Finding your WHY and the importance of Brand Statements

Since I decided to take this crazy ride 9 months ago and launched Sports & Recreation MGMT Group, I have been blessed to work with several emerging brands in the sporting goods industry. I always start by reviewing their business & marketing plans. Most have a rudimentary business plan, and a couple have had some form of a marketing plan. You can imagine the response I get when I tell them that our first objective will be to determine their company culture and identify the brand characteristics that align with that culture. You see, I will tell them, this will be the foundation for the new business & marketing plans that we will create.

This must not be what they expected to hear because there is usually a period of silence. After they have stared at me for a short time, I will ask them – what are you passionate about? Their answer to that question has consistently been “I am passionate about my products” and then they “sell me” on their products by going into detail on what makes their products special and why they are so “passionate” about them. After listening patiently through the sales pitch, I will respond with something like – wrong answer. What??? How can that be the wrong answer?

To steer them in the right direction, I will ask – what caused you to create these products in the first place? Now you can start to see understanding dawning in their eyes and I will get a heartfelt history of what they are truly passionate about and how they developed their products in order to be more successful in pursuing that passion. And ultimately, how their customers will be more successful.

Do not get me wrong. Your products are very important. However, what I am trying to get them to understand is what Simon Sinex points out in his book Start with Why – “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it”. Your products are WHAT you do but the reason you created the products in the first place is WHY you do it. Therefore, it is your WHY that must be the foundation of your business & marketing plans.

So, what does this have to do with the importance of a brand statement? Simply put – your brand statement will become your most important imbedding mechanism. A properly constructed brand statement will communicate your WHY to the consumer. Customers gain an understanding of your company culture and brand identity (your WHY) primarily in the following 3 ways –

Artifacts – The most visible aspects of organizational culture. They are those things we can see, hear, or “feel” about an organization. Values and Beliefs – The principles the group articulates or announces publicly as what they stand for or what they are trying to achieve. Basic Assumptions – These tend to be those ideas, concepts, or beliefs the group does not question or debate.

A well-developed Brand Statement is an element of all 3 of these embedding mechanisms and therefore becomes the single most important tool to communicate your WHY to the consumer. It becomes (along with your logo) your most prominent artifact because it will appear in all your marketing channels. It should express your central core value / belief and it should be so deeply held within the organization that it becomes a basic assumption as to the brands purpose or WHY.

To emphasize how important a brand statement is, here are 4 random brand statements (2 are retailers and 2 are consumer brands) and I bet everyone reading this blog will be able to identify at least 3 of the companies just from the brand statements…

  1. Always the low price, Always.
  2. Just do it
  3. Think Different
  4. Your Adventure Starts Here

The first one is obviously Walmart. Always the low price, Always is an artifact. Walmart had this brand statement plastered everywhere. All their in-store signage, print ads, and marketing screamed this brand statement. Being the price leader was certainly their central core value. Their entire infrastructure was designed to allow them to be the price leader. Finally, there is no doubt that it was a basic assumption of every Walmart employee and customer that they were the low-price leader. Interestingly, Walmart has developed a new brand statement. Can anyone think of a reason they would move away from a brand statement that has been so successful?

Number 2 is clearly Nike. Their WHY was to get people off the couch and participating in sports and to help elevate amateur athletes’ skills and experience. No excuses. Just do it! Just like Walmart, Nike’s brand statement was a key component of all 3 key embedding mechanisms. Like Walmart, They have also developed a new brand statement. Can anyone recall it?

Number 3 might be a little trickier if you are a PC person verses a MAC person. Think Different was Apples brand statement for decades. Who remembers all their marketing telling us to be non-conformist and to not be like the guy in the suit and tie who used PC’s? There is no doubt that thinking differently is a core value / belief of Apple and that it is a shared assumption of its employees and customers. Think Different… many of us did.

The last is Bass Pro Shops. Their WHY is to get people outdoors on an adventure. Your Adventure Starts Here! They have everything you could ever want for your outdoor adventure in one place, no matter if it is a fishing, hunting, camping, or boating adventure. Think back to their roots when they were a catalog retailer. Their catalogs and flagship store had the broadest product assortments anywhere. If you were going on an outdoor adventure it started at Bass Pro. The products they sell are WHAT they do to accomplish their WHY; getting people to go on an outdoor adventure.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing a brand statement… your brand statement should be short and to the point. A brand statement is external looking; when the customer hears or sees it, they should automatically think of your brand. The brand statement should express your central core value / belief about your brand.

One trend I have noticed is as marketing channels have expanded with the growth of eCommerce and social media, brands (retailers and manufactures) have not been consistent in their messaging and utilization of their brand statements. While I am not sure the cause of this, I believe this is a mistake. This sounds like a good topic to explore in a future blog. Be on the lookout!

We would love the opportunity to work with you. Contact Us today for a free consultation.

Find your WHY. Create an awesome Brand Statement. Incorporate it in all your marketing channels. Then Be Relevant, Be Resilient… and Be Relentless!


What is the point of you?

I have been amazed at the compassion and love everyone is expressing and sharing right now. Who would have thought that being forced to be apart would actually bring us together? It is humbling and inspiring to be blessed with so many amazing people in our lives. Friends and neighbors reaching out just to make sure we and our loved ones are OK and asking – do y’all need anything?

Thinking about all the good we are seeing from our fellow Americans right now and contrasting that with what is all over the news I am reminded about a book I read recently that really had an impact on me and I wanted to share some excerpts with you.

It is from the book Grand by Gene Lumsden. In his book, Gene discusses personal values such as Generosity, Responsibility, Ambition, Neighborliness, and Determination. He explains how these values are key to living a “Grand” life and to take your shot at the American Dream. The following quotes speak to us as individuals and about embracing these values.

“We get a little extreme hoping that our guy will come riding in on a white horse and fix the whole mess with a couple of strokes of an executive pen. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter who wins the next election.

“You heard me right. What matters is you – you and your two hands and good brain and strong heart. You matter. A nation of people who really get to work making their own lives safe, financially secure, kind, and generous will transform this country faster and in a longer-lasting way than any political figure you could throw behind a podium. Those kinds of people won’t need some political figure in DC to act for them or take care of their neighbors.”

“They’ll take on the job. They’ll ask what they can do for their country. And they’ll do it.”

“The inspiring words of JFK still apply in this age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Optimism and courage are never more than a breath away. Right now, you can ask JFK’s timeless question of yourself. And in the asking, you can take your first step toward becoming a Grand American.”

“More than ever now, your country needs you to hope that it can be even more so. More than ever now, your country needs you to take up the call.” – Gene Lumsden

Gene wrote these inspiring words months ago, long before this war with the Covid-19 virus started. Yet it is amazing how prophetic they are for what we are going through now.

In Grand, Gene doesn’t just speak about us personally embracing these values. He also speaks to the importance of our business leaders embracing these values. Since most of my previous posts have been about the importance of corporate culture, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of Gene’s thoughts on the importance of the value he calls neighborliness in business.

“People in America used to care about each other and treat each other fairly and decently, even in business. In short, they were neighborly.”

“Here’s the bottom line. What you give, you get back, and usually it’s two or three times more than you gave. Healthcare isn’t just healthcare – it’s respect and consideration. Bonuses aren’t just bonuses – they’re recognition and appreciation. People feel the intention behind an action, and when it’s a good action, it creates a good feeling.”

“The first and most important consideration for any business should never be profit alone. You can’t make a profit unless you take care of your people. The two things go hand in hand.”

“A return to neighborliness would mean seeing people as people and caring about them and their lives – even in a business context. It would mean treating people fairly and well, regardless of how much power they hold. It would mean reducing the national anger level on a person-to-person basis.” – Gene Lumsden

In my previous blog post I spoke about how honored I am to be a part of the sporting goods family in this difficult time. I am particularly proud of my dealer friends who are on the front lines of this war against the virus. They are working hard to protect their employees and take care of their customers. They have truly embraced the concept of neighborliness.

In his book Gene asks us to consider – What is the point of you? Once this war on the virus is won, I hope that each of us carries on the value of neighborliness both in our personal lives and in our businesses. I hope that we continue to embrace “the point of you” is to lift up and care for our friends, family, and coworkers – our neighbors.

Thank you for reading this post. God bless you and God bless America!



I have been a part of the sporting goods community for over 3 decades and I have never been prouder to be a part of this amazing community than I am today. Our industry is truly giving everything we have in order to take care of our employees, customers, and communities in these difficult times. There is no doubt the sporting goods industry will come roaring back once this war is won.

One of the main topics of discussions with my dealer friends has been about the recently passed CARES Act and if it will really be helpful in their efforts to take care of their employees. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to share some info that has recently been released. In order to keep this post as short as possible I am only going to cover the highlights, but I will include links to helpful information.

The most important thing you need to do right now is to leverage your existing banking relationship. The SBA is allowing banks to issue the relief stimulus directly so utilize your banker to help you navigate through the bureaucracy. Keep in mind they may not have all the details right now; however, they will shortly, and they will be able to help guide you through this process. Other good resources for information and guidance would be your accountant and your payroll service provider.

The CARES Act allocated 350 Billion in Federally Guaranteed loans to help small businesses keep people employed. Loans can be up to 2.5X the borrowers monthly payroll costs incurred during the year prior to the loan date, but not to exceed 10 million dollars.

Importantly, these loans may be forgiven if borrower maintains their payroll during the crisis or restores them afterwards. The borrower must certify (good faith) that the loans will be used to maintain payroll or make mortgage, lease, and utility payments. The amount of loan forgiveness will be reduced if there is a reduction in the number of employees or a reduction of greater than 25% in wages paid to employees. However; reduction in employment or wages that occur during the period beginning on Feb 15th 2020 and ending 30 days after enactment of the CARES Act, (as compared to Feb 15th 2020) shall NOT reduce the amount of loan forgiveness IF by June 30, 2020 the borrower eliminates the reduction in employees or reduction in wages.

There are formula’s you need to be aware of and you can find those along with additional information on the Chamber Of Commerce website- https://www.uschamber.com/sbloans.

You can also find helpful info on the SBA website along with a link to apply for a for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan –  https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. I will forewarn you that when I went to this website, I found it to be extremely slow (probably because of traffic to the site) and somewhat clunky. I would strongly recommend going through your bank to complete any Economic Injury Disaster Loan Applications. Another source that I found to be very helpful was the Fit Small Business Website – https://fitsmallbusiness.com/cares-covid-19-stimulus-package/

If you have any problems with the links provided or the sites go down because of traffic, feel free to contact me through our website www.sports-and-recreation.com or via email bryan@sports-and-recreation.com and I will be happy to forward you PDF’s. We will do our best to communicate info as we get it through our website and social media pages.


What You Pay Attention To

In our previous blog post we discussed the importance of aligning your brand identity with your company culture. Afterwards I received feedback from a couple CEO’s that I have known and admired for years. The feedback was that the message was on point; however, if leadership doesn’t know how to create and embed culture then they have no hope of aligning their brand identity in the first place. One of the salient points from the original blog post was that it is the responsibility of the CEO to establish the company culture and that the “holding” or the embedding was difficult. They wanted me to go into more detail on creating organizational culture and on why the embedding or the “holding” is so hard.

The vision / the purpose is often written down and posted around the company in the form of a culture statement, mission statement, brand statement, core values, etc. As I said before – this is the easiest part and we will talk more about providing the vision in future blogs. For now, let’s focus on establishing the environment / culture and embedding it into the organization. In essence, establishing the culture is determining “how things are done around here” and must be consistent with its values. In the end who determines “how things are done around here”? The organizational leadership and ultimately, the CEO.

There are two common mistakes many CEO’s make when establishing and embedding organizational culture. The first is when leadership is looking down at others in the organization expecting them to act, behave, and work in a manner that is consistent with the organization’s values and culture but they themselves do not. An analogy I heard many years ago is – picture a bunch of monkeys in a tree with the leaders at the very top looking down on the others ensuring they “behave” as they are “supposed to” while they follow a different set of rules. The leaders are looking down and think they are doing a great job because they see a bunch of smiling faces looking up at them, and the monkeys below are looking up (smiles on their faces because they know that is what the boss expects) but all they see above them are a bunch of asses. If leadership is acting in this manner, the organizations culture is corrosive, and you have no hope of creating and embedding a culture that will inspire others.

The second mistake is when leadership does the jobs of those they are supposed to be leading. More often than not people get promoted into leadership roles because they were very good at “doing” their jobs. And that is great! A path for growth is necessary for organizations. Unfortunately, many organizations do not have programs to develop the leadership skills of their people. When they get promoted to leadership, they default to what they were good at doing verses leading. They end up doing someone else’s job. One of my favorite quotes of all time is “In the end Commanders do only two things – provide the vision and set the environment. Almost everything you do for the organization falls into one of these categories. You will be tempted to focus elsewhere. If you do so, it is likely you are preforming someone else’s job and they neither want nor need your help.” Col Steve Goldfein.

Still sound easy? All you must do is make sure “how things are done around here” is consistent with your values and allows you to accomplish your purpose while not falling into one of the leadership traps identified above. Before we make it sound that easy let’s think about adding in the factor of how others outside your organization observe your culture. Afterall, the goal is to align your brand identity with your organizational culture. To do this you need to understand how others outside your organization identify with your culture.

According to Edgar H. Schein, there are 3 main ways that someone outside your organization will gain an understanding of what your organizational culture is; artifacts, values & beliefs, and basic assumptions.

Artifacts – When entering a business or a retail location, the first thing one encounters are its artifacts. Artifacts are the most visible aspects of organizational culture. They are those things we can see, hear, or “feel” about an organization. They include the company’s products, the physical environment, the language and even the “air” about the organization. The behavior of the group’s people, how they address each other and interact, and group ceremonies or rituals are also considered artifacts of an organization.

Values and Beliefs – A group’s values are the principles the group articulates or announces publicly as what they stand for or what they are trying to achieve. Problems arise when an organization’s espoused values conflict with how things are really done around here. In essence, this conflict is when one “talks the talk” but fails to “walk the walk”. An example may be if the groups stated value is “service to customer is number one” and their customers find it difficult if not impossible to reach a customer service representative. The talk and the walk are incongruent.

Basic Assumptions – At the deepest level of organizational culture are the groups shared assumptions. These tend to be those ideas, concepts, or beliefs the group does not question or debate. Assumptions are the result of continually endorsed and emphasized values. Basic Assumptions guide group behavior, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

Starting to sound more difficult now isn’t it? We’ve just laid out how organizational culture is created by leadership providing the vision or purpose, establishing “how things are done around here” consistent with the organizations values and purpose, and ensuring employees, customers, and other stake holders are inspired by focusing on the organizations artifacts, values & beliefs, and basic assumptions. Finally, leaders must lead by example. They must walk the walk.

Is that it? Nope. Now you need to embed or “hold” the organization culture. While Schein lists six primary embedding mechanisms, the most powerful embedding mechanism is “what leadership systematically pays attention to.” Simply posting a culture statement and core values on the company bulletin board does not create culture. What leadership systematically pays attention to does.

Your organizations approach to performance management needs to be focused on fostering your organizations culture. This practically forces leadership to “systematically pay attention to” the organizations culture. It also shows everyone how important the corporate culture is to the organization. How someone gets recognized, rewarded, and promoted clearly shows the organization what leadership is paying attention to.

Finally, systematically paying attention to the organization’s culture also means hiring people that are inspired by and share your purpose – not necessarily hiring based on a skill set. Skills can be taught; however, it is nearly impossible to motivate someone if they do not share your core values or your purpose.

Find your purpose. Align your Brand Identity. And Be Relevant, Be Resilient… and Be Relentless! #branding #leadershipdevelopment #sportinggoods

Build a Brand to Match Your Culture

It’s trade show season once again and time to live out of your suitcase…at lease for a little longer. During one of the recent shows several manufactures I spoke with wanted advice on how to deal with the increasing pressures they are experiencing in maintaining their market share & profitability. While these discussions aren’t unusual, the level of frustration expressed seemed higher than normal.

Being the sharp professional I am, I asked the obvious questions – what do you feel is causing this and what have you done so far to address it? Very insightful of me I know, and the responses were predictable.

More competitors are expanding into my product categories making it harder to maintain or grow our market share. They are putting additional margin pressure on us by under selling us to get product placement. Most also mentioned increased margin pressures from their retail customers as they try to compete with “the internet”. Again, nothing surprising here. This is the same story we have come to expect to hear.

Unfortunately, what they are doing to respond to these pressures is also becoming predictable. We expanded into new product categories (I’ll steal market share from them). We added features to existing product but maintained pricing. We lowered our price (took smaller margins) to increase value to the consumer. We are running more promotions on key sku’s to key retailers so they can make more (or at least some) margin and be competitive with the internet sellers, etc. etc. etc. Ultimately what they are doing is responding to competitive pressures by utilizing what Simon Sinex in his book Start with Why calls manipulations. More on this latter…

On the last day of the show I was finally able to catch up with an industry friend I had been trying to track down. He is an executive with a leading manufacture which manufactures products in one of the most over sku’d categories (over 200 vendors) in the sporting goods industry. They experience all the same pressures as the other manufactures. During our talk I asked how 2019 finished up, how the trade show went, and how 2020 is looking. His answers? They had a strong 2019, the trade show exceeded their expectations, and they are very positive on 2020.  A big contrast to several vendors I spoke to earlier.

Once again; being the sharp professional I am, I asked another obvious question – are you doing anything new or different to get those results? He looked at me for a minute before answering. I am pretty sure he thought it was a dumb question but thankfully was gracious enough not to say so. His answer was simple yet genius. He said no, they aren’t doing anything new or different. They are focused on doing what they always do. Huh?

They (unlike many of their competitors) are laser focused on their purpose. And their purpose isn’t to sell product. What? They understand the product they sell is how they achieve their purpose. And they sell a lot of product. If I told you their purpose you will know immediately who I am speaking of. Why? Because their purpose (their company culture) is aligned with their brand identity. Not only is it aligned, it is ingrained to the point that they are one and the same. Their company culture (purpose) is their brand identity. They understand that “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it” – Simon Sinex, Start with Why. Consumers buy their product because they are emotionally invested in the company’s purpose. As I said earlier, this company is still affected by competitive pressures. But because they are focused on their purpose and their brand identity is aligned with their purpose, they respond to those pressures’ verses react to them. They are resilient.

So why then do so many companies focus on manipulation verses inspiration? Because manipulations work and it is much easier to manipulate than to inspire. “The danger of manipulations is that they work. And because manipulations work, they have become the norm, practiced by the vast majority of companies and organizations, regardless of size or industry. That fact alone creates a systemic peer pressure. With perfect irony, we, the manipulators, have been manipulated by our own system. With every price drop, promotion, fear-based or aspirational message, and novelty we use to achieve our goals, we find our companies, our organizations and our systems getting weaker and weaker.” “Manipulations lead to transactions, not loyalty”.Simon Sinex, Start with Why

It isn’t easy to inspire. It isn’t easy to embed a company culture (purpose), provide the vision and build a brand identity aligned with your purpose. By the way, whose job is that in the first place? The embed a company culture, and provide the vision part? It is the CEO’s. Frankly in larger organizations it is their only job. Many CEO’s fail at this simply because it is difficult. Actually…coming up with the purpose / vision isn’t hard. All CEO’s can do this. It is embedding the culture / the purpose that is hard. Or as Bob Burg calls it – the holding. “The hardest part isn’t the vision. Anyone can come up with a vision. The hard part is the holding.” Bob Burg, The Go-Giver Leader.

Ok, so you are a CEO and after reading this blog post you want to get to work embedding a company culture (purpose), provide the vision and get your team going on building a brand identity aligned with your purpose so you can move away from a manipulation dependent business. Where do you start? I quoted the author Simon Sinex a couple times in this blog post. I would recommend you start there by reading Start with Why. You could also contact me. I would love the opportunity to help you find your purpose 😊

What if you have realized your company has lost its purpose (or never had one) but you aren’t the CEO. What do you do? This is not the best of situations. If you have a CEO that is humble and realizes they are not strong in this area but have a good team of leaders around them, they can delegate the responsibility to the team or one of the team members. I have seen this work quite well for a period (several years actually). Long term it is best if the CEO grows into their responsibility.

What if you find yourself in a situation where you have a strong brand identity with the consumer but have lost your purpose as a company? The brand may be older than the employees currently working there and because of poor succession planning the company has lost its purpose. This is common today as companies change leaders frequently. Brand consolidation is also a major cause of this today. If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend you read – Build a Culture to Match Your Brand, by Denise Lee Yohn, December 17th, 2019.

In her article Denise articulates many of the same principles as Simon; however, she approaches it from the reverse direction. She starts with what you want as your brand identity and works back to creating your culture to match your brand identity. Denise also identifies several types of brand identities in her article and discusses the core values that align with them. It’s an excellent article.

In closing; I would like to say that while this blog post was focused on manufactures, the same Start with Why concept applies equally to retailers. I am sure you can think of several retailers who are struggling today. When you diagnose what is ailing them you will find they have lost their purpose and are caught up in the manipulation approach to business.

Find your purpose. Align your Brand Identity. And Be Relevant, Be Resilient… and Be Relentless! #branding #leadershipdevelopment #sportinggoods