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.


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: