Last week, legendary brand positioning expert Al Ries weighed in on Starbucks reported desire to move away from its powerful ‘specialist’ strategy. Al thinks the stock market is pressuring the company for more top-line growth. Hammered by Wall Street in 2008, the stock has finally crawled back to its 2006 highs. But, compared to last November, the share price is up by 30%. Here is an amazing business that has grown from scratch in 1971 to over $10 billion is revenue, $945 million in net income, 17,000 stores in 50 countries and 137,000 employees. And Wall Street is saying, “Not good enough?”
One of my favorite ‘inspirational’ books is The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander. Though I read it 10 years ago, one passage still stands out in my mind. Ben, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, had been teaching a master class at a festival in Newcastle, filmed by the BBC. One of his students (Jeffrey) was a very serious, young tenor from the La Scala Opera Company. The tenor was trying to sing ‘Spring Dream’ from Schubert’s Die Winterreise, a song cycle that describes the depressive journey of a jilted lover through the cold days of the soul. Seemingly, he longs to have his lover in his arms again but of course that is not to be. She’s lost forever.
Most folks in the branding game will judge a proposed slogan or tag line by a defined set of objectives. In my day, I started with strategy. If a slogan did not communicate the brand’s strategic intent, it was a non-starter. But the assessment didn’t end with strategy. Also important: clever creative, brand image consistency, and the ability of the slogan to weather the cruel test of time. Ironically, a great slogan’s constraint to longevity can be the boredom of the marketer. Marketers like change, but often they make change for change’s sake.
Before I can share the tale of Dr. Riley Senft’s cross-Canada run for cancer, you need to know what it took to get there. The eldest of 3 children, Riley grew up a high energy ADD kid, challenged by permanent hearing loss in one ear. Yet, with determination, and the support of his family, he learned to channel his energy.His goal in adolescence?Acceptance into a prestigious Ivy League school in the United States. To achieve this, Riley had to balance the tough academic demands and extracurricular endeavours required for entrance.Graduating Head Boy of Collingwood School, a member of its first 15 rugby team and a highly regarded YMCA councillor, Riley entered Yale University.
I witnessed plenty of vulture culture during my career. The most blatant was the Boards of Scott Paper and Sunbeam hiring ‘Chainsaw Al Dunlap’ as their CEO despite his reputation as a corporate sociopath. Tell me if Parson’s sentiments are prelevant in today’s Corporate America. Which companies, organizations or industries are known to accept, even reward this type of behavoir? I’d love to hear your point of view; why not include an example.
Most CEOs want their companies to do things right because that’s a sign of good management. But good management isn’t necessarily good leadership; good leaders are obsessed with doing right things. Good leadership creates strategic change, the forerunner to strategic advantage. CEO’s have plenty of generic strategic choices to drive a business forward. Most run the store by trying to do more of the same, but better. Yet, when things get tough, they soon revert to doing more of the same with less. I prefer specialist strategies—in other words, doing less, better.