With March Madness behind us and the NBA finals underway, we find ourselves thinking in round-ball terms about what it takes to build a successful brand. It turns out great brands, like great teams, are built on cooperation and a commitment to mutual success. And both can be shattered by the actions of just one player.
On great basketball teams, five individual players become one unit, intent on driving a 9-inch ball down the 94-foot court and placing it through an 18-inch hoop ten feet in the air. Each player has a chance to excel – to be the best at his game – but in the end, what sets winning teams apart is their ability to work together, carefully executing plays that orchestrate fluid exchanges between players to create an opening for one player to make the shot.
Sure, on a fast-break, one superstar can go solo, board-to-board, but can he win the game playing one-on-five? Of course not. The self-absorbed player often does more to tear the team apart than to win the game, and in the end, even his own career suffers.
Don’t take my word for it. In the book I Can’t Accept Not Trying, Michael Jordan tells us, “there are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team.” Or put more simply, “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
It’s the same with brand. Brand is built by everyone in the organization. Each individual must work with the rest of the team to ensure that their individual behaviors and their interactions provide a consistent and brand-positive message for customers. The employee who puts his personal goals before those of the organization – even if that individual is the CEO – places the organization’s brand in peril.
So what can you do to build a brand team inside your organization? Here are five things to consider:
Know the Playbook – Teams can’t win if the players don’t know the plays. Make sure every member of your organization understands the brand. What is the brand promise? How does it guide decisions? What role does each team member play in advancing the brand? How do your fans define victory? And how can the team pull together to ensure a positive brand experience for every customer?
Ball Handling Drills – Every basketball player, regardless of the position he plays, has to be comfortable handling the ball. Lose the handle, and the ball ends up in the hands of the competition. Inside your organization, each department must coach its team members until the “players” have a comfort level handling the brand. That takes countless hours of practice and attention to detail. Make brand-handling drills part of your routine. Talk about your operational decisions in terms of their effect on brand. Where do opportunities exist to improve the brand experience? And encourage departments to share their brand roles internally, so teammates learn how to handle the brand all across the organization – no matter what position they play.
Passing Drills – Almost every trip down the court includes at least one pass, and speed and accuracy are essential passing skills. Business is no different. When your organization “misses the pass”- whether it’s a disconnect between sales and implementation or lost communication between customer service and shipping – your brand suffers, and you run the risk of losing customers. One of the most common complaints voiced by customers is having to ask for the same thing twice. Practice hand-offs!
Defensive Skills – You’re not the only team on the court. Half the game is preventing the other team from scoring. Quickness and agility will be your key weapons. Look for the takeaways. Move decisively when the other team falters. When they seem overconfident, force a turn-over. (It’s not easy, but if it were, they wouldn’t call it “stealing.”) Be prepared to act swiftly, too, when defending your own brand. And remember that a solid brand promise – one that’s authentic, adds value, and resonates with your market – adds power to your defense.
Rebounding – Strong offensive rebounding gives your team a chance for the follow-up shot. Solid defensive rebounding limits the offense to just one shot. And face it, we all miss a shot now and then. But it’s how your organization chooses to rebound after the miss that either strengthens or weakens the brand in the mind of your consumer. Rebounding is the key to developing loyalty among customers.
As we watch the battle for the NBA Championship unfold, let’s see if we can pick out which teams rely on one player’s skills and which have developed a strong sense of team and solid fundamentals. And then let’s take a close look inside our own organizations and ask, “Are we building a championship team for our brands?”