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on 19 October 2012
Marketing consultant Jim Stengel seems a nice guy, he wants us to be passionate about our business and to feel that there is a greater purpose than simply making money. Few would disagree. But he also claims to have discovered the secret to sustained super profits - based on a flawed study dressed up as science.

The `Stengel Study' makes the same mistakes as earlier pop management books that claimed to uncover the secret of sustained financial success. Professor Philip Rosenzweig's "The Halo Effect: How Managers Let Themselves Be Deceived" exposes these mistakes. I recommend Rosenzweig's book.

A team of four second-year MBA students looked only at 50 top performing firms to see if they had, in their opinion, strong ideals (as their instructors believed). Unsurprisingly they `discovered' what their instructors told them would exist (page 34).

To detect factors that might cause financial success Stengel should at least compared carefully matched samples of both successful and unsuccessful firms, and developed hard objective measures of strategy - not relied almost entirely on interviews with experts. Also, to avoid confirmation bias, the researchers who described the firms and their strategies should not have been aware of which were the successful and unsuccessful ones. And finally, any resulting theories should be tested against the future performance of the firms. Otherwise what looks like science turns out to be simply a story.

It doesn't predict which company will do well, and already a number of Stengel's outstanding `ideal-driven' companies have floundered.

The success of brands (and the large corporations behind them) is far more complex than Stengel's book and its predecessors claim.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 February 2012
Jim Stengel begins the first chapter with two separate but related questions: "What makes a business grow beyond the competition? What powers an enterprise to the top and keep it there?" In response, he offers "a new framework" whose central principle is the importance of having a brand ideal. That is, a shared goal of improving people's lives. A brand ideal is s business' essential reason for being, the higher order it brings to the world."

If this seems a tad idealistic, if not naïve, consider the fact that recent research, including a ten-year growth study Stengel conducted of more than 50,000 [that's correct: 50,000] brands around the world, revealed the need for the framework that Stengel devised. So what? The data from his study indicates that companies with ideals of improving lives at the center of all they do outperform the market by a huge margin. For example, the return on an investment in the top 50 companies in his study would have been 400% more than an investment in the Standard & Poor's 500.

A key term in Stengel's book is what he calls the "Ideal Factor," one that keeps renewing and strengthening great businesses through good times and bad. Having a brand ideal "is the only sustainable way to recruit, unite, and inspire all the people a business touches, from empl9iyees to customers. It is the only thing that enduringly connects the core beliefs of the people inside a business with the fundamental human values of the people the business serves. Without that connection, without a brand ideal, no business can excel"...or survive.

Stengel focuses most of his attention in the book on explaining HOW to achieve a number of specific objectives. They include

o How to discover an ideal in one of five fields of fundamental human values (i.e. eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride, and impacting society)
o How to build your company's culture around its ideal
o How to communicate that ideal effectively to engage employees, customers, and everyone else involved
o How to deliver a near-ideal customer experience
o How to evaluate your progress and your people against your ideal
o How to drive the performance of the highest growth businesses with brand ideals
o How to center the brand ideals of the highest growth businesses in one of the five fields of fundamental human values (e.g. eliciting joy)
o How to develop leaders and managers to be business artists whose primary medium is brand ideals
o How to position business artists to run the highest growth businesses

Other portions of the book that caught my eye include advice from three mini-case studies (i.e. Pizza Hut, Jack Daniel's, and Crisco, Pages 111-113), "The Ten Culture Builders" (Pages 159-165), advice on how to begin process to become an ideals-based, ideals-driven, growth inspiring communicator (Pages 227-228), and four principles for measuring a grand ideal to drive sustained growth (Pages 257-273) For those who are curious, the Appendix consists of "The Stengel 50 and Their Brand Ideals."

Jim Stengel is convinced, and I agree, that "maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible. They're inseparable." Those who question that are asked to consider the fact that most of the companies annually ranked among the most highly-regarded and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable and having the largest cap value in their respective industries. That's no coincidence.
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on 20 May 2012
The concept of this book is not new: the secret of business success, is to listen and communicate with your customers, in order to offer their ideal product or service.
The devil is in the details, of course: easier said then done. Bins are filled of business plans and companies full of ideals, but who could not deliver.
There are several case histories in the book. Sometimes I found it hard to keep on reading them, because of the intensive use of managerial jargon, and because they were too long.
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on 23 February 2015
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