The Branding Decathlon

You haven’t tired of the Olympics yet, or you wouldn’t have opened this article.  Excellent!  Let’s talk decathlon.

The decathlon, coming up this week, is one of the stranger events in the Olympics because the competitors are not the best in any of the 10 sports when compared to athletes who specialize in one of the sports.  But the winner is often called “The World’s Greatest Athlete” because of the wide range of track and field events in the competition.  The winner does not have to win every event.  He can win a few of the events, do well in the others and win the overall competition.

When I was with a large financial services company, we participated in a biennial industry survey in which institutional buyers were asked to rate nine criteria in terms of their importance in the purchase decision. Then the buyers were asked to rate how well 20 or so companies met each criterion.  The results could be somewhat like the decathlon: A company might score the highest on the most important criteria and do well in the others.  When you tallied the scores on the weighted basis, the company would have the highest score.  Not quite the same as the decathlon, but you get the idea.

Another part of the survey asked the buyers to pick the three companies they felt were “best”, with best being open to the buyer’s individual interpretation.  Usually the company picked as best was in the top two or three of the weighted scores in the buying criteria.  But I always felt the question about “best” really was a question about brand.  Which company, on balance, did everything well enough to be called the best?

Effective branding is a decathlon.  You have to do a lot of things well.  You don’t have to be the best in all of them, but you also can’t be bad in one or two or you won’t win.

When I work with clients in developing a value proposition, I ask them to select one of three broad positioning categories for their company:

  • Product Leader
  • Customer Intimate
  • Operationally Excellent

It is often difficult to pick one because leaders usually think their companies are exceptional in at least two areas, if not all three.  I also stress that, no matter which one they select for their broad positioning, it is important that they meet minimal customer requirements in the other two.  Like the decathlon, they have to be competitive in all three or it is unlikely they are going to be winners.

You can use the decathlon approach to all elements of your branding efforts.  Look at every touch point you have with your customers and think of each as an “event”. Depending on your industry, touch points could include your web site, sales force, customer service department, technical support group, store employees, ordering system, etc.  Basically, it is any time the customer interacts with your company.  Ask customers to rate their experiences with each of these “events”, compare that with how they rate competitors and analyze the ratings trend.  Of course, you want to be #1 in all areas, but being #1 has a cost in time, money and focus.  The goal is to be #1 in the areas customers feel are most important to their buying decision and to keep the brand consistent across all areas.

With a decathlon approach to branding, you can “win” by being the best in the most important “events” and being competitive in the others.  You can be “The World’s Greatest Brand”.


© 2011-2018 Bill Fellows, Top-of-Mind Branding All Rights Reserved