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Seven imperfections that are building blocks for the best brands

By pa360, Jan 26 2015 05:34AM

By definition when something is imperfect, it has fallen short of expectation, not met the required standard or is in some way deficient. However, what is reassuring is that we all start from the same place when it comes to imperfections. For each and everyone of us, there is some obstacle that we cannot hurdle, a challenge we cannot overcome or a blemish that we are desperately to trying conceal. Perhaps even more reassuring is the knowledge that the rubble of imperfections are the building blocks of every brand.

Yes, embracing rather than running away from imperfection is not only what helps to build brands, but can also turn a weak brand into a good brand and a good brand into a great one. But how is that possible? Well here are seven imperfections that are building blocks for the best brands.

1. Re-occurring insecurity

Insecurity has negative connotations as it is often associated with defensiveness, over-anxiety and risk aversion. At a fundamental level however, insecurity simply reflects the need or desire for assurance and anyone who claims not to feel insecure at times, is simply not being honest. In the context of a brand, insecurity can be a very effective counter-weight to the risk of complacency. To the extent that insecurity leads to diligence, responsibility and accountability, then it can play a critical role in building, strengthening and sustaining a brand. Particularly so because, where you start with insecurity, through process of elimination, you should eventually conclude with a greater degree of confidence and a higher level of assurance. The key learning point here is that perpetual or never-ending insecurity is clearly unhealthy as this will eventually lead to paralysis. However, in the right measure and managed in the right way insecurity can help you to achieve better results and a stronger.

2. Repetitive failure

The tragedy of failure is not that it occurs, rather it is that we often run away from the experience of it and leave behind valuable and sometimes critical learning points. In fact, failure is both enriching, energising and empowering. Failure should spur you on to greater curiosity. Failure builds character, in particular the courage to keep going when you would rather give up, the humility to recognise that you do not know it all and the empathy to relate to others who face similar challenges. Failure is a brand builder because it is predicated on the principle of improvement, which is exactly the assumption upon which a strong brand is built. The key learning point here is that whilst it is absolutely true that success shapes the perception of any brand, sustainable success is often the result of repeated failures.

3. Over caution

Many years ago, a senior executive in a public organisation commented to me that: "it is better to get it right, than to get it written". I have never forgotten that statement nor the importance embedded within those words. A simple translation of that comment is that a sub-standard product that is delivered to an agreed deadline is still a sub-standard product. If the point of producing a product or a service is to ensure that the it is 'finished', then it cannot be 'finished' if it is not ready and it will not be ready if it is not right. If you had to choose, would you rather have excellent food that is delivered slightly late or poor quality food delivered on time? Whilst there are times when delay is clearly symptomatic of incompetence and poor planning, very often it is a product of due diligence, accountability and a commitment to customer care (all characteristics of a strong brand). The key learning point here is that there are times when delay is not just understandable, but is actually desirable.

4. Fault-finding

No-one seems to like fault-finders. At best they are considered perfectionists, setting unimaginably and unachievably high standards. At worst they are thought of as nit-pickers, who are prepared to 'cross the road' in order to undermine and second guess for no discernibly good purpose. Whilst there are undoubtedly fault-finders who operate at either end of the spectrum, the truth is that most probably operate somewhere in-between. But here's the rub, in business do you know who your biggest fault-finders are? They are your customers! Yes, the very group of people whose endorsement your brand relies upon. So let's be clear, if you find your own faults then your customers will not have to find them for you.

5. Wilful neglect

Under normal circumstances, an act of wilful neglect is tantamount to gross misconduct and would be enough to get a person fired from their job. For a business, it would likely do irreparable damage to consumer confidence and probably destroy your brand. Under normal circumstances, wilful neglect does not just speak to a lack of due diligence, more so it speaks to a complete dereliction of duty. However, there are circumstances when wilful neglect is actually a prerequisite for a role and a defining characteristic of a brand. Take those serving in the military where the willingness to forfeit ones own life, whilst performing acts of extreme courage in the service of country, comrade and in combat, is an expectation of those who serve. On their own, acts of courage, valour and bravery are the very definition of wilful neglect. Yet, in the context of the right brand, they represent the most desirable characteristics.

6. Stubbornness

Stubbornness is often associated with poor listening skills, arrogance and the inability to build successful relationships. There is nothing redeeming or brandworthy about stubbornness right? Well think of the stance taken by historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Emmeline Pankhurst and Martin Luther King. Each of the above, easily meet the definition of stubbornness. Each were committed to their principles and were even subject to ridicule and resentment for their stance. Yes, in the context of branding-building, there are some things that you should not, cannot and must not compromise on. As such, there are times when you will absolutely need to be stubborn, hard-headed and refuse to give ground, if doing so will deliver the outcomes that are critical to your brand.

7. Obsession

Chances are, when you read of the word 'obsession' you immediately think: excess, extremes and even destructiveness. However, context is everything. Are you a fan of the Marvel Universe? One of the things I find fascinating about Marvel fans is how deeply they are invested not just in the product, but in the genre surrounding the product. So much so that they can tell what is and is not canon, whether or not a storyline is continuous or whether a character arc makes sense. By any common definition, the level of commitment and degree of loyalty shown by Marvel fans could be described as 'obsessive'. The point being made here is that in many cases, brand loyalty (the very thing that makes product successful) is a derivative of the 'obsession' that shows that your customers care. As such, if you are not 'obsessed' about your own product or service (ie: fastidious about attention to detail and committed to authentic experience) then do not expect your customers to be either.

In conclusion, a few weeks ago I was reading a fascinating article about the late Apple Chief Executive Officer, Steve Jobs, who passed away in 2011. As well as eulogising Mr Jobs' many and varied achievements, the article also drew attention to his perceived weaknesses. To my great surprise, some of the adjectives used to describe him included: bully, rude, manipulative and spiteful. Why does that matter? It matters for two reasons; firstly, whilst none of those behaviours can ever be condoned or accepted, people still achieve great success in-spite of their weaknesses. The second reason why this matters is because one should not assume that imperfection automatically means rejection. If properly contextualised and purposed, some of the most disagreeable characteristics can be the building blocks for the best brands.

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