Joe Calloway on "Becoming a Category of One" and What Makes a Brand Extraordinary
This week, I spoke with author and branding consultant Joe Calloway on personal branding and what makes a corporate brand extraordinary. Joe has penned a remarkable book titled Becoming a Category of One, which I keep on my nightstand. His latest book is Indispensable: How To Become The Company Your Customers Can’t Live Without.
In Becoming a Category of One, you talk about companies that have done an extraordinary job of creating strong and distinctive brands. Have you seen a common thread, or something in their corporate DNA, that makes these brands and organizations outstanding?
JC: Yeah - a couple of things. One is that they all create an emotional connection with customers. From Southwest Airlines and their "love and fun" approach to Northwestern Mutual and their "quiet company" confidence and stability approach. Another key to brand strength is consistency of performance. One reason that Coke is one of the greatest brands in history is that when you open that can or bottle, you know exactly what you're going to get - every single time. The same goes for any company - you have to maintain a level of consistency in the delivery of the quality of your product or service. When you lose that consistency, you kill the brand.
As new media and consumer-generated media continue to attract attention, do you think the number of powerful brands will shrink or grow? Will brands become more or less important?
JC: I think that the principles that make any brand strong in the marketplace will tend to be the same - but that there will be a lot more successful and smaller brands. There will be incredibly successful companies on the internet, for instance, that will command fierce brand loyalty from their customers, but that won't be well known by the general public. You don't have to have the best pizza in the universe to be successful. You can have the best pizza on the block and thrive. I also think that successful brands will have to learn to evolve quickly into "what to become next." My own experience with my business is that I've reinvented and repositioned myself many times over the years as the market I live in has changed. That continuing evolution is what has kept my business healthy. Sometimes you guess wrong - you evolve into something that the market doesn't respond to. That's ok. You always at least gain information on what the market DOES want. You can correct mistakes. It's much harder to recover from being stagnant.
What brand do you admire the most right now, and why?
JC: Tractor Supply Company I think is one of the greatest brands in the world. They do virtually everything right. (And they're based right here in Nashville.) They have created an amazing market presence in a clearly defined niche (the "hobby farmer"). Their corporate values set a standard for any company. The buy-in and enthusiasm they get from employees is amazing. Their customers tend to be intensely loyal. Great company.
Is there hope for companies that have allowed their brands to become commodities, or that simply have nothing to say? Can a tired brand come back to life?
JC: If you're a commodity then, by definition, all you've got to compete on is lowest price. It's hard to come back once you slip, but there are brands that have managed to compete extremely well even though their competitors beat them on price with virtually the same products. I'm a big fan of Target stores. They're like Wal Mart except cool. That's their marketing hook - they are cool. Dunkin Donuts has somehow managed to create as much or more "cache'" as a brand as Starbucks. There's a company in the Northwest (I wrote about them in Becoming A Category of One) called Les Schwab Tires that beats the commodity trap through their fabulous connections with customers.
But back to your original question, once you're seen as a "tired" brand - it's really hard to come back.
As an author and speaker (where essentially you are selling yourself), what is your approach to personal branding, or building the "Joe Calloway" brand?
JC: I have one core belief that drives everything I do. I put 10% of my energy into marketing and 90% into improving my product. Relentless improvement. If I deliver the goods with my books and on stage in my speeches, the marketing takes care of itself. Take Starbucks for example. They do a TON of cool things - but at the core of their brand strength is that they sell one hell of a great cup of coffee. Everything else is secondary.
My advice to anyone who is in a service business like I'm in - or like you're in - is to constantly get better at what you do. That's the smartest way to establish a presence.