Pure surviving hinders thriving.
Habitually prioritizing survival mires you in a constant state of emergency, in reacting instead of acting, and in dwelling on what are ultimately the small things. Doing so prevents you from creating the conditions needed for your business to grow and thrive.
The good news is that you can shift your pattern, and brand strategy is a precise tool for doing so. Prioritizing brand building moves you from a small mindset to a big mindset, from hanging on for dear life to flourishing. It also helps you grow via intention and purpose, not pure brute force.
The paradoxical icing on this cake is that when you focus on brand-building activities that enable you to thrive rather than just survive, you have less trouble surviving. Working on thriving makes sense for both your business’s basic needs and your business’s development needs.
A Tool to Focus on Thriving
An instrumental tool for thriving is the quadrant-based time management technique made famous by Stephen Covey, of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The simple grid has a Y axis of “Important” and an X axis of “Urgent.”
Quadrant 1 includes tasks that are both important and urgent – your firefighting and crises and making this month’s number. Quadrant 2 includes activities requiring your highest-quality time spent – these are the activities that are important but not urgent.
Quadrant 3 includes distracting activities that are urgent but not important. Quadrant 4 encompasses the trivial, wasteful time we spend on things neither important nor urgent.
I have found this matrix to be profoundly useful across contexts, from family, to health, to business, to self-care. It helps me understand how I’m currently spending my time and regularly evaluate and reorganize so that I’m devoting that finite resource wisely.
And it’s particularly useful when it comes to leveraging your brand.
Survive: Quadrant 1
Let’s zero in on the two quadrants most relevant for surviving (Quadrant 1) and thriving (Quadrant 2).
In your personal life, Quadrant 1 is putting gas in your car before it reaches empty. It is jerking your child back from the curb when a car approaches. It is taking antibiotics when you have strep throat. For your business, activities in Quadrant 1 may include shipping this week’s orders and making payroll.
These are the do-this-now-or-there-will-not-be-a-later activities. You came face-to-face with a shark and escaped. Completing Quadrant 1 activities often results in a dopamine rush of relief.
Thrive: Quadrant 2
Quadrant 2 is your quality time spent. These tasks include the things that, if they go undone today, do not threaten survival – but they move the needle toward becoming stronger. In your personal life, this is eating well, staying fit, sleeping well, and engaging with your children and spouse.
In your business, your brand strategy tells you what to do for Quadrant 2:
- Coach your employees to be more faithful stewards of your brand;
- Deepen your relationships with target customers;
- Plan for the long-term based on what your brand mandates;
- Build capacity in your organization and in yourself;
- Engage in self-reflection about what your brand is and allows for in terms of business growth.
Quadrant 2 activities are not motivated by a crisis and completing them does not result in a dopamine fix.
Sugar and Sharks
Quadrant 1 is like sugar – these activities give you a rush but don’t sustain you, and you’ll be hungry and hung over later. Quadrant 2 is like proteins and high-quality fats – these activities build muscle, develop the brain, and make you feel satiated and strong. Sugar can help you survive a moment, but only quality nutrients will help you thrive for the long term.
Put another way, a business that spends a lot of time on Quadrant 1 activities is swimming from the nearest shark, simply trying to not die. A business that focuses on Quadrant 2 activities swims in a different ocean altogether, putting not inches between itself and the shark but whole seas.
Stop Swimming from Sharks: Focus on Brand
Because of that rush of a sugar fix and the resulting fatigue, which requires the quick boost of more sugar, most of us spend most of our time in Quadrant 1. Covey said that this directly prevents us from thriving. The more time spent in Quadrant 1, the less time we have left to spend in Quadrant 2, and therefore the more our focus will continue to be on surviving rather than thriving.
Instead, Covey counseled, we need to spend more time in Quadrant 2. Then we will not only have less time to spend in Quadrant 1 – we will need to spend less time in Quadrant 1. Let me repeat that: the more time and energy you focus on Quadrant 2, the less time you are forced to spend on Quadrant 1.
The more you sleep well and eat well and stay fit and nurture your relationships, the less often you find yourself in the hospital or in court. Attending your child’s school event, smiling at your spouse, and making it to the gym create the fabric of a meaningful and solid life.
Similarly, the more you build your brand by attending to your brand strategy, the more all sectors of your business work in lock step, pushing your business toward long-term goals and significant achievements: thriving.
When you prioritize brand (Quadrant 2), you don’t have to think twice about many day-to-day decisions (Quadrant 1), because a sound brand strategy is your North Star, making decision-making easier. When you consistently work on the big picture, you are less likely to face a crisis that can threaten survival.
Say No to Quadrants 3 and 4
Now, how do we do this when there are so many emergencies? Covey had a response: plan your time. You don’t have to ignore all the important and urgent items in Quadrant 1 to help make time for Quadrant 2 – you can draw extra time from Quadrants 3 and 4. The very best way to free up time for Quadrant 2 is to ruthlessly prune your time spent in Quadrants 3 and 4. Say no to useless meetings, email strings with too many recipients, and junky social media. Take that time you have freed up and reapply it to Quadrant 2.
You are now regularly working on the things that make your business thrive. Over time, the fire drills decrease. You create a virtuous cycle, making it easier and easier for your business to thrive.
Thriving Leads to Surviving
As a business leader myself, I intimately understand the tendency to neglect Quadrant 2 activities. Shipping your product cannot wait; brand strategy can. You cannot sideline survival, so you believe you can sideline the activities needed for thriving.
But, again, here is the paradox: spend too much time surviving, and you won’t thrive, which ultimately makes you less likely to survive. Eat too much sugar and it will eventually threaten, rather than ensure, your survival. Expend too much energy swimming from sharks, and you will get so fatigued you won’t be able to swim to a safer area. The sooner you prioritize Quadrant 2 over Quadrants 3 and 4, the sooner you’ll have a sustainably meaningful and profitable business.
A thorough understanding of your brand both populates your Quadrant 2 and encourages you to focus there.
Howard Schultz, who led Starbucks as CEO from its first boom in the 1980s through 2016, wrote in Pour Your Heart into It that the Starbucks we know today, and the one he believed in even thirty years ago, almost wasn’t. In the company’s hypergrowth early days, Schultz felt pressured to deviate drastically from the Italian coffeehouse experience he had painstakingly built. Using his brand as a North Star, he ensured that baby Starbucks thrived into adulthood.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, investors and customers alike were interested in giving Schultz feedback on his burgeoning business. Investors hounded Schultz to add flavors to the ground Starbucks-branded coffee beans sold in stores for at-home use. Other coffee manufacturers were rolling in the revenue from their popular hazelnut- and vanilla-flavored beans. To Schultz, this degraded the product and the experience. He refused, even though it would have infused his young business with much appreciated cash and gotten his investors off his back.
In other words, to agree with his investors would have given him the equivalent of a sugar rush. He was not trying to avoid the particular shark he faced in that moment. He was focused on swimming in a different ocean from the competing beverage. He let his brand, his Quadrant 2, lead the way in his day-to-day decisions, his Quadrant 1. Schultz was not merely trying to survive, he was aiming to thrive.
Your Brand = Your Key to Survival
Brand strategy is the ultimate Quadrant 2 activity, the ultimate thrive activity, for your business. If you don’t do it today, you likely will not have to close up shop tomorrow. It is not urgent. There is no such thing as a brand strategy emergency.
But surviving doesn’t naturally lead to thriving. If you want your business to survive, stay in Quadrant 1, and it will, at least for a while. If you want to thrive, focus on Quadrant 2, and follow the guidance of your brand strategy. Get extremely intentional about what you want to stand for in the mind of your customer and then focus on building that meaning with everything you do.