Brands over Products?

Scott Francis
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From the Stanford Business School e-book, “Build a Winning Business” a few interesting things to pull out of an interview with the North Face CEO Hap Klopp.

It’s interesting that North Face really got its start as two stores, one in San Francisco and one at the Stanford Barn.  Hap Klopp (Stanford MBA ’66) acquired the stores and shared this great advice he once got from his chairman on product businesses:

“Products have an ever-shortening life cycle but brands last. They carry an enduring message and belief.” Your brand is about you, your culture, and what you stand for. You need to put all of that forward so people can see and feel it. Most companies have goals that are quantitative, but brand is qualitative. It is about how you carry out your business and what you stand for.

That perspective is so critical to understanding how to build a brand.  And when you understand that perspective on brands, you understand that it is something you can do when you have one or two stores. Or 5 employees. It doesn’t have to wait until you have a marketing budget because marketing isn’t your brand, marketing is just trying to magnify the number of people who are aware of your brand.  But your brand flows from core values and how you conduct your business.  I couldn’t think of a better way to describe how BP3’s brand evolved organically.

We didn’t start with a brand goal in mind at BP3, we just started with values – to be a great BPM firm, to be a great partner, and to take better care of our customers than anyone else.  We made our share of mistakes but we worked hard to build the business and our relationships with customers despite those mistakes.  Over time we’ve had great success relative to our market. At some point, we noticed that it wasn’t just people who worked at BP3 who understood our values, our customers and partners were reflecting back to us their perception of our values – and that’s when I realized we have a brand to live up to and protect. 

The phrase we use internally is that our brand promise and our values have to be in alignment and support each other.  In effect, understanding that while brand reflects our values, our brand reputation with customers reflects how well we live up to the promise they believe our brand is making to them.