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Salim Bueno

Leaders Are Made, Not Born

To be an effective leader, you have to be a really good listener. And, not to what’s being said, but to what’s not being said. You have to be really observant. That was a big transition for me: I went from being a scorer and a floor general to being a leader. And, that meant putting others first. That means not worrying about: Are you in rhythm? Are you playing well in this game? Are you ready to go? [It means going] to being: Are they ready? What can I do to help them be ready? That’s the big transition to make. You’ve gotta observe them, because they all have things they want to accomplish as individuals. And, as. Leader you’re like, “Okay, what are those things?” And, how can I help them accomplish that within the system, the structure that we are trying to do collectively.  —Kobe Bryant

The passing of Kobe Bryant this week had us reflecting on the man he was and the time we spent working with him. When we worked with Kobe, he was undergoing the transition from being number 8 to number 24. This transition was much more than just a number change for him; it had personal significance. 24 meant dedicating himself every hour of the day to being a better person that others could look up to; it meant going from focusing just on himself and his stardom to focusing on being a leader and helping his teammates achieve their goals. Kobe realized that leadership is a choice and that it takes dedication, practice, awareness, constant learning, and skill. Leaders are made, not born. And, great leaders never stop trying to be better not just for themselves, but for those they have the honor of leading. Rest in peace Kobe.

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Top 5 Cult Branding Blogs of 2019

Happy New Year

As the year comes to a close, we’d like to thank all of you for continuing to support our blog with your readership.

We’d especially like to thank our friends that contributed blogs in the past year: Tyler Williams, Lead Link of Brand Aura at Zappos, wrote about what it takes to build a great brand without engaging in practices that would disappoint your mom; John Bunch, Lead Organizational Designer at Zappos, wrote about the journey to Zappos’ 20th birthday this year and what the future looks like for the company; and Greg Breeding, President of Journey Group, wrote about what it took to create the Love Stamp for the United States Postal Service.

Taking into consideration opens, shares, and clicks, below are our five most popular blogs of 2019.

We wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and fantastic New Year.

BJ, Salim, and Aaron

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Trust in the Workplace

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.
Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Taking a sociological perspective, Barbara Misztal explains in her book Trust in Modern Societies that trust has three social implications: 1) it makes social life more predictable; 2) it creates a sense of community; and, 3) it allows people to work together. Without trust, social interactions are unpredictable, community building is thwarted, and people are unable to collaborate effectively.

Businesses aggressively strive to establish trust with their customers but frequently neglect the need to cultivate trust in their workplaces. In their myopia, they create hostile work environments with a ‘me versus you’ mentality, where employees feel the constant need to watch their backs. In this space, loyalty, creativity, and innovation are sure to die. Continue Reading

Here’s the best of 2018

As the year comes to a close, we want to say a special thank you to Brian Beitler and Mckeel Hagerty for their contributions to the Cult Branding blog. We also want to thank Tom Grimes, Marcus Thornton, and Tony Hsieh for many great discussions and insights throughout the year. And, we want to thank you for your readership. We look forward to bringing you insights on building brands that both employees and customers love in the coming year.

Below we curated the most popular, shared, and discussed articles from the Cult Branding blog in 2018. Please enjoy these three fantastic blog posts as a way to reflect as we enter the new year.

We wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and fantastic New Year.


BJ, Salim, and Aaron

How To Be MORE Creative

Being creative is essential to business: it provides the edge to beat the competition. In an increasingly competitive market, creative thinking is no longer solely the function of departments like advertising and product development; it is now necessary for everyone in the organization. Learn more about how to maximize your creative potential.

Don’t Differentiate, Create More Brand Desire!

The focus on differentiation as a driving discussion for a company or brand is flawed. The primary reason is that differentiation starts with a focus on what competitors are doing and not necessarily on what the customer wants, needs, or values in your brand. Read more about creating brand desire.

Lead With Purpose

What makes a good leader?
Great leaders focus on solving the problem, rather than being bogged down by focusing on the situation and how it applies to themselves. In the face of adversity, great leaders become outward-focused rather than inward-focused. Find out more about leading with purpose.

3 Tips to Raise Team Morale

“The strength of the team is each member. The strength of each member is the team.” Phil Jackson

A healthy workplace boosts morale, lowers turnover, decreases absenteeism, and increases productivity. With the holidays upon us on and the finish line in sight, it is important to keep team morale high. Below are 3 Tips to improve morale as we approach the end of the year.

1. Confront Grievances Head-On

With the hectic schedule of the season, it’s easy to dismiss a team member’s frustrations as something that can wait until the new year. Although these problems are often minimal, without being addressed they can lead to more significant issues. Use these instances to confront the issues together with your team. Let them know you are sincerely interested in their well being and in finding solutions to the problem. When your team knows you have their back, it will boost morale.

2. Tie Team Efforts to the Vision

Give your associates a reason to believe. Remind your team why their work matters and how it ties to your company’s higher purpose. Sharing the deeper meaning and purpose of someone’s work can have a significant impact on their motivation. Use examples from associates success stories to illustrate how their efforts pushed the company closer to achieving its vision.

At The Life is good Company, they continually remind their customers and associates that 10% of profits go towards helping kids in need. So no matter what your job is at Life is good, you know your work positively impacts the quality of care delivered to vulnerable children.

3. Lead by Example

As a leader, It is essential to come to work with a good attitude. Your demeanor will set the tone for the rest of your team. A healthy attitude contributes to your team’s success and productivity. When you have high morale, your colleagues will: be more likely to collaborate with you and each other, be more creative and provide better customer service. Be consistent with your efforts. You can’t expect the team’s morale to be positive if your attitude towards work changes with the wind.

When teams are motivated and confident, they accomplish more, and they also have fun being a part of the brand.

Happy Holidays and Onward!

Narrow Your Brand Focus

A brand becomes stronger when you narrow the focus.
Al Ries and Laura Ries, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.

Keeping a brand on course is one of the most critical and difficult challenges executives face. A narrow brand focus will help keep your brand aligned with your core business and in tune with your best customers. Below are four questions that can help your organization stay focused on what is most important for the brand.

Why do we exist?

Beyond making money, it is essential to know what purpose your brand serves. Knowing what problems your brand helps solve for its customers is key to building a strong, profitable brand.

What values and beliefs unify our employees and our customers?

Recruiting a high-performance team is vital to your organization’s ability to deliver on its brand promise. Knowing the core values that resonate deep within your organization and with your Brand Lovers is essential for attracting passionate employees and creating customers who love your brand. The more you understand what your brand stands for, the better you will be at drawing in people who love working for you and enjoy doing business with you.

How do we measure success?

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. Having a brand promise of what success looks like allows your organization to remain focus on the big picture.

What is holding us back?

Making progress toward the brand promise of a brand is not easy. It does not come without sacrifice and a lot of hard work. To be successful, you have to let go of the norms and embrace discomfort. The solutions that worked to get the brand where it is today will not ensure success in the future.

Now that you’re in the final stretch of 2018, have you done a thorough, top-to-bottom progress evaluation on your brand? Where are the big misses? What’s behind or underneath the numbers? What needs to be done differently?

Which of these challenges will you take into consideration as you plan for 2019?  Pick one or two to bring to your next executive session.


Break Down Silos and Build Strong Teams

Breaking down silos can spark innovation in unexpected ways.
Gillian Tett, The Silo Effect

You’ve seen it before: team members thinking about themselves more than the team; Every man and woman for themselves; a business composed of silos rather than being a cohesive organization.

Silos create inefficiency, waste time, prevent the business from achieving its vision, and hinder innovation.

So, how can you help create a cohesive team?

Here are three ways to break down silos and rally your team to success.

1. Create a Unified Vision.

Create a vision for your team that ties into the brand’s overall vision. Ask your team members to be involved in this process. Inspire them to take ownership of the business. Don’t make it complicated: create a vision that team members are passionate about and where everyone buys into its success.

An inspiring vision that everyone buys into will transition people from a “me” mentality to an “us” mentality.

2. Motivate and Incentivize.

Successful leaders identify what motivates each of their team members–it will be different for different people. Incentivize accordingly.

Motivation encompasses a wide variety of tactics including shared interests, individual investment in growth, shared voice, and positive words of encouragement. Incentives and praise should be designed to eliminate the “it’s not my job” attitude and encourage input, teamwork, and productivity.

3. Collaborate and Create Using the Six Thinking Hats Method.

The best method we’ve found for facilitating collaboration is Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. de Bono developed a simple and effective way to facilitate more collaboration and creativity during meetings by utilizing different perspectives.

Each hat represents a different perspective. Each team member wears each hat in turn. For example, “Okay, let’s put on our White Hats. Jim, you’re up first.”

Here’s a brief description of each hat:

White Hat: The neutral White Hat offers objective facts and figures and is used near the beginning of the meeting to establish relevant facts and information about the issue to be discussed.

Red Hat: The emotional and intuitive Red Hat is used to get people’s gut reactions to an idea or when you want the team to express their emotions freely.

Black Hat: The cautious Black Hat is used when you want to get the critical viewpoint of an idea or situation. The “devil’s advocate” hat helps decrease the chances of making a poor decision.

Yellow Hat: The sunny and positive Yellow Hat helps identify the value of ideas and plans. The Yellow Hat helps counterbalance the judgmental thinking of the Black Hat.

Green Hat: The creative Green Hat comes on when you want to generate fresh ideas and new directions. This is a very powerful hat that each player needs to wear.

Blue Hat: The organizing Blue Hat sets objectives, outlines the situation, and defines the problem at the beginning of the meeting and returns at the end to summarize and draw conclusions.

Remember, these six hats represent perspectives, not people or personalities. For this method to be used efficiently, each person in a meeting can and must be able to wear each hat in turn.

Breaking down silos is not an easy task for any organization but avoidance is detrimental.

A unified vision, the right motivation, and collaboration provides team members with a clear purpose and means of accomplishing the ultimate goal. There is nothing more powerful in any organization than having all employees pushing fiercely in the same direction.

Consulting To Discover Ultimate Profitability

Dominant organizations occupy positions of ultimate profitability.  They do this by providing their customers what they want, even before their customers know they want it.  Whenever Apple unveils their latest iGadget, they already have legions of excited customers eager to buy.

How do they do that?  Those points of ultimate profitability are clearly out there. Apple, Harley-Davidson, and Ikea have all found them. They pointed their telescopes into the night sky of customer behavior and discovered their habitable planets, those consumer communities where their brands can live and thrive.

The tools and techniques that connect astronomers and astronauts with the final frontier can be used to connect your organization with tomorrow’s Brand Lovers.

The result? Organizations that use modeling to identify who their most profitable customers are, what they want to buy, and how they want to buy it enjoy increased—even dominant—market share, greater customer loyalty, and enhanced profitability. Knowing which way to point your telescope is the single most critical step in ensuring business success.

What insights will keep your brand relevant in the future?