Meaningful marketing It’s not about you. It’s about them. By Betsy Henning

May 21, 2015

Get over yourself

Are you a leader? A good communicator? An effective marketer who knows how to create a solid brand promise? Of course you are; there’s not much chance you’d even find this column, much less read it, if you weren’t.

However, beware of these words and the concepts they promote. Leadership, communications, brand promises (and many things like them) have an inherent flaw.

The problem is that each of these things is inwardly focused. It’s all about the self—about the you or the me—yet whether we are good or successful at them has everything to do with someone else.

What makes a leader?

Take leadership. Those who know me will tell you I frequently ask what is the one defining characteristic of a leader? What’s the single common denominator that lets you know any given person was, or is, a leader? Think about it for a moment before reading on.

Most people say something like a strong point of view, charisma, focus or persistence.

The answer is much simpler.

It’s a follower.

To be a leader, you must have someone who is tracking you. The one defines the other. As one of my colleagues says, without a follower, the so-called leader is just taking a walk.

Your beliefs and behaviors about your own leadership will shift dramatically if you think about it as cultivating followership. Suddenly, other people are in your head, and their concerns and ideas are combining with yours, and you are probably figuring out how to address and accommodate them.

Press pause and listen

The same principle applies to communications. Everyone knows cognitively it isn’t what we say that matters, it’s what the other person hears. And yet, we continue to behave as if we are in control, as if others will understand us simply because we’ve spoken clearly.

It’s incumbent upon us to ask, listen, respond and repeat to ensure that actual communication has occurred.

As in leadership, it’s not us who determines whether we are successful, it’s the people around us.

“It’s not us who determines whether we are successful, it’s the people around us.”

Promises, promises

And the same thing is true of that classic pillar of brand strategy, the brand promise. The goal of a brand promise is to unite everyone associated with the brand—employees, customers, stakeholders—with a single idea of your offer.

Again, the focus is on you.

As with all commitments, a brand promise sets expectations, and those expectations are real and valuable. Brands tend to create lofty and aspirational brand promises, yet they too frequently fail to engineer a comprehensive way to deliver on them.

The result: disappointed customers, employees and others. And, in turn, lower sales, negative buzz, declining shareholder value. When we break down and fail to meet the expectations we created, we will pay a price, and it may be for a very long time.

So let’s call it what it is: a brand expectation.

Consider what might happen if instead of creating brand promises in those deep-dive workshops filled with Post-its and Sharpies and whiteboards, we walked away with a clear understanding of what people will now expect of us?

Let’s get real

It’s in our nature to not want to let people down. By deeply understanding what we’ve set up people to believe they will get from us, we are more likely to deliver on it.

And when we’ve done that, we are likely to be better about actually communicating, and not just speaking, and gaining advocates, ambassadors and evangelists, achieving true leadership.

It’s not easy to retrain your brain to shift its perspective from internal to external. But as you do, you’ll see more and more examples of where you can stand apart from the crowd by getting over yourself.

Betsy Henning

Betsy Henning founded AHA 25 years ago, and she’s been instigating empathy, clarity and powerful storytelling in marketing ever since.

More from Betsy Henning:

Leadership and communication myths

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