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Practice What You Preach


Finding the right partner in business can sometimes be very objective: Who fulfills orders on time? Who offers the lowest price? Who provides constant customer support? Without a doubt, those metrics are important. But sometimes, the comparisons need to stretch beyond the tangible. Here’s something to consider when choosing your next vendor (for example, your next branding agency): do they practice what they preach?

How We Do It

This isn’t going to be a blog post about hypocrisy. It’s about how I’ve learned that adopting what you advocate is really a win-win all around. In our almost-30 years as a company, Big has made a point of being our own customer. That means we adopt the same tools and processes that we recommend to our clients. For example, each year, we develop a marketing plan for ourselves and map out what the next 12 months will look like. We determine what brand development and management initiatives we’ll take on and break them down by audience, tactics, timing and spend. If you ask around to other agencies, chances are not many are as disciplined as this­—even though that’s certainly what they’d encourage their clients to be.

But one of the main ways we practice what we preach is by constantly evaluating our own brand. Don’t confuse this with agencies who say, “we’re always thinking about our brand,” meaning it’s a passing thought and not much more. We’re talking about a formal, comprehensive study. In fact, we’re going through our latest brand assessment right now. The last time we did this type of analysis was about six years ago (which is in line with the recommendations we give our clients).

We put Big through the same process each of our clients goes through: internal and external interviews, developing brand attributes, mood boards, customer experience mapping. And we ask ourselves the same questions: Does our identity coincide with our customers? Is our brand reflective of the service and product we’ve been offering? We also make the study as blind as possible. To that end, we hire outside people to gather the data, and I do my best to distance myself from the proceedings so I can’t exert influence and the findings can be truly objective. After all, in this case, I’m a client, not a Creative Director or agency president. Speaking of being a client, does this take time? Yes. Does it cost money? Yes. To be honest, we put in about the same hours and spend the same money on this process as a client would—but that’s what practicing what you preach is all about. And you know what? It’s worth it. Because each time Big has gone through this exercise, we’ve come away with huge takeaways—not only for our brand itself, but also about the process and our clients’ perspectives.

Benefit #1: Relate to the Customer

In a lot of cases, our customers start out somewhat reluctant to do a brand assessment because they don’t think there’s anything wrong with their brand. Plus, they have apprehensions about the cost, time and everything else that’s involved. What’s great about Big doing our own brand evaluation is that it gives us a renewed appreciation for the journey we take our clients on. We have the same emotions and experiences, and now we can really empathize with them. That builds the relationship with all of our clients. When they share their doubts and concerns, we can share what we felt when Big went through the process. It gives it a level of relatability. And suddenly, our encouraging them to do a brand reassessment feels a lot less like a pitch and a lot more sincere.

Benefit #2: Show Confidence in Your Product

Almost any company or organization would benefit from the principle of practicing what you preach. It’s a very easy way to show your customers that there’s value in your services or products. After all, would you trust a hair-growing tonic that was being peddled by a bald guy? Or would you believe that Chevy was the best car manufacturer if the salesperson who told you that drove off the lot in a Ford? Probably not. Why? Because they’re not demonstrating that they believe in the product, or that it works. Nothing shows you have confidence in your product more than using it yourself.

Benefit #3: Learn From the Process

Plus, by using your own product or service, you find the good and the bad—what works and what doesn’t. It’s why companies do Beta testing. No one knows your product or service better than you, so you’re in the best position to identify successes and failures and grow from them. Over Big’s history, we’ve done plenty of tweaking to our own process after we’ve tried it out internally and seen an opportunity to do it better. Sure, we could learn from watching the effect on our clients, but it feels wrong to use paying customers as guinea pigs, right?

Practice What You Preach Is a Best Practice

When Big makes a recommendation, know that it’s something we’ve already tried—on ourselves. We truly believe practicing what you preach is good values and good business. So why not try finding ways in your own org to do it? And look for partners who do it, too. It may be a stretch to say practice makes perfect, but we’re convinced when you practice what you preach, it at least makes better. Much, much better.