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We are all guilty of this. When someone asks what we do for a living, we tell them about the services we provide or the products that we make. We never tell them what we believe.
Unfortunately, business works the same way and the result is forgettable brands with zero identity. We just assume this approach is right because everyone else does it, but Brian Burkhart, the author of Stand for Something. believes that we’re wrong. Way wrong.
Brian invites you to break free from the herd and reconnect to the core beliefs that make you stand out. Everything is better in your life and in your business when you deeply understand what you stand for.
Brian Burkhart: The work that I do on a regular basis is to help our clients elevate their most important messages in a way that audiences will both remember and act on. And if you think about it, we have all been in far too many business presentations that are sort of in one ear and out the other. My job is to make that not happen.
The more that I dove into this and the more science that emerges, and the more time I spent in it, the more I realized that the most important component isn’t some of the things that people would immediately think. People think things like, “I have to tell a cool story and I have to have great visuals and maybe I could tell a joke.” Any of those more tried and true methodologies–none of them are necessarily wrong or incomplete, but what they are lacking more than anything else, is a deep fundamental base that grounds and connects people. What really expresses that is a core belief.
My book, Stand for Something, was really a completion of a lot of work around helping people– organizations and individuals–profoundly change the way they connect and command audiences. And so, really, more than anything else, this is the output of years of work. There was a lot of trial and error, and finally once we cracked the code, it became so obvious to me.
The truth of the matter is, if I was able to line up a thousand people and we said, “Tell us what you stand for–what do you believe?” If you ask a thousand people, you’ll find that about 990 of them just don’t know. This book was a necessity as much as anything.
You Do Not Need to Work with Everyone
Rae Williams:What would you say is the core message that people can take action on?
Brian Burkhart: It’s really about making peace with the notion that working with everyone is a ridiculous notion. The action step here is to get super comfortable with the idea that by shouting your core belief, you’re going to eliminate a good portion of the marketplace. You’re going to make a whole bunch of people say, “I’m not interested in working with you.”
And that’s awesome, that’s what you want. You want to find those that believe exactly the things that you believe. An example that I just love, because it is so topical and timely and it really seems to strike a cord with people, is Nike, the shoe company. First and foremost, they sell a commodity, but you can get shoes from a lot of different manufacturers and so price is something that’s easily negated.
Nike sells something different–they sell a core belief. When they promote things, like women being equal to men, or people like Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player who kneeled against a bunch of different things, there were a lot of people who said, “I will never ever buy Nike again.” They ripped logos and they burned products.
Conversely, there was a great many people that went out and bought more Nike products. They actually saw a bump in the stock prices through all the craziness. And that’s the whole point, that’s the action step, that’s the crux. You want to find that camp of people that understand, that get it, and deeply believe the same things.
The only way that can happen is by first understanding and codifying your core beliefs and then screaming them from the rooftops.
Lead With Your Core Beliefs
Rae Williams:I’ve never thought about Nike that way. I never thought of those ads as positioning the company from their belief standpoint rather than their product standpoint.
Brian Burkhart: Let me just add to that and I think you’ll understand what I mean. One of the things that I do in my book with a whole lot of frequency is take a couple of good swipes at McDonalds. I do that from a very interesting place. My affinity for McDonalds is actually quite high. A million years ago, I flipped burgers at a McDonalds restaurant in my hometown and I even worked at their very famous training headquarter institution called Hamburger University, just outside Chicago.
I worked there for four or five years and I have a lot of love for McDonalds. And yet, if I asked you right now, what does McDonalds stand for, what do they believe in, you’re going to struggle to answer. What’s interesting is over the last five years, they have lost–ready for this–half a billion customers. They’ve had half a billion less in-store visits in just the US alone.
You can look at the notion of McDonalds as a growing enterprise, because of their stock and their unit sales, they’re okay. And they have growth in Asia and some other spots around the country and the globe. But here in the U.S., they are sucking. It’s because, I think, consumers, people like you and I, we see things like these gimmicks of breakfast all day, an international menu, or now they’re no longer doing frozen beef, it’s all fresh.
That’s great and that’s fine, but those are just gimmicks, they’re just tactics. It’s not a core belief. Imagine if McDonalds decided to stand for family. What if they said, “You know what? We love the notion that seniors are encouraged to work here, that kids want to have birthday parties here, and moms and dads who are super busy, stressed and even perhaps running low on money, can come for a quick, convenient, tasty, and inexpensive, wholesome meal.”
Imagine if they said, “We’re going to believe deeply in the American family.” That’s something, versus right now, saying, “We’re going to believe in an international menu. Would you like a chicken fried sandwich inspired by Canada?” It’s got mozzarella and tomato on it. How is that Canadian?
How is that going to make you go to a McDonalds? It’s not.
So, this notion of knowing your core beliefs and really expressing it to pull people in, it’s way bigger than people think. It is not just a tactic, it’s not spin–it’s about how to lead.
I’ll give you one more fun fact. Here in Phoenix, of course, McDonalds is a McDonalds. But if you get in the car and drive a couple of hours north, you end up in an absolutely beautiful part of the whole world. It just happens to be in our backyard–Sedona, Arizona. It is truly magical.
Sedona is a big huge tourist hotspot. One thing that Sedona does really well is preserve their natural beauty and the way humans interact with it. They passed an ordinance, long before McDonalds moved in, that dictated a certain type of exterior structure for all of the buildings. The only place in the world that you will not find the golden arches is Sedona, Arizona, where the arches are in fact teal, because it matches the environment better.
So, it’s a normal McDonalds, but those arches are funky, they’re teal.
Find Where You Fit
Rae Williams: Why does this matter for our listeners too? I can understand why it matters for a corporation or company in order to reach their audience, but for the listener, what’s missing?
Brian Burkhart: This is one of my favorite parts of this whole equation. It’s one of those things that I’m going to start by just asking a rhetorical question. That is, have you ever heard anyone say that they don’t like their job? There’s any number of reasons, it could be too far, too much of a hassle, commute wise, or it could be work they are uninspired by. It could be a client base that doesn’t make them feel great, it could be a culture that just isn’t quite right. But really, if you start peeling back the layers of that onion, one of the things that you’re going to find is that as an individual, you have a certain set of beliefs that are incongruent with your employer.
More often than not, what you believe in and the place that you work, what they believe in, are at odds. It just doesn’t feel right.
It really comes down to having a congruence or incongruence with core beliefs. When there’s that conflict, we see the world differently, and it could be everything from the foods you eat to the places you go on vacation.
Knowing your core beliefs as an individual will help align you in so many ways. It will help you find the right place to be, the right people to be around, the right way to have a life. As much as anything, it’s based in this notion of something called cognitive psychology theory, which is an old scientific theory–it’s been around a long, long time.
The basic idea that I can tell you about it is essentially, what you believe leads to what you do.Let’s put it this way. If you think that your body is your temple and you only get one shot at getting your body right, there’s a high likelihood that you will eat right, you’ll avoid things like sugary snacks, you’ll go to the gym frequently, you’ll do all the right things because your body is your temple. Your beliefs lead to your actions.
If you believe that using petrol chemicals, gasoline, and polluting the environment is a horrible thing, if that’s what your belief is, then maybe when it’s time to buy a new car, you’ll look at a hybrid or an electric vehicle. If you believe things like guns are horrible, terrible things that kill people, there’s a very high likelihood that you will not own a gun.
Your beliefs lead to your actions. So, as individuals, the thing that’s so important about this is that it dictates so many actions. And for so many people, the unfortunate truth is, they have absolutely no clue what it is they believe in. They have no idea what they stand for.
We just sort of go through life blind or at least half awake, half aware, half connected. What I want is for people to be fully expressed, to be fully authentic, to be their full, true selves. In my mind, the only way you can really do that is by deeply knowing what it is that you personally stand for.
From a perspective of business, we see right away that it matters deeply to the bottom line. But for us as individuals, as human beings, it matters in a far different way. It’s really about the connections in our world. From those we date or marry, to the friends and family we keep, to the places we live and the activities that we do, our core beliefs dictate our actions. It’s a big, big deal.
I choose very much to be fully aware. I don’t want to go through life blind, I want to know exactly what it is I stand for.
Rae Williams: There are one or two chapters that I wanted to touch on with you and have you explain. Congruence and the core belief filter. What is that? What needs to be congruent and what is the core belief filter?
Brian Burkhart: Well, that’s a little bit about what we just described. I think it’s a perfect transition to get into this with a little bit of depth. The way I would describe it starts again with this notion of cognitive psychology theory.
I’ll use Spirit Airlines as a great example. There are a bazillion different air carriers out there. You and I can get online and find lots of different routes and lots of different options to get from point A to point B.
The thing that’s most important to me is my schedule. Time is the one commodity I can never seem to get enough of. So, in some regard, I kind of don’t care about amenities, I don’t care if there’s free WiFi in the plane, I don’t care if they show me a movie, I don’t even care about the price.
What I care about is schedule. How does it fit into my world?
There are other people, the only thing they care about is getting the cheapest, most affordable airline flight they can get. For companies like Spirit Airlines, they do an amazing job of knowing what it is that they stand for. They provide the absolute bottom of the barrel, cheapest priced ticket going.
Now, if you want to bring luggage onboard, they’re going to charge you, if you’d like a water, they’re going to charge you. If you’d like a few more inches of room, they’re going to charge you. At every turn, the price gets ratcheted up with more and more amenities. The congruence there, the filter, if you are someone who really values the notion of the cheapest flight possible, Spirit Airlines is for you.
If you’re like me and it’s all about schedule, then I’m going to look at some different carriers like American, United, or Delta. I don’t care about price—I don’t care about a lot of things, I want schedule.
Really, what you’re looking for is congruence, you want people that know and believe and feel the same way, because it just makes perfect sense to your brand.
The only way to do that is to have those really well, highly codified beliefs thrown out to the world. We can then use those beliefs as a filter to say, “This is for me or it’s not for me.” Guys like me who really don’t care about price, are going to look at Spirit Airlines and say, “Oh no, this is not for me—they have one flight a day.” I want 50 flights a day. I am going to choose the one that best fits my schedule. That’s the filter.
What Do You Stand For?
Rae Williams: The next chapter is How to Lead with Belief. How do businesses start doing that? What is the first step?
Brian Burkhart: Well, the first thing is actually figuring out what it is they stand for. This is really, really, really, really hard.
It is easy to say, “Well, just tell the world what it is you’re all about. Tell us what you stand for.” Then the minute you try doing that, you realize how challenging it actually is. To lead with your beliefs, you first have to codify them. It’s a simple little phrase, but I’ve often said that it’s so much easier to read the label when you’re outside of the jar.
The reason that my firm exists and the things that we help our clients do is make waves. That’s the belief that we have. We’re going to cause a little trouble. We are going to be disruptive. We are going to help you elevate your message in a really unique and interesting way and we can do that because we are on the outside looking in. So, when people hire us, it’s the kind of thing where I can see past all of the history, the politics, and the current situation to make a certain set of waves to really elevate that company.
That’s the work that we do. If you are doing that internally, man it is tough. Figuring out your beliefs, first and foremost, is step number one. Once you have them, then you have to deploy them, and it is super, super hard.
I’ll give you a quick example that I think you’ll find interesting. There was a polar explorer back in the early 1900s, and his name was Ernest Shackleton. This was at a time when technology was nothing like we see today.
It really wasn’t that long ago, but it was a different time. Shackleton was leaving from New Zealand and he wanted to go down to the polar artic center of Antarctica. He wanted to claim his rightful place in the history books as the man who found the South Pole. He put a team of guys together to get on a boat and head down to this absolutely frozen death.
It was quite a story. His boat was called The Endurance, he’s got his guys, and they head out. The next thing you know, they are finding some trouble with ice. The ice is starting to surround them, they are in the middle of nothing, and it’s about thirty guys on this wooden boat with big tall masts. They are being surrounded by the encroaching ice of Antarctica and it becomes really clear that they are going to be stuck. They’re stuck at this point a long time. I mean like a really long time.
At roughly the two-year mark, Shackleton the captain says, “Enough. We’re going to send out some guys in a small boat.” It looks like a row boat. It was eight guys that he sent out and said, “Go get some help. Our ship is going to get crushed by the ice, our reserves are running low. We’ve got to get some help.” So, these guys take this little boat and out they go. Eventually they come back, they bring some help, and Shackleton and his guys are rescued.
This is a horrific and horrible experience for all parties. If I said to you, “How many people do you think died during this whole deal?” The answer is zero–not one. It’s because at the very beginning, before the expedition ever left, Shackleton put an ad with newspapers and it said something like, “Wanted: Men for hazardous journey. Death likely. Outcome not good. Cold, frozen, dark, horrible, low-pay, bitter cold, awful. Interested? Reply here.”
Shackleton put out to the world what he believed the experience would be and the right people for the job applied. Softies like me, guys who sit at a desk and don’t want to get dirty, I look at that ad and go, “Are you out of your mind? Thank you. No thank you.” But there was a certain group at that time who thought “This sounds awesome.” So, they endured one of the worst conditions known to man.
I mean it wasn’t like they could just hop out of the boat and run to Chick-fil-A to get a sandwich, they only had what they had. They’re in the middle of nowhere and yet somehow, someway, these guys all managed to survive.
That’s how this works. When you know your beliefs, you can then implement them through everything. The things you do, the people you hire, the work that you do, and the clients that you keep. All of a sudden, success finds its way.
Having that belief first and foremost and using it everywhere you can as a filter—that’s where the success, that’s where the cool part kicks in.
When Good Employees Go Bad
Rae Williams: How do we attract people that have our same beliefs? How do we make sure that our team is on board with our beliefs and our missions. What do you do if somebody clearly isn’t, but maybe they’re a good employee? Maybe they’re a good worker, but they’re not aligning with the beliefs and the visions?
Brian Burkhart: I get the amazing fortune to address this and that’s one of my most favorite things to do. I get to stand on stages and speak at a lot of different conferences. Sometimes, I am in fairly large rooms with a thousand people or so, but I can always see that one or two people in the audience are getting emotional. It is very much all over their face. I know that when that presentation is over, there’s going to be a group of people waiting to say hi and hand over their business cards.
Those people that are emotional, I always see them in line. They are always at the end and they are always waiting for that line to die down. They come up to me and I always know what is going to happen next. These people are at a job and in the middle of my presentation, come to a very deep realization that it is the wrong place for them. It happens all the time. The reality is, there are lots of people who have really never stopped to consider what it is that either themselves and or their organization stand for.
Once they do, it becomes in some cases really problematic, and the only thing you can do is leave. There are lots of really talented employees, lots of really talented people, but if their core beliefs and the organization’s core beliefs are different, it’s just never going to work, ever.
The other thing about it is that it really can help in advance to weed out problems. I’ll give you an example.
I am a communications guy, I help people present all the time, and I do a lot of marketing work. If anyone from the Trump campaign wanted to hire me, I’d say, “Absolutely not. I have absolutely no time or interest in working with anyone that has that set of beliefs.” They can come to me with $100 million in cash in a big suitcase and say, “It’s yours if you work with us.” And I’d say, “No, thank you.”
Beliefs really, truly help figure it all out. For employees and employers, once you know, you can absolutely find the right place. You can absolutely exceed all preconceived notions of what success looks like. You can absolutely do your job better than you ever had before. The firm has to know what it believes, the employee has to know what they believe, and then that is when the two really come together.
One of the things that we do around here when we post jobs, is that our postings are long. I am talking about three, four, five pages of printed copy long and it gets deep into the things that we believe. We get replies back and we get a number of people who say things like, “Oh my god, this is my dream job. I have to work there.” We also get about an equal number of people who say, “Are you serious? In a million years I would never come work for you. You are an ass.” And I say, “Perfect, this has done exactly what we wanted to do.”
We have eliminated those that would be a bad fit before they even had an interview, and we found those that deeply understand us and get us at a core, cellular belief level. Those are the people who we want to interview. It really is truly this deeply personal thing, but you have got to get it right. You have got to get that core belief figured out first.
Who Brian Burkhart Works With
Rae Williams: We’d love to get some more examples from companies that you’ve worked with or your personal companies. I know that you have done a lot of work with people who presented in Shark Tank. Can give us an example from the show?
Brian Burkhart: I can give you a bunch of examples. This is actually one of my favorite parts of my book. It is just loaded with really cool, insightful case studies–sometimes ones that are very meaningful and direct to us. Others that are a little bit more tangential, like Spirit Airlines. They are not a client of mine, but I can clearly see what they are doing.
I will give you a few examples, case studies if you will.
One of the ones from my world that I really love, and I think it is one of those things that if you stop and think about what is going on there, has so much depth.
It is a company called Asurion. Asurion is one of those firms that I am quite jealous of as a business owner. They have about 18,000 associates around the world. They do damn near 10 billion, that’s with a B, in sales. They have this amazing company and culture and a couple of just ridiculously talented people at the helm. The CEO is a guy named Tony Detter and Tony’s become a bit of a friend of mine. Asurion’s business, however, is about the least sexy in the world.
They’re the folks that if you lose your mobile phone and all of your data, your photos, and your music and all that stuff, they’ll replace it and recover it and have a new phone in your hand in 24 hours. They’re the insurance guys. They do a lot more than that, but that’s what they are known for.
I was working with Tony and after a bunch of time and a lot of deep investigation, what we realized is that what Asurion really stands for, what their core belief is, is actually being helpful.
At its core, they’re actually helpful. In your time of need, when you are feeling the most vulnerable, when you lose your phone and pictures, and your memories of your life, you really want someone that can come save the day. That’s what they do.
Once we were able to codify that for them, it absolutely changed everything. Before that, they had a mission and a vision–a bunch of values. All of those are safe and fine, and in some cases, benign, and in many, many ways transferrable. You could put any logo, any company, any other brand on there and it works.
In this particular case, finding that core belief, understanding that Asurion is uniquely, actually helpful, changes everything. All of a sudden, you have a different sort of hiring strategy, a different way of dealing with customers. You have a different way of looking at those already on the team.
That is a really good example of a case study of a firm that is a big company. That is a lot of associates, a lot of transactions. They took a very bold step in being willing to change the tact, change the communications, and change the internal structure to really truly live that core belief to its fullest. That is not easy. That bravery is something that I am really, really proud of in people like Tony the CEO, and all of those that were involved, because it is a tough, tough step.
That is a good example of really big firm. A small one like my main company, which is called SquarePlanet, our core belief is to make waves. What that means is that we’re going to do some things in a little bit unique, different kind of way. I have had a number of conversations with clients that are sometimes a little bit challenging. I have to say things like, “No, this is actually really wrong.”
Just yesterday, I was on a conference call with a client we’ve had for a long time. They’re a big partner with Google, and so it’s a big project that matters deeply to them. It is very important from their financial perspective. I had to confidently stand in front of them and say, “Yeah, that is all wrong. You have got to do it this way instead.”
That’s what making waves is all about. You can imagine that that’s not always so easy, but if that is the core belief, if that is the thing that you’re going out to the world with, well to be authentic, you actually have to do it.
A Challenge for All of Us
Rae Williams: If you had to issue a challenge to people, what would you challenge them to do?
Brian Burkhart:I would challenge them to stop and carve out a chunk of time. Get quiet in their world and ponder what this really means. Think about this for a second, when was the last time that you or anyone that you know, chunked out a portion of their schedule to say, “I am going to stop, I am going to get quiet and I am just going to think”?
It’s rare—I mean crazy rare. I would challenge people to do that very thing. Stop and investigate what it is as individuals and as organizations they represent–what is it that they stand for? Why do they exist in the world and how does that mean anything to those around them? If they can’t come up with a good answer, I would say that they probably have a book to read. It is called Stand for Something by Brian Burkhart.
The challenge first and foremost is to stop and think. If they can’t come up with a good answer, figure it out, because it will change everything.
Rae Williams: How can people contact you if they want to learn more?
Brian Burkhart: There’s a bunch of ways. We are pretty easy to get ahold of. You can check out my book website, which is StandforYourBeliefs.com. My main business, it’s squareplanet.com. Think round earth, squareplanet.com, or check us out on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook—all the socials.
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