Manufacturers are notoriously efficient and quick. Sometimes, that’s great when responding to a market fluctuation. Other times, it’s detrimental for the long-term when knee-jerk reactions set the standard for decisions for years to come.

Perhaps nothing is more indicative of that response than communicating market position. Often, leaders hear things coming from the sales team, the customer service department, or individual customers and project than information onto the market at-large. They go into a “do-it-yourself” mode to get something out in front of staff and customers quickly.

Most often, those efforts are dead on arrival. Customers don’t get it. And employees don’t believe it, or are confused as to their role in delivering it.

Why? Because reactionary positioning is not a recipe for success.

Here’s what happens as many reactionary companies go through the process:

• Decide you need to rebrand your company.
• Get your marketing team together.
• Ask some questions of the sales guys, who “know their clients better than anyone, and understand exactly what they want.”
• Have the team come up with some options, then vote on a tagline and new colors or revised logo and run off to tell the world about it.

Or, even more extreme and misdirected, this can happen:

• Get your executive team behind closed doors and do the same as above.
• Then, issue a decree announcing a new company position.

You might come up with something that sounds good and that company leaders are excited about. But chances are, it will bear little resemblance to what staff experiences in real time, every day.

Soon, your team will be frustrated and confused. Your customers will be disengaged with your “exciting new brand” and a bit befuddled as to how you’re really differentiated from the competition. And that means you’ll be working harder and spending more to keep good staff and customers.

DIY In Action

I have a client that went out and got a big-name branding company who interviewed senior leadership and produced a brand position and tagline. It sat on a shelf for three years because it was viewed as the president’s project, and nobody from middle management on down had any idea what it meant or how they should implement it.

We came along and helped them translate the future vision into current actions that actually helped define how the staff would implement the new brand. It all comes down to the day-to-day when you’re dealing with the majority of staff.

Moving Things Forward

Company leaders by nature are aspirational—they have to be in order to move the business forward. But when it comes to truly aligning your organization with the brand promises you’re making, it’s a fine line between aspiration and frustration. That’s because leaders are also a step removed from the realities of the day-to-day customer experience. And staff and customers are more predisposed to act like those in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” than they are to disagree with those in power.

Don’t get me wrong … it’s OK to be a step ahead. But you have to be careful to bring the rest of the organization along with you. And you need to get out with the team and REALLY LISTEN to what customers are saying and how the team is responding to their challenges.

When you do that, you get a true pulse for what’s going on out there. And then — and only then — can you decide to make some quantum leaps on how you’ll position the organization.

Faster Horses

After the success of his revolutionary Model T car rollout, Henry Ford reflected, “If I had asked the public what they wanted, they would have said, ‘Faster horses.’”

Ford had an idea and needed to show the world to see how they’d react. But then, once they’d seen it for themselves, Ford listened. He took their reactions and the advice of others inside and outside his organization. Then he refined, honed, and tinkered over time to build the Ford Motor Company into the behemoth it is today. He understood his customers’ true motivations weren’t just transportation, but the American spirit of freedom and mobility. He didn’t just listen to their wants—he dug hard to uncover their needs and build on them. Things they didn’t even understand themselves, but were fertile ground for an instant connection with what Ford provided.

That’s the hard work of brand building—something that can’t be done in the vacuum of the boardroom. You need to get real, honest input from those experiencing the brand inside and out. And like the tale of the Emperor, you need it all facilitated by someone willing to uncover and speak the hard truths to strip away the corporate clutter that gets in the way of true differentiation and clarity.