When a business has found its Miles Davis and starts to express it, it leads to an outcome I refer to as brand purity. In order to understand brand purity, it should be contrasted with brand confusion. These terms are somewhat self-evident, but it will add even further clarity to elaborate on them a bit.
You have brand purity when it’s clear what your business stands for, when the values are clear, when the purpose is clear and everything about the visual brand, marketing copy, customer service and every aspect of your business reflects the core values and statement of purpose. When you have this brand purity, someone knows quite quickly if they should be a customer of yours or not.
When you have brand confusion, you begin to see that there are contradictions between the values of the company, the operations of the company, the visual brand, the marketing copy, and so forth. In other words, if a potential customer were to land on your website, within a short amount of time, they should know whether or not they belong there. Either it’s going to draw them in and make them want to explore further, or it’s going to repel them and make them say, “This is not for me.”
That’s exactly what you want. If a potential customer lands on your site and has to keep digging deeper and deeper to decide if your company is right for them, then you have brand confusion.
Brand confusion is created when you try to be all things to all people—when your values are directed toward trying to cast as wide a net as possible without regard to taking a specific stand. There are businesses that are profitable with brand confusion, but inevitably, they get stuck, and then they begin to deteriorate. At some point, a company with brand purity that serves a similar sector will take them down.
Businesses that have brand purity create evangelistic customers. They want to spread the word about the business. They want other people like them to come to the business with them.
Consider how people would stand in line for days for Apple products, designer sneakers or croissant doughnuts. To them, it is a duty to the brand to support it in such ways.
Apple’s brand purity
If you go back to the very beginning of Apple they started with the famous Markkula document, which was a doctrine of their core values, and it was simple and elegant. Mike Markkula was the first investor in Apple after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The company desperately needed funding. Markkula brought to the “Steves” a simple one-page document in 1977 titled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy.” There were just three values that were the founding core principles, and I contend in large part that made Apple what it is today.
The first core value was Empathy and it was described as truly understanding the needs of the customer better than any other company.
The second core value was Focus. In order for them to do a good job on the things they decide to do, they had to eliminate all unimportant opportunities. Steve Jobs once said in an interview that as proud as he was of all the things he did do at Apple, he was most proud of what he didn’t do. This speaks volumes about how deeply they held this core value of focus, all the way back to Apple’s earliest days.
The third core value was Impute, and they described it this way: People do judge a book by its cover. We might have the best product, the highest quality and the most useful software, but if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod. If we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.
The beauty of these core values is their power and simplicity. This is a perfect example of eliminating things to a point where there is nothing left to eliminate, which makes it perfect.
I give this example because I know that when the idea of brand purity is mentioned, most people immediately think of Apple, and they’d be right to do so. One of the hardest things in the world to accomplish is to hold that kind of brand purity at scale. The bigger a business gets, the more important it is to have discipline around the brand.
“Find your own Miles Davis”
Just because this is Apple’s way of achieving brand purity does not mean this is right for you. People often make the mistake of trying to mimic other people to create their success. There is a process called “modeling” that the gurus love to assert. It is the idea that if you want to become successful, model other successful people. I’ll concede that if you’re lost and simply trying to get started, there is some merit to that notion, but you must make sure you are modeling someone or some company’s values you admire. However, there comes a point in time where you will have to find your own Miles Davis, and modeling someone else’s will not work.
I read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. It was an extraordinarily stimulating look at this enigmatic, amazing person. Having some conversation around this biography with folks in my accountability group, it became clear to me that many people missed the point. Steve Jobs, in his treatment of his employees, his partners and other important people in his life, was often mean, intimidating and degrading. The discussion among the accountability participants became, “I’m being too soft on people. I need to be more abrasive. I need to be more like Steve Jobs.”
The look on my face was incredulous. “You missed the entire point,” I told them. “Steve Jobs was not successful because of those particular qualities. He was successful in spite of them.”
Interestingly enough, there was an article in a major business magazine about this very phenomenon.
After the biography was released, a number of CEOs turned into real pricks trying to model Steve Jobs, and it was destroying their organizations.
Trying on other people’s bad behavior for size is not the way to achieve brand purity or success.
Patrick Gentempo is a serial entrepreneur who has founded and led multiple, multimillion-dollar companies. Early in his career as a practicing chiropractor, he co-developed diagnostic technologies. Dr. Gentempo shares his specialized skill in the practical application of philosophy in business in his book, “Your Stand Is Your Brand: How Deciding Who to Be (NOT What to Do) Will Revolutionize Your Business,” published by Hay House Inc., from which this column is excerpted.