The team at DirectiveGroup regularly engages in learning together in the form of a ‘Book Club’ for which we all read and discuss a business book. We try to do this once a quarter, reading and discussing one chapter each week. Even though it is a sizable investment in time, we think it is a good investment because we are a committed ‘learning organization’ and we think it helps build our culture. Both are incredibly important to us.
This quarter, we are reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I read this book (gulp) a couple of decades ago, and as is the hallmark of all good books, some of the ideas have become incorporated into who I am. Yet I did look at the book with a critical eye to make sure it met the criteria of a ‘Book Club’ book. Mainly because of the elements around time management, it fit.
Now, as I am re-reading the book, I realize that it actually contributes not only on a personal and professional level, but the concepts also relate to what DirectiveGroup does, which is strategic digital marketing. Marketing and advertising are seen by many people as having the possibility of crossing over to become an art of deception. And I cannot deny that I’ve seen many cases of questionable tactics over the years, that is for sure.
The parallel within these early chapters of the Seven Habits has to do with the discussion of the “personality ethic” versus the “character ethic.” Covey asserts that in the last fifty years, there has been an emphasis in the US on ‘looking good’ instead of ‘being good.’ The idea is that the focus has shifted to the superficial elements of success (good communication style, thinking positive, etc), from the focus of the first 150 years of America’s history, which was on character elements of success (integrity, Golden Rule, justice, industry, etc).
When I think about marketing, at least in the way I understand it, we are really focused on the products and services, as well as the company that delivers these goods. And an enduring company, an enduring brand, really cannot be built without the factors that also define the character of individuals. Sure, in the short term, there can be fads and trends, and companies may be able to even hide who they are while reaping short term gains. But longer term, the character of the company – and the individuals who make the multitude of decisions that build or destroy the character of that company – ultimately are inextricably interwoven with the brand. And an enduring brand, my friends, cannot exist without character.
In today’s business setting, with the rapidity of change within the digital environment in particular, many people think that marketing itself is being redefined. It is kind of a fun time as new platforms rise in popularity, new tactics and new methods of connecting or increasing the depth of connection arise, and no one really knows what all of this will look like in even five years. Yet marketing itself is not being redefined. Brands that will succeed here and now will succeed for the same reasons brands succeeded and survived in earlier generations: because there is not only a good product or service that is offered, but because there is a company with the character ethic that creates an enduring foundation.
These companies combine both character and competence. We see it manifested in their listening to their customers because they actually care about serving their customers, we see it in the choice to do the right thing when errors are made because it is the right thing and not because of a review, we see it when they work hard to attain a improved product or service experience because they care about excellence and not because of social posts. From a marketing perspective, this new digital era then becomes just one where new tactics may be used to tell the real story of the brand, of the company that has character. And in that way, working with companies destined to become enduring brands, we marketers become less ‘spinners of deception’ and more ‘trumpeters of truth.’ My advice, then, in this Wild West period of digital marketing disruption, is to focus on building an enduring brand, and let the marketing tactics follow. Don’t worry, you will be successful, and your brand will grow, no matter what the digital future holds.