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What rules are keeping you on track?

07.28.17

It’s summertime, and the living is a tad easier here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Many of you are likely outdoors… on a beach, in a lake, on a dock, in a boat, hiking through a forest, meandering around a golf course… you get the picture.

Whatever you’re wonderfully distracted by, please enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with something brief and light to ponder (it’s summer…) before we get back at it in September.

Cartoons.

If you know the iconic Road Runner Show from the ‘60s and ‘70s, you’ll recall that the premise of each episode never changed. The crazed and obsessed Wile E. Coyote persistently chased an uncatchable road runner through the American desert. He’d get close but, in a comedy of errors and pitfalls, never quite catch the bird.

That was the whole point of the show. How would Road Runner escape this time? And how many ways (and how badly) could the coyote harm himself in the chase? (I always wondered about his off-the-chart ability to come back to life.)

Turns out, there was structure to all this chaos. The show’s creator, Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones, wrote about it in his autobiography. On a single page, Jones laid out a set of ground rules that he strictly followed in creating every episode.

Among the gems:

  1. No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude or the failure of ACME products.
  2. No dialogue ever, except “Beep-Beep!”
  3. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
  4. The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote.
  5. The Coyote is never allowed to catch or eat the Road Runner.

These rules provided a certain structure, cadence and reliability to the Road Runner Show. They were like rink boards in a hockey arena that keep the puck in play. They helped Jones stay on track in his creative output.

So what about you and me?

What rules are guiding us?  Is anything specifically keeping us on track?

Most of us probably have values, or principles, that we use as guideposts for our actions.  But rules are different. They’re more prescriptive in directing us what (and what NOT) to do.

My own rules aren’t documented as clearly or succinctly as Jones’ were, but they’re there nevertheless. And, looking back, I realize that they’ve always been my own ‘rink boards’ in the way I’ve approached brand-building.

For example:

  • “Our brand is never what we say it is, it’s what our customers think it is.” (If our customers have the wrong perception, it’s up to us to change it.)
  • The best brands unite three essential ingredients: purpose (a compelling ‘why’ for its existence), culture (the back stage), and marketing (the front stage). Marketing should come last.
  • “Brands grow by being spreadable.” When we truly help those we serve (instead of ‘hyping’ ourselves), we’re more likely to get spread.
  • “Branding is a journey, never a destination.” (If you see it as a one-time thing, and not a constant iteration, you’re doomed to fail.)

Those are a few of my rules. They help me stay on track. They keep me focused on what’s important. And hopefully keep me out of what’s not.

Rules served Chuck Jones pretty well too. They helped him produce a reliable (and creative) product repeatedly over time.

Now it’s your turn.

Ask yourself:

  1. What are your own rules?
  2. Are they keeping you on track?
  3. What’s stopping you from writing them down?

~ Craig