Tales of Westminster: Winning with Brand ExcellenceDog lovers everywhere look forward to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This year the show was a little different. For the first time, all dogs -- purebred and mixed breeds -- competed in a new Masters Agility Championship. This competition can offer some important lessons for those who pursue brand excellence.

Competing on Brand Promise

The movie "Best in Show" pokes fun at the people involved in conformation competitions like the Westminster Dog Show: the trainers, breeders, owners and handlers -- all those colorful characters make for good satire. But Westminster teaches us a very serious lesson about competing on the basis of brand excellence.

Westminster is a venerable tradition. Begun in 1877, it is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States (after the Kentucky Derby), and is “a celebration of the canine spirit, reflecting our emotional and spiritual attachment to our dogs.” I see a strong analogy to be drawn from Westminster to the nature of brand competition in our business world: Winning is built on a history of comparing to a promised standard of excellence, yet depends on how we perform on any given day -- especially in the eyes of our respective judges.

Like Westminister, brands have more showy aspects, such as Superbowl advertisements, logos and tag lines, which deal with making the promise. We all know the hard part is keeping the promise. As business professionals, we engage in competition everyday to capture customer interest in our brand, and then deliver on our brand promise throughout the customer journey.

A brand promise is a commitment to your customers that identifies what they should expect for all interactions with your people, products, services and company.” -- ABCs of Branding

At Westminster and other shows, conformation depends on the notion that the winning dog is the one that best fulfills his (or her) promise as set out in their breed standard. And with the new agility competition, Westminster now celebrates all dogs who excel at that sport -- competing not just against perfection in the sport, but against time to perfection. The similarities to the business world couldn't be stronger.

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When people wonder why only purebreds are included in conformation, it’s important to remember that by its very nature, conformation requires a recognized breed standard to measure against. But those standards in turn are tied very closely to how the dogs fulfill the purpose of their breed. It is not just how they look, but also what they do and how they do it. For example, the standard for (my beloved) Golden Retriever breed is intelligence and a gentle temperament, with a soft mouth, muscular body and long coat, with a dense inner coat that provides them with adequate warmth in the outdoors, and an outer coat that lies flat against their bodies and repels water. This owing to their origins as gun dogs bred to retrieve waterfowl undamaged during hunting parties.

Think of your customers as the conformation judges, evaluating your delivery against your brand promise. If your brand falls within a recognized category, you are also being judged and compared against a standard expectation of what other businesses in the category promise and ultimately can deliver. In order to deliver on your brand promise across the entire customer experience journey, you will need to look to technology to play a critical role:

  • Web experience management can help your website deliver on brand promise with a consistent and compelling digital experience, and with content that is relevant, contextual and rendered correctly across multiple channels, devices or applications.
  • Case management can help integrate your customer service touch points around the customer as the organizing function; customer journeys are no longer linear, and business process management can also help your company focus on connecting customer experiences for your brand across omnichannel touch points.
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) can help your brand personality be reflected in rich content you share and enhance the experiences you deliver virtually and in person.
  • Business intelligence can help your supply chain and brand value chain be transparent, measurable and make your operations align with your insights to balance costs with customer responsiveness.

Clearly IT is critical to delivering well on your brand promise. But at the end of the day there is another factor centered on how you perform or fail to perform at every customer touchpoint that will be that special "it" factor that gives you the winning brand.

This year at Westminster a five-year-old Wire Fox Terrier, Sky had “it.” The Best in Show Westminster judge said that Sky’s performance had left her nearly speechless; “[Sky] has the 'it' factor. She owned this night. She just said, ‘Pick me’!”

Winning Takes a Team Effort

It takes a team to win at Westminster. I have written before on how critical teamwork is to winning in business, comparing it to the team dynamic in the sport of dog agility:

I think that case management is the perfect agility partner for the knowledge worker in business and performs many of the same functions that a world-class agility handler does. If case management is like a handler, then the knowledge worker is like my golden retriever in this analogy. (My apologies to those knowledge workers who might resent this comparison; please understand this is the highest form of compliment in my world view.)” -- How Adaptive Case Management Builds Team Agility

We know that teams can compensate for each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but when it comes to delivering on a brand promise, any weak link in the team can be your downfall.

With the rise of social media playing such a strong part in the voice of the customer, team delivery becomes paramount. Many view the upsurge in the embrace of employees as important contributors to brand value as driven by the proliferation of social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and the rest.

Case in point where team is critical to delivering on brand promise is Zappos, a company known for its strong customer-centric culture. They look at all their customer touch points from the perspective of whether they are delivering on their brand promise of “wowful happiness.” They hire and fire employees based on this brand promise as exemplified in their core values.

You can’t really fake the Zappos kind of brand promise. No amount of technology -- supply chain management, case collaboration tools, web and content orchestration software, or business analytics -- can substitute for passion, a love of the promise that underlies everything the team does. Having said that, technology can definitely help a team that believes improve their delivery.

The Pursuit of Excellence

While I have been known to refer in jest to the conformation competition at Westminster as “the bathing suit contest of dogdom,” I have the utmost respect for the dogs who fulfill their breed purpose and perform with excellence, and for the teams that help them succeed. 

In much the same way, I honor those companies who fulfill their brand promise, and I respect the technology and teamwork that helps them deliver everyday on that promise to win in their marketplace. I can hear their cry now, "Pick me!"

Title Image by Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com