Does your brand impute?

My wife gave me the Steve Jobs biography for Hanukah. I'm two days in and a hundred pages down. I'm mesmerized by Steve's greatness and accompanying weirdness. He was never ordinary.

Yet I still find myself aching to pull lessons away to imbue into my professional life. How can I be a better leader? A better visionary? A better manager? A better marketer?

Here's one lesson that I'll share. When Apple brought on their first "grown-up", Mark Makkula, he wrote a one-pager on the company's three guiding principles.

The first was empathy. Perhaps no other company takes greater pains to truly understand the needs of their customer—needs that not even the customer often understands—than Apple. This is by design.

(I have to say I was pleased as a pig in shit when I read this as empathy is one the five values we defined for Traction several years ago. We must be awesome.)

The next was focus. I like the way they articulated this principle. Apple would focus on what mattered most and not allowed themselves to be distracted by non-essential opportunities. Are you focused?

The third and final principle was the word impute.

How do you impute?

The term impute meant to create an image of worth by always presenting yourself impeccably. If you present yourself like a slob, people will think your products and the services you offer are schlock. If you present yourself well, however, people will imply that whatever your selling must be something great.

Apple has demonstrated this principle over and over: in the beautifully designed products they sell; and in the careful attention to detail in every part of their brand experience from the packaging on their product to the retail store you by it in to their marketing and advertising.

So have other brands. Take Jawbone. Their beautifully designed Bluetooth headsets are not the most reliable (at least not according to the guy at the Bluetooth headset store at SFO who sold me a Plantronics one). But, they dominate the category because of the way they present themselves. And, they are able to expand their product line with innovations like the Jambox wireless speaker and the Up wireless wristband computer.

A decade from now, I predict that Jawbone will be the leader in wearable computing. Why? Because they impute.

Square is revolutionizing merchant services. They sell a widget that plugs into your phone or tablet that turns it into a credit card swiping machine. There are other competitors in the emerging mobile payments space. But Square takes the typically onerous process of applying for a merchant service account and makes it a breeze. They package you get in the mail and the steps to set it up are simple and delightful. Their website and their emails and every part of their marketing is well designed and compelling. And they're on track to process $2 billion this year.

A decade from now, I predict that Square will be the leader in mobile payments Why? Because they impute.

Many brands see the investment associated with "imputing" as an unnecessary cost. A ding on short-term ROI. They don't calculate the contribution into long-term success into their equation. It's too fuzzy.

The result is that brands today are becoming commodities.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Scott Berbury, the former CMO of both Nike and Starbucks. I remember him telling me, "50% of the things a brand should be doing are not predictably quantifiable."

Those that do that 50% are those that impute.

December 23, 2011
Adam Kleinberg CEO

Adam is the CEO of Traction, an interactive agency broadly recognized as one of the top small agencies in the US. Kleinberg plays a hands-on role for all agency accounts and keeps his team at the leading edge of emerging digital channels. He is also a regular contributor to Ad Age, Forbes, Mashable, Digiday and iMediaConnection.