History is written by those with the vision, determination, and courage to walk in front and lead the way through uncertain times.
Everyone claims they want to be a leader in their field, but very few are actually willing to lead. Leading is frightening, rightfully so, because you have to trust yourself, as well as your team, to be willing to take risks—willing to fail if need be, and to treat failure like the learning experience it can be.
Being in the lead means you are not following anyone, which sounds great until you realize you’re all alone and you don’t know where you are going. That’s why so few are willing to forge new paths in uncharted territory, there are no taillights to follow.
That’s a frightening proposition on a good day, during prosperous times. What about now, when there seem to be dangers everywhere? How do you proceed then?
There are two types of leaders in the world, risk-takers and risk managers. There is nothing wrong with being a risk manager, especially when times are good and everyone is making money. But when the going gets tough, as they say, the risk-takers are the ones most likely to come out the other side as the winners or die trying.
Those who are unable or unwilling to take risks are left behind because they didn’t have any new ideas. Doing nothing can be deadly when the ground shifts beneath you and you have no other options. There is another saying, which is that experts are never truly surprised, only curious to discover new results from different efforts.
At Panzano+Partners, we believe in taking risks. That’s what creativity is all about. It’s not just about fanciful art, clever copy, and slick design. Those are just tools. They are the glitz, but they are not the substance of good business strategy. Good brand development and insightful marketing are about developing ideas and solving problems, innovating new worlds, and renovating old ones. It’s innovation. It’s the search for excellence, not mediocrity. It’s risk-taking.
We often hear people say they want to do something that’s never been done, and then when given the opportunity, they insist on a guarantee that it will work. They’re looking for something that has never been done, but that somehow has a proven track record that doesn’t exist. It’s the same aversion to risk that keeps them safe in their minds.
Innovation is not a sure thing. Innovation and creativity risk failure in order to achieve greatness. This is their nature. In order to embrace success, you have to embrace change, and in order to achieve real change, you have to be willing to embrace failure. That’s why it’s hard to be great. Most people don’t have the will to accept failure as part of the process.
The first iPhone was a game-changer. It was a true innovation. It was truly great. The iPhone 12, which is considerably better than the original model, isn’t great. It’s better than anything else out there, but the bar has since moved, and now it’s just very good. It’s an improvement over the old version, and most people are just fine with very good. Very good is better than most, but it’s not great. How long will the iPhone be at the top without being great? Only as long as it takes someone else to come up with something great.
Panzano+Partners bills itself as innovative brand consultants. We used to be an advertising agency and several decades ago we thought of ourselves as publishers. It’s been a long progression of evaluation and reinvention. We have learned a few things about embracing creativity, innovation, and failure over the years. You change and evolve or you die. It’s that simple. It’s also that complex.
Fortunately, we are in tune with failing in order to succeed, because that is the only way one can create something new. We’re not bothered by this. We embrace it. Why? Because we are easily bored, endlessly curious, and perpetually looking for something to excite us. It’s annoying if you’re happy with the way things are, to be honest. We’re like a puppy, with boundless energy and child-like curiosity, who enjoys a good nap but also sometimes chews the furniture. We will allow you to see the world through fresh eyes, but we can also make you uncomfortable, in the way that child-like wonder can be disconcerting.
If you’re trying to get out of a rut, revitalize your brand, connect with a new audience, we might be your guys. Maybe you find yourself with something altogether new and untested, and need someone to help you see it through to fruition. Maybe you don’t know what you need but you know doing nothing isn’t going to cut it. We should talk.
At Panzano+Partners, we have the advantage of enough institutional memory of how branding, retail, real estate development, and hospitality used to work, combined with the ability to forget what we think we know and look at things from a fresh perspective. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic magic trick. There are a lot of inner arguments with ourselves and then we pull a rabbit out of your hat.
Buy A Ticket. Take The Ride.
Beginnings are fragile things. Like new seedlings, they are easily crushed or swept away if not protected and cared for, but given the proper conditions can grow up tall and strong. The following are some conceptual thoughts on how we approach branding fundamentals. They might sound esoteric and ephemeral but in reality, they are practical solutions to complex problems. It is nothing more than a metaphorical way to understand an elaborate universe of behavioral psychology, economic confusion, and cultural relevance that serves as a guide towards motivating behavior and molding perceptions. We think in theoretical terms upfront so we can execute concrete action when it counts.
Branding As A Foundation
It’s a pretty basic metaphor, maybe even a hackneyed one, but apt nonetheless for a company that strives to construct not only the spaces where we live, work and play. For your brand to be able to grow and succeed, it needs a proper foundation or your future will be overly susceptible to environmental factors beyond your control. Build a solid base, and you are more likely to be able to withstand extreme conditions. The beginning is critical therefore because if you don’t do that right, it becomes much harder and more expensive to try to fix later. It’s a well-worn metaphor for a reason. Strong foundations make stable platforms.
Planning For Success
Proper planning at the beginning can solve a lot of problems in the end. With due diligence, extensive research, and critical thinking, we can develop a plan that achieves our goals before we’ve even begun. Just as a foundation is critical as a base of thinking, attention to detail upfront can save you from a lot of heartache on the back end. What you pay for upfront, will always be less than what it will cost you if you decide to simply worry about it later.
A Look Backwards At Your Future
It can be very helpful to look back at what got you to where you are today. It’s not about nostalgia, but about understanding the journey. Failures have cautionary tales, and successes have legends, but an honest accounting of history has a bit of both, which in branding, we call a narrative. We are interested in authenticity more than factual history; more interested in a good story that rings true, than a set of facts and dates and biographies. We are telling an origin story and it needs to be more compelling than “we were at the right place at the right time” even if that’s the honest truth.
Tell Stories That Captivate
This is a time to play with possibilities, to not hold back or on too tight, but to let go and imagine things you didn’t think you could. You can’t desire to lead by watching from behind. If you’re out in front, there is no way of knowing what everyone else is doing, because they are watching you. You have to know where you’re going on a map that is uncharted. This takes vision, experience, and courage. But most of all, it takes faith.
Storytelling allows us to think beyond our own understanding of what is possible. If you’re going to lead from the front, you have to have an understanding of things that are possible that you’ve never seen before. You’re only flying blind if you haven’t imagined a future no one has ever seen. If you can dream it, and have faith in your ability to execute your vision, then you know the path without following in someone else’s footsteps. So when you come across something you’ve never seen before, you are not immobilized by it and are able to act decisively.
Execute With Precision
Once all the theoretical modeling is done, it’s time to execute with precision and attention to detail. This is no longer the time to second guess strategy or direction, but to trust in your craftsmen to do the job you’ve hired them to do. Everyone thinks they’re funny because they like to laugh, or a gourmand because they like to eat, but being a standup comedian or a world-class chef is much harder than it appears from the cheap seats.
So what does all this mean for you? Despite all the theoretical noodling, we have a very practical approach to developing a strong brand voice with an actionable plan.
The process we go through begins appropriately enough with Discovery. Discovery amounts to research, which can be either quantitative, qualitative, or both, and involves us having an intimate understanding of the product or service itself, the environment in which it operates, the audience that it will appeal to, and the competition that exists. Like an actor seeking motivation, or a supplicant yearning for truth, we are asking, for what purpose do you exist?
Next comes Development, where we take what we know, and begin to flesh out the idea conceptually, to give it shape and a voice. What we are looking for here is the physical manifestation of the emotional connection that we wish to make with the consumer. A personality that they can develop a relationship with. And to do this, we begin with a story.
Finally, comes Actualization which can take many forms, and can vary wildly from internal guidelines and corporate presentations, to trade marketing and consumer advertising. This is often broken down into many phases and has the most opportunity for a range of costs.
There is no process that can completely account for every idiosyncratic nuance and ingredient, and we don’t even try. We know each client is going to be different, but we do have a structure that allows us to get the most out of our interactions and it has a proven track record of success.
It’s like the CEO who hires a consultant to worry for him, and agrees to pay him $1 million for the trouble. When asked how he plans to pay the consultant, he answers that this is the consultant’s problem. The hard part is making the move in your mind to make a change. After that, the work is on us and all you have to do is come along for the ride.
Buy a ticket. Take the ride. It’s a risk worth taking.
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