That whole "Brand DNA" thing - Part 3

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"pookie's kung-fu" - all rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005.

Read Part 2.

Okay, so we've established that a brand's DNA is bound to the DNA of the people who drive its growth (from its top management, through its employees/agents, all the way out to its fans).

Second, we established that a company's DNA shapes its identity.

Third, we established that, to a very great extent, a company's identity is the basis for what most people would refer to as its brand.

So far, so good.

So, going back to the source of a brand's success, we find ourself looking at DNA, and more specifically, the DNA of the people on the "inside" of that brand.

Yep, people. The ones with the ideas and the dreams. The ones with the vision to see them through. The ones who translate data into insight. The ones who connect the dots. The ones who ask the right questions. The ones with the courage to seek real answers.

The ones who are never satisfied with "good enough".

You get the idea.

Likewise, people without dreams, without vision or insight, without talent or drive can infuse a perfectly good company with their lackluster DNA and... well, poison it from the core.

Ineptitude. Arrogance. Nepotism. Cowardice. Greed. Laziness. Stupidity. Indifference.

Nasty bugs, all.

Since the source of a brand's success can be found in the people who drive its growth, it is crucial - for those of us called to work with (and for) a wide array of companies in our careers - to be able to identify those organizations whose key people will make it possible for us to help them, and those organizations whose key people will make it impossible for even the most skilled of us to get anywhere.

Not everyone who can pay your fees is capable of handling what you have to offer.

Not everyone who asks for your time deserves it.

When you're sitting across a table from a C.E.O. whose ego is inversely proportional to his I.Q. (and I don't mean that in a good way) and you know that he is going to be impossible to deal with, that your firm's work will end up being weeded down to a pale, bland, predictable version of its intended brilliance, why would you still consider taking his money?


Many consultants, ad agencies, marketing firms and other strategic partners fail quasi-daily in this regard by selling themselves short. When clients become a hassle to manage, why not put them on notice? Why not fire them?

Better yet, why not hire better ones to begin with?

We aren't alchemists. No matter how skilled, talented and smart we are, transmutation isn't within our capabilities. We can't turn lead into gold.

Selecting the right clients, partners and employers is just as important to our success as hiring the right art directors, designers and account managers.

Once you come to terms with that, the good news is that the process is pretty-much the same.

Step 1: Know what you want.

Step 2: Find out if they fit the bill.

Yesterday, we looked at five specific things to look for during your interview with the big enchilada. Today, here are a few more tips that relate a little bit more to potential dysnfunctions that could get in the way of your success. Here's how to probe a company's DNA, from the inside, from the moment you walk through its door:

1) Probe the family dynamics:

First, set up a series of low-key meetings with key execs. 15-20 minutes in their office. Talk about what they do, what they want to do, what they think their organizations strengths and weaknesses are. What they would like to see happen in the next year or so. Basic stuff.

Second, meet again with these key execs together in one room and see what happens. See if they click. If they communicate well together. If they're on the same page. Look for bullies. For showboaters. Look for signs of stress or even fear.

Third, get them all in the same room with the big kahuna and see if the dynamics change. Do some of them turn quiet? Do some of them suddenly try to show off? Do some of them suddenly change their position on an important issue?

Most families are dysfunctional to some degree. Organizations are no different. Everyone plays a role, some disruptive, some not. In some cases, the dysfunction is manageable. In others, it isn't. Learn to identify red flags and interpret them. (If group dynamics and profiling aren't in your bag of tricks, hire someone for whom it is, and put them in that room.)

2) Probe the company's extended family:

You can always judge how a company will treat its customers by the way it treats its employees.
Good management = real smiles.

Lousy management = at best, mandatory smiles.

Walking through the offices, do the company's employees look engaged? Do they "flow"? Do their workspaces "flow"? Are they friendly? Do you get the sense that they are there because they "choose" to be there, or because they just need a job? Do their workspaces show a sense of pride, or are they drab little boxes of austerity?

The company's identity is all around you. Take a snapshot of your surroundings. What do you see? How do you feel? Is this a company you want to do business with? Do you see a bright future for them, or just... more of the same?

Be honest with yourself.

3) Probe the details:

How does the gatekeeper answer the phone or greet visitors? How much pride does this company have in its products or services? How is that pride articulated? How old or adequate is their software? How much dust is on the magazines in the waiting room. How good is their coffee? How alert are their store managers? How clean are their bathrooms? How friendly and helpful are their points of contact? Does anything cool or smart or engaging jump out at you?

Do you see any signs that perhaps someone is asleep at the wheel? That someone doesn't care to sweat the details? That maybe... they just stopped trying?

If so, start asking yourself why.

Find the answer. For your own sake, find it fast.

4) Probe their customers:

What do people say about this company? About its products? What do people like or love about it? What do people wish they would do better?

Find out why the company isn't responding to their customer's wants and needs.

5) Probe yourself:

Are you excited at the thought of helping this company?

It's a simple yes or no question.

Are they just a paycheck, or are you excited about doing something special with them?

Have you clicked with the people there? Are they kindred spirits? Do they get it? Is it in their DNA to be WOM-worthy? To be extraordinary in some way? To break new ground? Are they ready to become the kind of company their peers will look up to?

The next Starbucks? The next Netflix? The next Google?

The next Fifine?

If so, strap on your seatbelt, baby. It's going to be a fun ride.

If not...

... well...

... if not, why on Earth would possess you to waste your time on a relationship that you know will suck?

Why would you do that to yourself?

A brand starts with the people who drive its growth. A brand isn't something you put together in a studio and slap onto a company for a fee. It doesn't work that way. No matter how much money an average company spends on advertising and PR and image consulants, if it's still average, no amount of cool creative will change that. If that isn't a recipe for frustration and failure, I don't know what is.

Instead, look for exceptional talent in your clients. Look for vision and courage and child-like curiosity. Look for passion and compassion. Look for a certain measure of humility and wisdom. Exceptional businesses begin with exceptional people. Always. Call them kindred spirits. Call them smart. Call them enlightened. It doesn't matter. Their brand's DNA flows through their veins and permeates their entire being. That's where it starts.

(Not that you didn't already know that.)

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