One of my favorite branding rules is a very simple one that I’ve written and talked about a lot over the years:
What does that mean?
If your brand actually represents something very simple and clear, yet you:
a) overcomplicate or confuse a simple story or
b) describe yourself as something that you are not
you are not calling a duck a duck. Read more about how this applies to both brand naming and brand positioning here.
It’s a pretty simple rule. But every day you run into a “duck” brand that is trying to pass itself off as a canary or an ostrich or a flamingo when it is actually… say it with me… a duck.
Fortunately you find great examples of simple, smart, and descriptive branding in the most unlikely places. I happened to visit one of those places over the holiday break—a town of less than 1000 people on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas.
George Town is a wonderful and unassuming town with sweet and interesting people. It’s a bit far off the normal tourist grid too—there are only two big resorts within driving distance, and the people who stay at them don’t seem to leave the property much, so George Town is mostly pretty quiet.
But what those who don’t visit the town miss is how the locals seem to have mastered the art of branding simplicity.
For example, my favorite place we visited on the trip was a little bar across the harbor on Stocking Island serving conch burgers and cold beer, in no particular hurry, to faithful customers who come back year after year from all around the world.
The Chat ‘N’ Chill.
Now that is calling a duck a duck. I can tell you from spending the better part of two days there that chatting and chilling describes about 95% of the appeal.
In fact, if you have an inability to chill, you probably would hate this spot. If you place a food order, you can expect to wait at least an hour before you get it. This is not fast food.
But what’s the rush? After all, you’ll have the best time here if you keep things simple:
Step 1) Chat
Step 2) Chill
At the risk of brand nerding out a bit too much about what is a really amazing and magical place, I just have to complement the folks who run the Chat ‘N’ Chill. They’ve built an extremely passionate and loyal community by developing a simple brand promise and name, and then delivering on it exactly as you’d dream they would. What more could you ask for?
A second example of simple branding done well is the historic old resort we stayed in called the Peace & Plenty (for all their branding genius, the folks in George Town do seem to have an aversion to writing out the word “and”). The picture to the left is the morning view from our room at the Peace & Plenty.
It was a pretty nice place to spend some quiet time. The Peace & Plenty has been getting the “peace” part right for more than fifty years, with the help of a staff of long-time employees like Lermon “Doc” Rolle who have kept the experience unique and intimate amidst the clutter of cookie-cutter tropical mega resorts you’ll find elsewhere in the Bahamas.
But “plenty” is also an apt descriptor. The Peace & Plenty is the only resort located right in the main part of George Town, easy walking distance from pretty much everything you might want to visit, including the ferry to Stocking Island. You can walk around the pond to Eddie’s Edgewater (a restaurant that is across the road from the edge of the water, as you might expect) for some great ribs on Friday night, you can go across the street to Minn’s Watersports to rent a boat for bonefishing, you are a few steps away from the town library, city hall, and a grocery store.
In the introduction to The Ad-Free Brand, I point out that some of the best and most clearly positioned brands are built by people with little or no branding experience at all, and I share these examples here as inspiration: anyone, anywhere can build a great brand!
I’m sure you have your own examples of simple, elegant branding, naming, or positioning, and if so, feel free to share them in the comments section below.
Over the holiday break, I finished up Daniel Kahneman’s new and much-praised book Thinking, Fast and Slow. I consider it quite an achievement, and by that I mean both the book itself (a deep, personal, and introspective look back at the career of one of the most important psychologists of our time) and my actually reading it (the book weighs in at almost 500 very dense pages).
One of the many interesting things about Dr. Kahneman is that, as a psychologist, he actually won his Nobel prize in economics. If you are interested in learning more about how that happened, go here.
Over the last few months, Kahneman’s book has been sitting near the new Jim Collins book Great by Choice in the rarefied air of Amazon.com’s top 100 books list (I reviewed Great by Choice a few months back here). So I thought it was interesting that Kahneman challenged Jim Collins and his book Built to Last in Chapter 19. It was a pointed attack not just on Collins but the entire genre of success story-inspired business books.
Since I spend quite a bit of time reading these sorts of books, I was really interested in his viewpoint. I mean, have I been wasting time reading that I could just as usefully spent watching reruns of Tosh.O or Arrested Development on TV? Is there real value in studying successful businesses and leaders or is it just an illusion?
Here’s what Kahneman says:
“The basic message of Built to Last and other similar books is that good managerial practices can be identified and that good practices will be rewarded by good results. Both messages are overstated. The comparison of firms that have been more or less successful is to a significant extent a comparison between firms that have been more or less lucky. Knowing the importance of luck, you should be particularly suspicious when highly consistent patterns emerge from the comparison of successful and less successful firms. In the presence of randomness, regular patterns can only be mirages.”
Kahneman cites Philip Rosenzweig’s book The Halo Effect (which is now on my reading list) and quickly jumps to the punchline of that book:
“[Rosenzweig] concludes that stories of success and failure consistently exaggerate the impact of leadership style and management practices on firm outcomes, and thus their message is rarely useful.”
So are we to believe Kahneman and Rosenzweig? Is there really no value in studying the leadership and management practices of great companies?
Even after reading the whole book Thinking, Fast and Slow and understanding the psychological principles that trick my brain into applying great importance to these sorts of success stories, I still find the conclusion a hard one to accept. And then Kahneman throws the knockout punch:
“Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too eager to believe them.”
Okay, I get it. Kahneman views me as a sucker. And who am I to argue with a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist?
But I just can’t help it. I think there is plenty that we can learn from the lessons of innovative businesses like those that Collins profiles in Built to Last. Kahneman may be right that these books suffer from an illusion of academic rigor that breaks down under close study. And yes, they probably need a disclaimer (“The author makes no promise or guarantee that if you follow the principles outlined in this book you will become Google overnight. Individual results may vary.”).
But what these books lack in academic rigor they make up for in one simple area: they inspire people. To not settle for what they see today. To try something new. To learn. To grow. To believe.
They create the possibility of hope. “Others have done it. I could too!”
So in that sense, Kahneman’s critique is somewhat akin to an adult telling a three-year old child that there is no Santa Claus. My view? The analysis is technically correct, but emotionally bankrupt.
Where success story business books fail the analytical brain, they often are just what the emotional brain needs.
So I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep on reading business books. By constantly refueling my head with new ideas, I’ll always have something to learn and try. I’ll continue to be inspired by authors like Jim Collins, by companies and leaders who have seen great success, and I’ll suspend my academic doubts in the hope of learning new lessons that might just work.
I’d love to hear what you think. If you believe Kahneman’s critique of Collins and the genre is on the money, or if you believe instead that there is still value in sharing and learning from business success stories, let me know in the comments section below.