Dear CMO:
Some of us, in times of introspection, follow the sage advice of philosophers like Heraclitus or Machiavelli. Or Yogi Berra. We seek guidance when different paths appear before us, and, as smart people often do, gain insights into human nature in the process. One of my board of philosophers is Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who was an author, lawyer and Stoic.
The line that sticks with me this morning is this:
Say What You Will Be, Then Do What Must Be Done.
Another famous twentieth century philosopher, Al Davis, might have said this, “just win, baby.” But all you non-Raiders fans wouldn’t listen. Harder to dismiss a dead Roman than a live NFL owner, I guess.

Seneca, without knowing it, teaches us a core lesson of branding — who are you, who are you not, what this means about how you choose to craft your messaging and where you want it seen, how you feel about competition, how you feel about line extensions, and a host of other decisions you need to be able to make without hesitation.

If you were to draw concentric rings of logical follow-ons around “what you will be”, you’d quickly understand “what must be done” — what markets you should be in, whether you should vertically integrate or remain a “pure play” player, how you should treat an OEM relationship or a co-branding opportunity, and other decisions that could often stall you and your senior staff dead in their tracks.

When you “say what you will be”, what does this mean about your design identity — what can you distill about your company, your identity, your emotional impact in your market and how this animates itself in your products? If you made a cell phone, what would it look like? What would it do? A power drill? An electric toothbrush? A credit card? An insurance product? How would it be uniquely yours?

I recently heard a marketing theorist talk about the evolution of advertising agencies, saying that they should be in the business of telling their client companies what kinds of products they should make. This would be a rather abrupt change from the “ad agency” world we know today, and not many would make this transition successfully. To be honest, I think of two things when I hear this story — first, you can’t call a bunch of dogs “cats” and then expect them to climb trees and catch mice; and second, if you truly need tree climbing and mouse catching — and not guard dogging — then you have some serious decisions to make about the composition of your company.

However, if that’s the vision the ad agency has of itself, then consider them having declared “what they will be” — and now comes the heavy lifting of “doing what must be done.”

Say what you will be then do what must be done.
Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny