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Notes from Last Night: “What I Learnt From Building Bailey’s, Malibu, and Other Leading Brands”

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James Espey has spent much of his career building highly successful brands in the liquor industry – Baileys, Piat D’Or, and Malibu to name a few.

Last night at Bathtub 2 Boardroom, he shared his advice for building a successful brand and career, and on the skills needed to be a good leader.

Everything Is A Brand

A brand is the combination of internal and external factors someone sees when they look at something else, whether it’s a person or product, or even a place or country. For cars, the brand might be one of power and reliability; for a person, trustworthiness and experience.

A country may have a reputation as a party capital, or as a place rich in culture and history. In each case, it’s important to have a consistent brand to present to the world – not because appearances are the only thing that matter, but because appearances shape perceptions, and perceptions shape outcomes.

Substance, Not Bling

No one wants to do business with someone that’s all talk, no action. As James told us, substance is better than bling. All the flashy marketing and branding around a product is worthless if the first time someone buys it they find it’s a house of cards, and never come back.

Instead, brands should be about creating repeat purchases – success is when people come back for more.

Make sure that you have great intrinsic value in your products, which aligns with the extrinsic factors that shape your brand.

People Are The Key

One of the best ways to grow a good brand, whether it’s for you personally or for your business or product, is to treat people with courtesy and respect.

It’s about little things – like finding ways to inspire and motivate people, rather than ordering them around; it’s being punctual, or, when you can’t avoid keeping someone waiting, acknowledging it, apologising, and being courteous and considerate.

It’s being politically sensitive in your dealings with other people, not being political. It’s setting out to help your customer, not to sell to them.

Remember Where You Came From

There’s such a focus on making it to the top that many of us forget about the journey. People reach the top, and take their success as a licence to look down on everyone else, without realising the very people they are looking down on will one day be their successors.

It’s important to remember where you came from – not just to keep your own ego in check, but to be able to remember what it was like climbing the greasy pole of success, and recognise talent in those you are in a position to help.

Know when to step back and trust others with responsibility – as James said, ‘there’s no point keeping a pack of dogs if you’re going to do all the barking yourself’. Don’t micromanage, and do share the glory when you’re successful.

Be Polite and Prepared

With a slight change of tack, James shared his advice on finding and changing jobs. Yes, the grass is greener on the other side, but be wary – it’s often greener because it’s better fertilised with manure.

Always think before you jump – consider the relationships you may damage or lose, and always, always get promises in writing before you act on them. If you do leave a company, no mic drops – leave graciously, because no matter how far you move, your reputation will follow you.

Always be prepared – if you’re headhunted for a position, or are about to join a new company, plan your exit from the start.

Changing jobs is usually accompanied by a rosy picture of the perfect life, and everything going according to plan – if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that nothing ever goes according to plan. Assume the worst, and put in place plans for if things go pear shaped – best case scenario, you’ll never need them; worst case, you’ll need them and not have them.

Think Long-Term

A big theme of James’ advice was to remember to look at things long term – brands take consistency over time to build up, and we’re not talking weeks, but years or decades.

The culture of corporate bonuses encourages everyone to play for the quarterly report, doing whatever they can to bump numbers now regardless of the consequences later. Don’t fall for it – encourage long term thinking and planning.

Balance Is Crucial

Above all, don’t forget about keeping balance in your life.

There are four things that really matter: health, family, friends, and enough money to get by. Everything else is just stuff.

No one wants to be the person who makes it to retirement and realises they’ve lost touch with all their friends, they don’t know their family, and they’re likely to drop dead at any moment because they’ve neglected their health.

Be successful, but don’t forget what really matters.


Guest Reviewer: This post was written by Rory McNeice. Follow him on twitter (@rorymcneice).

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