Since the beginning of business, successful brands have gone through three phases of evolution: mystery, model and method.

Mystery is the "I wonder…" phase: "I wonder… will people purchase an automobile if I can get the price down to 'x'?" The next phase is the model phase—a messy, imperfect process: "Let me try to produce an automobile for 'x.'"

Once the model phase has proven out the mystery ("Wow! They WILL buy it"), successful brands quickly move into the methods phase: "How can I produce enough automobiles at the target price to fulfill demand, and make a profit while doing so?"

Some, like Henry Ford, are driven by insights regarding a market opportunity. Others, like Michael Dell, are simply trying to stay ahead of the competition and remain profitable. Either way, a brand is born.

The problems arise when successful brands move to the madness phase, as they refine their method to the point of marketplace indifference.

Donald Sull put it this way in Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad and How Great Managers Remake Them:

Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization's flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences.

As we witness the demise of one great brand after another in today's tumultuous marketplace, it may appear that the realities of building a strong brand have changed. In fact, the problem is that many successful executives simply can't see the changing marketplace forest through their brand trees.

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Tom Asacker is a professional speaker, management adviser, and author of the new book, The Business of Belief: How the World's Best Marketers, Designers, Salespeople, Coaches, Fundraisers, Educators, Entrepreneurs and Other Leaders Get Us to Believe.

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