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Breaking Brand: 5 Brand Lessons from AMC’s Breaking Bad

One of the greatest series in television history came to an end last night. It’s no secret that I have been a fanatic Breaking Bad fan since season 1, and while I certainly don’t have any interest in getting creative with chemistry, I do think Walter and friends have left behind a legacy of wisdom nuggets. From the White family breakfast table to the final moments of last night’s forever farewell, let’s take a look at five brand-relevant tidbits we picked up during five seasons of Breaking Bad…

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER.
One of the major contributors to Walt and Jesse’s long-running success was a result of identifying a need, understanding their market and creating a superior product based on that knowledge.

TAKEAWAY
There’s a conventional tidbit of wisdom that basically says, “You’ll never learn anything while you’re talking.” So many brands are focused on talking at consumers, rather than listening to them, that they miss valuable opportunities to identify the needs and wants of the people they’re trying to reach. Entering into a brand-consumer relationship without doing the legwork to explore what consumers are saying about you, your competitors and your product just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you can invest time and money in focus groups or you can meet people where they are and simply hush up and listen. Word of mouth is a powerful mechanism for feedback, insight and input. Whether or not you’re part of the conversation, people are out there talking about you. If you want to give them what they want, you first have to understand what they want.

BRANDING MATTERS.
The infamous blue color of Walt and Jesse’s product was noted time and time again throughout the series. It quickly became synonymous with a high quality, which in turn, created high demand.

TAKEAWAY
Whether you’re manufacturing cars in the Midwest, developing apps in Kansas City or bottling wine in Argentina, you’re probably not the only one doing that thing you do. What you can be, is the only one doing it the way you do it.

TOMS isn’t the only company making shoes. Warby Parker isn’t the only shop that will sell you a new pair of frames. Chipotle isn’t the only place you can buy a burrito the size of your head. What makes each of these brands special is that they have not only found – but taken ownership – of their special. I know that when I buy a pair of TOMS shoes or Warby Parkers, I’m cast in the role of shopping superhero, as my investment gives these brands a way to give back, too. When I order a burrito bowl at Chipotle, I know what I’m getting, because Chipotle leads with their special. Ultimately, I know what to expect, because these brands know what they expect from themselves.

I read in a tidbit of Pinterest wisdom this weekend, “Your culture is your brand.” Branding transcends a pretty logo or packaging (though these things are vitally important, too). Branding is the consistent experience you provide, the remarkable people you hire, the permission you give your people to do the right thing. From the way you greet customers at the door to the amenities in your restrooms, the tone of voice in your email blasts to the easter egg hidden on your website – everything you do and say is an extension of your brand and branding. Make it blue.

PARTNERSHIPS ARE POWERFUL.
From the early days of Walt and Jesse to Saul to Hector and Gustvo Fring, Todd and Jack to the lovely-yet-lethal Lydia (stevia, anyone?), Breaking Bad is a pendular lesson on the power of partnerships.

TAKEAWAY
As consumers our dollar is our voice and our vote. When you place your card on the counter, you’re not just making a purchase, you’re entering into a partnership. With each dollar you spend, you declare, “I believe in this brand and what they stand for. We are in this together. I’m not just investing with them, I’m invested in them.” We want to invest in brands that makes us feel like we’re part of their story, not just a transaction.

As a brand, we must remember that marketing is about people. It’s important to step back and evaluate how you’re treating your people. Are you talking at them or engaging with them? Are you giving them an opportunity and invitation to become part of your story or are you just expecting them to go out into the world and repeat it?

YOUR PEOPLE WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOUR BRAND
If the final season of Breaking Bad has taught us anything, it’s that you live and die by the people on your team. (In the instance of Breaking Bad, this truth is quite literal…)

TAKEAWAY
Take a closer look at exceptional brands and you’ll discover they have certain threads in common. At the top of the list: a team that believes in what they’re doing and has a clear vision of where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

Great teams do not just happen, they are made. Building a great team begins with a strong leader who identifies individual strengths, gives people a chance to shine and pulls people up with them along the way. When leaders are transparent and honest, visionary and communicative, others will follow and drive the brand forward. When a leader loses sight of the goal – or worse, loses their passion and appreciation for their team – the whole ship will go down in flames.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT BREAKFAST.
Breaking Bad gave new life to the age-old expression, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” From episode one, breakfast became a silent cast member in the series, giving the White family a regular reason to regroup. Though the circumstances and relationships evolved and dissolved from season to season, this ritual forced them to come together and take a time out to reconnect.

TAKEAWAY
Many of the most important, meaningful and insightful conversations happen when we come together and take a timeout. This is true in business and in life. It seems many brands are on a never-ending quest to leverage the latest technology and embrace the “next big thing” in order to reach new people and audiences. In doing so, they often they forget the fans who have been along for the ride, down in the trenches and have loved them all along.

Numbers are numbers. They measure how many people you’ve convinced to click a like button on a page. What’s the value of 10,000 fans if none of them really knows your brand? What’s the value of 10,000 people with their hands out waiting for a coupon, but aloof to your story or success? Don’t lose sight of the people who really get you. Invite them to the table, ask them to share, find a way to connect. Take them to breakfast together. These are the relationships that matter – and their value is immeasurable.

So…to all of you Breaking Bad fans out there (inevitably nursing a bout of series finale blues this morning), chime in! What was your key takeaway from Breaking Bad?

  • David Williams

    Crazy end to it. Like your breakfast observation. even Walt celebrating his birthday with bacon and eggs regardless of the circumstances drove home the sanctity of this meal for Walt. His time to think about things and ponder. David @ Keyspace

    • Amy

      Breakfast will never be the same!

  • Mark Tully

    This blog contains elements of perversion too numerous to be cataloged but too appropriate and funny to be ignored.

  • Justin

    One lesson I love from the show is “just start doing something.” Walt acknowledged and embraced what he was good at and just started his “business.” Just making it up as he went along. Eventually he wound up on top. His personal care, passion and vision kept him true to his product.