Tom Peters of In Search of Excellence fame published an intriguing and provocative book in 2003 that is as fresh and relevant today as it was 12 years ago.  In Re-imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, Peters says we must “think weird, and embrace even more change than we can imagine.”  Talk about being ahead of your time.  Facebook, Twitter, and  YouTube didn’t even exist in 2003.

We’ve all heard the saying: “Change is inevitable.”  But here’s a view on change that’s really relevant in today’s world: “If you don’t like change you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” (General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army).

Twelve years ago Peters saw the future when he compared the way it was to the way it is: Was: Accountants rule; Is: Innovators rule. Was: Technology supports change; Is: Technology drives change. Was: Industry rules etched in stone; Is: Industry definitions scribbled in quicksand. Was: By-the-book management; Is: Rewrite the eBook improvisation.

When it comes to branding, Peters says it’s all about the experience, which is mostly a frame of mind.  He quotes Danish marketing expert Jesper Kunde who says “most managers have no idea how to add value in the metaphysical world. But that is what the market will cry out for in the future. There is no lack of physical products to choose between.”  Let’s face it, you know when you’re having an experience, i.e., Apple Store, as opposed to buying a product, i.e., Office Depot. Another example: Starbucks coffee (see Starbucks takes a stand with their branding campaigns) versus Thornton’s coffee.  It’s all coffee, right?

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson echoes Peters and Kunde: “The idea that business is strictly a numbers affair has always struck me as preposterous. For one thing, I’ve never been particularly good at numbers, but I think I’ve done a reasonable job with feelings.  And I’m convinced that it is feelings – and feelings alone – that account for the success of the Virgin brand in all of its myriad forms.”

According to Peters, “branding is not about marketing tricks.  It is about answering a few simple (and yet impossible) questions: Who are you? Why are you here? How are you unique? How can you make a dramatic difference? And…most important…who cares (do you care?).” (see People don’t buy what you do, they buy who you are).

Peters has a clear vision of what branding is and he calls it branding from the heart.  In his words: REAL branding… is personal; is about integrity; is consistency and freshness; is memorable; is a great story; answers Who Are We?; centers on uniqueness and dramatic difference; clarifies one great thing; is about passion and emotion; can’ be faked; is systemic, 24/7, all-departments, all-hands affair.

So what does it mean to embrace this re-imagined approach to branding? Peters says it requires a dramatically altered perspective. He recommends dropping the terms “product” and “service” from your workday vocabulary and substitute “experience” and “dream.” 

In addition to a changed viewpoint, Peters recommends embracing the concept of telling stories (see What’s your story? How to use storytelling to emotionally connect with customers). Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, writing in Leading Minds: An anatomy of leadership, says “a key, perhaps the key, to leadership…is the effective communication of a story.” John Seely Brown of Xerox echoes that sentiment: “Leaders make meaning. And what does ‘meaning’ consist of? Compelling stories! Coherent themes! Soaring messages!”

Bottom line, to reinvent and re-imagine your business in today’s competitive global economy you need to reframe and think differently. Peters’ top ten ways to get there:

  1. Think like an entrepreneur
  2. Always be a closer (keep an eye on the P&L)
  3. Embrace marketing
  4. Pursue mastery
  5. Thrive on ambiguity
  6. Laugh off vigorous screw-ups
  7. Nurture your network
  8. Relish technology
  9. Grovel before the young
  10. Cultivate a passion for renewal


 How can you take your branding to the next level by re-imagining?

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