All this week in The Mailbox there has been a celebration of the Midland's great design heritage and of the region as the home of some of this country's great brands-Jaguar, Triumph, Land Rover, Aga, JCB and even Marmite. If you haven't already been to this celebration get down there quick.
In my job I spend a lot of my time trying to design and develop brands. I don't do the creative work on brands but instead it is my job to come up with the underlying definition of the brand. I try to define what it is going to stand for; the promise it is going to make, and to try to keep, to its customers; and how it should present itself to its market. Someday it is my hope that the brands I am working on will feature in an exhibition of great brands.
And when we are sitting around with the brand owner trying to come up with the right set of words to describe the brand, you can bet that no matter the brand, company, category, product, or service, the most common list of attributes everyone wants to be associated with goes something like this: honesty, accessibility, innovation, invention, forward thinking, collaborative, friendly, and easy to work with, trustworthy, leader, fun.
Now who wouldn't want to be all those things? Anyone want to be the opposite?
But when every other brand has the same words on their list this is not conducive to the development of a distinctive brand.
Let us look at it another way.
If I was to ask you to describe someone like Nelson Mandela I am pretty sure I would get words like courageous, altruistic, heroic, peaceful, wise, thoughtful, giving, caring, loving, fearless and so and so on.
Great words and accurate in their description of Nelson Mandela but the same set of words could be accurately applied to many other people, including me on a good day.
But if I was to ask what Mandela stood for, your answer might be something like 'freedom'. And that applies to very few people and most certainly not me.
That is the difference between a true brand stance and an easy list of attributes.
I like to think that great brands, like the ones on display in The Mailbox, really understand their stance in the world and their reason to exist. And this they pursue with all their might consistently over time and across every customer touchpoint.
These brands recognise that they are not just a collection of attributes that could describe anyone but have a purpose, a stance, a value and pure mission in the world. Just like Nelson Mandela.
Great brands are never remembered for their attributes but for what gets done with these attributes. They don't chase and measure themselves against a long list of attributes, many of which are just the price of entry for everyone else in their marketplace.
But instead they always work hard to stay on mission and always execute against their stance and not against attributes.
It therefore follows that it is not so much what you make and what you sell but why you do that matters and how you do it.
Just like all the brands on display at Birmingham's DesignEXPO. And just like Nelson Mandela.