There’s a recurring feature in Esquire magazine called “What I’ve Learned.”

In it, an accomplished someone — it could be an actor, a politician, a scientist — is interviewed, and his or her words are presented as a string of short phrases.

There’s wisdom in surprising sources, and it’s always the first thing I turn to when my issue arrives.

Over the years, I’ve worked up my own list of what I’ve learned about branding.

I share it here in hopes that it might be useful to those of you who are leading or building brands (which is just about everyone):

  1. Keep asking: “How do we make the world a better place?”
  2. Do something meaningful, and you’ll have a story worth telling.
  3. When people say, “That was a good ad,” what they usually mean is “That was a good joke,” or “That was a good short film.”
  4. Think “experience,” not “branding,” and your branding will get better.
  5. Focus + Creativity = Results.
  6. These things are underrated: Simplicity, curiosity, empathy, patience, substance, perseverance.
  7. Cleverness is overrated.
  8. Every brand is a service brand. On some level, you’re serving the needs of people.
  9. If you don’t respect your consumers, you’ll never serve them.
  10. If you can’t respect your consumers, find a new line of work.
  11. Market share and market leadership are two very different things.
  12. Branding is about serving, and brand strategy is about winning. You can’t sustain the latter without sustaining the former.
  13. You’ll never be a great marketer by spending all your time in the office. Get face-to-face with your consumers.
  14. Cultivate your hobbies. Read more books. Make time for exercise, family and friends. Get enough sleep.
  15. Volume is vanity. Profit is sanity.
  16. Culture trumps strategy. Thankfully, it’s not an either-or.
  17. Great brands start at the top of the org chart, and are lived throughout.
  18. As a brand leader, you don’t need to have the Big Idea. But you do need to make it happen. So surround yourself with the best people you can find.
  19. “You cannot make history by marching in lockstep with it!” — Doug Hall
  20. You can never know your consumers well enough. But keep trying.
  21. Internally, strategy is an exercise in storytelling. Do you believe your own story?
  22. If you haven’t defined what winning looks like, you won’t win.
  23. An inspired culture creates inspired experiences. And those are nearly impossible to replicate.
  24. You must decide which single measure of success is most important.
  25. The Marketing and Sales departments should just bury the damn hatchet. We all want the same thing. Let’s work together on getting there.
  26. “We’re Brand X, and we think Brand X is great!” is not a successful advertisement.
  27. Mom was right: Keep your promises.
  28. The most important part of coaching is fielding the best team. Don’t cut corners on hiring, and don’t keep underperformers on the team.
  29. Difference is often found not in what you do, but in how you do it.
  30. Brands are built in thousands of daily decisions. (Yes, you should sweat the small stuff!)
  31. You could try to speak like your consumers or your competitors. But you won’t stand out until you develop a unique voice.
  32. Of course you think your products are the best. Your competitors think the same thing about theirs. So what?
  33. Delight the few to attract the many.
  34. You know that in-vogue line of thinking that says, “If you’re not failing spectacularly, you’re not doing it right”? That’s crap. Plenty of spectacular failures should have been avoided, and it’s foolish to bet the farm without a very good reason. Responsible leaders take calculated risks, not reckless ones.
  35. “A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.” — Sir Richard Branson
  36. Consumer loyalty is a fluid spectrum, not a fixed position.
  37. There is “product talent” and “positioning talent.” You need both, but mastering the latter is where the long-term wins are.
  38. “The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife.” — David Ogilvy
  39. Your brand is not your logo, your color scheme or your tagline. Can we finally agree on this and move on?
  40. Some of the assumptions in your strategic plan will be proven wrong. What then?
  41. No excuses. You’re the CEO of the brand.
  42. Strategy is an exercise in choice. There’s never just one way to win.
  43. Be a first-actor, not a reactor. Smart strategy shapes sectors.
  44. A few lousy customers can get you really focused on the good ones.
  45. “Systems without feedback are stupid, by definition.” — Amory Lovins
  46. You don’t want a “level playing field.” Within the boundaries of ethics and the law, you want to play the game that only you are best equipped to win.
  47. Branding is not an initiative. It’s a mindset.
  48. The most important strategic question: “How will we win?”
  49. Your brand is everything you do.
  50. What did you do today to move the business ahead?

Originally posted on 2/11/16 by Matthew Fenton on