Tao of Advertising #7 – Leadership

The unmoved is the source of all movement.
Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.
Why should the lord of the country flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

At our sister company Scientific Intelligence, we like to use the metaphor of how all brands, like living organisms, exist in two layers:  The layer of underlying meaning (your “genotype”, in biological terms), and the surface expression of that meaning (your “phenotype”, or surface traits). Phenotypes change over time and adapt to circumstances. Over the course of a lifetime, your hair colour and length, your height, weight, even skin colour and eye colour, can change. But your genotype is very stable and consistent, which is why a tissue sample from any part of your body at any age can identify you, and only you (unless you have an identical twin).

When we say brands have a “DNA,” this is really a very apt metaphor. A leading brand is one that has discovered its essential genotype, and stays true to it for a long period of time, no matter how market conditions and fashions change. A good example is Coca-Cola. Watch Coke’s famous video about how it’s going to evolve its marketing approach using content marketing and technology over the next 20 years. Exciting stuff, worth watching.

But what’s also clear is that Coke, especially after learning its lesson during the New Coke fiasco of 1985, is remaining true to its genotype of “all that is good about American prosperity and freedom”, even with their current tagline “Open Happiness.”

A leader knows who he or she is, and while traveling far and wide, listening to the voices of many and even adapting to the current vernacular, never loses touch with who they are. A clarity and consistency are felt underneath it all. This is what John Kerry forgot during his unsuccessful bid for the presidency, and what Barack Obama remembered as he won a second term. We want our leaders to be flexible on the surface, but firmly rooted underneath.