your employees be advocates for your fans and fight for them if the company was doing something that looked good for the brand on paper, but could seriously damage the relationship with its fans?
- Give up control by letting your customers speak for the brand.
- Listen and take in what they say about you – the good, the bad, and the ugly (yes indeed, listening takes a lot of courage – remember your last 360 review?)
- Invest in quality not quantity and to think about the long-term return on inspiration, not just the near-term return on investment
- Be disliked. Standing for something distinctive and meaningful means that some people are not going to like you. That’s okay. Better than okay. You can’t be everything to everybody and hope to ignite a movement.
- Break down the silos. To EN-courage marketing, R&D, and customer service to ingetrate and, as the book says, nurture the passion for your brand wherever it exists. Because the people who can market your brand best don’t necessarily exist in the marketing department. And the people who have the best ideas don’t necessarily work in R&D
- Not just tolerate, but embrace failure as part of growth. Building relationships is hard – and risky. You have to put yourself out there and there’s no guarantee that people will want to engage.
- To spend real face to face time with your customers on their terms, or invite them to your hallowed halls, instead of looking at them behind a one-way mirror. Or through the facebook-lens.
I could go on – but instead I’ll suggest that you open the book to just about any page. It’s full of ways that igniting a movement will require you to be courageous.
One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis:
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
Whatever your virtues when it comes to marketing and building meaningful brands, ask yourself whether your organization has the guts to live up to them when the going gets tough. Whether your leadership is brave enough to make the unpopular decision. Whether your employees are brave enough to take a risk and fail. Or whether “market research” has really become an exercise in “i’ve covered my bases in case this doesn’t work”.
Ask yourself whether your palms are sweaty enough when it comes to reaching out to and embracing your customers. If they’re not, don’t be surprised if your customers aren’t willing to be loud and proud on your behalf.