Perhaps companies should adopt the practice as well. The New Year brings a reason to look at your business afresh and commit to making some changes. Brands deserve particular reconsideration.
So in the spirit of new beginnings I suggest the following New Year's resolutions for brands. In fact, the concepts behind the most common resolutions made by people -- spend more time with friends and family, eat right, exercise more -- apply to brands as well:
1. Spend More Time With Friends and Family (Prioritize Brand Relationships)People prioritize relationships, particularly intimate ones. That's because relationships are stronger, more meaningful and more satisfying when people really know each other.
In the same way, a brand's relationships are its priority. Its most important relationships are with its customers.
Customer intimacy is not new; the way it should be achieved, however, warrants reconsideration. New technologies have given rise to new ways companies can engage with their customers -- but most of these approaches miss the point. By soliciting ads from "users" or deploying Second Life characters, marketers are simply engaging customers in the communication of the brand, but not with the brand itself. This is akin to pursuing a deeper relationship with a friend by resolving to talk about her more.
Instead, companies should pursue customer intimacy by combining detailed customer knowledge with operational flexibility so that they can respond quickly to almost any need, from customizing a product to fulfilling special requests. Database algorithms and customer analytics aren't as sexy as YouTube campaigns, but they yield fertile insights about how to influence purchase consideration. Championing operational changes that make it easier to serve unique customers' needs engenders their loyalty.
So in 2008 let's resolve to pursue true intimate brand relationships, not simply intimate communication.
2. Eat Right (Focus on Internal Integration and Alignment)Whether to atone for holiday bingeing, lose extra pounds or ward off disease, eating right is often at the top of New Year's resolution lists. People vow to be more conscientious about what they put into their bodies. Likewise companies would do well to turn their attention inward when it comes to brands.
In most cases internal stakeholders -- managers, employees, channel partners -- affect brand perceptions far more than do external efforts, such as advertising or promotions. That's why internal brand integration and alignment should be a goal for the coming year. Let's ensure that a clear, consistent, common understanding of the brand is shared among all internal stakeholders.
At the highest levels of the organization, the brand should align and inform the executive team's decision-making. That senior management understands and supports the brand values, attributes and competitive positioning is usually assumed -- incorrectly. To counteract the resulting silo mentalities, senior leaders should engage in focused brand work sessions in which managers set and commit to strategic decision-making criteria and operational agendas for delivering the brand.
Front-line employees should be informed, inspired and equipped to interpret and reinforce the brand appropriately. New media can transform the way companies engage their employees. Interactive video "games" can be used to simulate real-life scenarios. Internal social-networking sites would allow employees to post blogs, videos and other content to convey brand ideas and examples. Let's direct the innovation and fresh thinking currently applied to external marketing communications to internal efforts.
Nourishing your brand through internal integration and alignment will make it leaner and stronger.
3. Exercise More (Execute Your Brand)As January gym memberships and ab-blaster sales attest, come the first of the year many people start an exercise program, resolving to get off the couch and get in shape.
Improving brand impact requires a similar bias for action. Companies seeking to maximize their brands often turn first to the usual suspects -- name, logo or advertising. But these serve only to express the brand, and brands produce the most results through brand execution. It's like the difference between saying you have a personal trainer (which sounds really cool) and sweating through an hour of near torture with one (which actually produces results).
Strategic brand execution -- whether it involves entering a new market, developing a new line of business or implementing new service policies -- is hard, resource-intensive work. It begins with identifying brand opportunities through brand diagnostics, competitive audits and market research.
Implementing tools that facilitate brand delivery is the ultimate brand-execution regimen. Tools such as brand guides, partner tool kits and decision trees simplify and support the daily decision-making of bringing a brand to life.
Brands are like muscles: The more you use them, the stronger they become. Exercise is a great New Year's resolution for both.
No list of New Year's resolutions would be complete without the resolution to make them stick. While the record of annual commitments we make to ourselves may be less than stellar, I'm hoping we might have greater resolve when it comes to brands.
We can afford to go easy on ourselves because we're pretty sure we'll have another chance next year. With brands, the future is less certain.
Denise Lee Yohn is an independent brand consultant. Clients include Sony, Jack in the Box and VF Corp.