Man-of-Steel-2-George-Miller

Nothing quite like sitting through 151 minutes of DC Comics-inspired testosterone to set your mind spinning about brands and businesses.

Not the obvious elements like how fans flocked to this movie despite the panning it got from critics. The power of social media and Influencers versus the establishment?

Nor the discussion on licensing power, brand portfolio management and brand extension strategy. DC inserted at least 4 cues for spin-offs in the movie and an inevitable sequel.

Nope it was something a little more existential.

The question of whether a brand or business could actually be immortal.

Your mind would wander too after watching Ben Affleck debate whether Superman is actually a God for 151 minutes>

Seriously we’ve all sat through meetings discussing new product features with a reverence bordering on idolatry.

“Stop the presses, we’ve just added a 15th flavor variant for gluten-free, adventure-seeking Buddhist Millennials.” 

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being passionate about your brand. Passion and dedication go a long way.

But is that enough to sustain your business and your brand? And for how long?

Particularly as the tenure of brands seem to be declining at such a precipitous rate. You’ve likely seen this chart in your LinkedIn feed and it does paint a rather stark picture. In 1958, the tenure of a S&P 500 business was 61 years, today its less than 20.

Does make you wonder if our children will be saying “UBER who?” and “Tell me about that brand you called Tesla Dad” I still reel from the reality that Nokia is now just a line item in the Microsoft stable.

Of course there are brands that seem to weather the storm. That appear more impervious to the buttressing of consumer schizophrenia and the roller-coaster of market fluctuations.

Apple turned 40 this week and would probably be the one most referenced. Remember this is a brand that a decade or so ago was seen as a bit player, not the powerhouse it is today. Worryingly, recent headlines suggest Apple is now boringand that the recent encryption saga was merely an artful PR ruse to deflect attention from lagging relevance and innovation. If that’s true, you have to wonder how much runway Apple still has. (No doubt that last line will evoke a torrent of ridicule from the Fanboy section)

And these guys? The brand still ranks in the Top 3 Interbrand businesses and is estimated to be worth an incredible $78 billion. However, a decade ago they were the undisputed #1 (Ironically other top 10 contenders included Microsoft, Intel, Nokia and Marlboro). Formerly exalted as genius marketers, most mainstream conversations about Coca-Cola today focus on child obesity, diabetes and serving sizes and a general “meh” about their recent global advertising. Is there any disputing that the fizz is out of the bottle?

So is brand immortality feasible or do all businesses have an Achilles Heel?

And, is there any way for a brand to ward off the power of Paris’ arrow?

Perhaps one way to look at this is to consider if the threat is external or internal? 

Of course, the answer isn’t going to be binary but one approach is to determine if the threat coming from movements in the market or a stagnation internally?

Well there’s certainly no shortage of potential solutions and planning methodologies for discerning the size and velocity of external threats. Scenario Planning is definitely one and certainly provides some robustness – but its expensive, time-consuming and organizations need to commit versus flirt with it. Including the wonderful PESTLE in your activities is another way forward. Even the exercise of asking Theodore Levitt’s (immortal) question “What Business Are You Really In?” does force a very valuable introspection.

Are there others?

What if the issues are internal?

Here’s three avenues that I’d consider.

Purpose

No shock here but I’m a huge proponent of Purpose as a way of aligning resources internally and aspiring to a larger rationale for your organization. Begs the question – Does your organization have a larger rationale for its existence? Is it a Purpose that puts people before profit? When, like Patagonia, your stated purpose is “To make the best product with the least environmental impact and the most social value possible” – its easier to imagine an organization constantly striving to do better. An organization committed to something beyond the 90-day analyst call to orient their people behind.

Culture

Increasingly organizations are waking up to the reality that their people, and the culture they’ve created, is an area of significant competitive advantage – or can be the Achilles Heel mentioned earlier. This goes far beyond employees who are merely “engaged” but is about building an environment where employees can be “unleashed”. An environment where your people are genuine advocates for the direction and Purpose of your company – but are also set up for success. Importantly this isn’t just about cultural artifacts like trust falls and foosball tables (as critical as those are) but about defining a Culture that aligns to your Strategy and then nurturing that. Can you say for certain that you have a good grasp on your Culture? Can you say definitively that “unleashing” your currentCulture will accelerate the success of your Strategy?

Organizational Design

Another topic of increased popularity amongst business leaders globally. Do we actually have the systems and processes that will allow our Culture to deliver our Strategy? Is our Innovation pipeline blocked with great ideas that we just can’t seem to get out of the building? Do we prevent our well-intentioned Customer Representatives from genuinely being “customer-centric” because we’ve added unnecessary and superfluous layers of oversight? Are our Centers of Excellence operating more like distant islands divorced from the business, than core drivers of it? Ultimately, you may have a brilliant Strategy and a vibrant Culture but without an Organizational Design that can marry the two, failure is inevitable.

In the end perhaps there is no way to create a truly immortal brand – just as there is no way for anyone other than a Son of Krypton to be immortal.

But that shouldn’t stop us trying. 

Businesses today are well positioned to be the real saviours of this planet. Just ask Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne.  Certainly better than many other institutions, like governments. Perhaps a good place for them to start is with a desire for immortality.

And a well-defined posture of benevolence.

What say you?

As always, I’d love your feedback. Is an Immortal Brand feasible – or even desired? Should that be what business leaders set out to create? Or should we continue to let businesses evolve and then die?

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