Disappointing at its own ends

Elvis Costello talked to NPR recently about what it takes to stay successful and satisfied in the music business for more than three decades:

I never set out with an objective that I had to, you know, invade Russia by next week or something.  That’s not a healthy way to carry on in music.  When I’m asked for advice by people whose children are considering music as a career, I say, “make sure it’s actually music they’re pursuing, and not fame,”  because fame on its own ends is liable to be disappointing, but music is very rarely disappointing.

In other words, don’t be a musician just to get famous; don’t sell widgets just to get rich.  You’ll let yourself down.

Thanks, Elvis.

It’s a spirit written into the the modern American dream — the hope that pursuit of passion will always lead to accidental profit and assured prosperity.  It’s also built into the foundation of brand consulting: companies inspired by big ideas will always be more successful over the long term than companies looking for a quick fix.  We turn this into convincing, sometimes even emotionally moving arguments for common rallying cries and higher callings.

But is it really true?  Is it really possible to sell insurance for the sake of peace of mind?  To parse endless lines of enterprise accounting software code in the name of productive efficiency?  Is that sense of ultimate purpose really what it takes to run a successful brand for decades?

Is, say, Nike really around to drive the essence of sport to the next level?  Like Mr. Costello, would they describe themselves as champions of sport first, and accidental business starlets second?

I asked their investor relations homepage.


I know, that’s a completely unfair conclusion.  Nike has nurtured an amazing brand from a backtop in Eugene, OR to a multi-billion dollar global business.  They stand apart in recognition and success because of their ability to nurture that brand, and to do so they take constant inspiration from a big idea that resonates.

But you won’t find much about that big idea in their 10-K.  The awkward reality that we brand consultants must come to terms with is this clumsy separation between big ideas and business models.  The fact that we believe in the power of brands but still struggle to quantify their value in balance-sheet terms.  The smirks we share when we take credit for bottom-line results.

If there are more than ‘intangible asssets’ at play, it’s time to find them.  Let’s make sure it’s actually brands we’re pursuing.

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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