Brands Need Both Hard And Soft Power

Paul FriederichsenJanuary 22, 20182 min

In a new trade campaign aimed at floor covering dealers and distributors, Mohawk Industries makes a simple statement: “They say there’s power in numbers. But we believe there’s power in one.” That “one” of course, is the Mohawk brand. The “numbers” the headline is referring to is the impressive portfolio of brands the flooring giant has acquired over recent years—brands that specialize in various types of flooring and that Mohawk has astutely allowed to maintain their own individual identities. This is a true brand conglomerate in every sense exercising its hard power over an entire industry.

All companies want their brands to be powerful. Often, power is equated with worth, valuation, stock price, access to capital, growth, market share, category dominance, etc. This is what we define as hard power. No different than a country’s military prowess or strength of currency. As in the Mohawk example, that hard power was bought and paid for, so if you’re in the business of selling carpets, tiles or hardwood flooring, you’d better pay attention.

Many years ago, Joseph Nye of Harvard University, examined the concept of power from a geo-political perspective and later wrote “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.” Nye even coined the term “soft power” which has become a staple of political discourse ever since. But don’t let the label fool you. Soft power is every bit as powerful, and some would argue more powerful, than hard power.

Soft power is the proverbial velvet hammer. It works through persuasion, preference shaping, and appeal rather than the brute force of hard power through corporate deals, acquisitions, buyouts, etc. Military strategists would agree that “winning the hearts and minds” of the enemy through soft power could be more effective in the long run than bombing them into oblivion with hard power.

Which brings us to the supreme irony about power. Every brand desires it, plans and strategizes for it, and supports its attainment, because power means security, prosperity and dominance over the competition. Yet, the more powerful brands become, the more difficult it is for them to relate to their customer constituency. As with powerful people, powerful brands become self-absorbed, “believing their own press,” and becoming less empathetic to the very customers that made them powerful. As Lord Acton is famously quoted, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In today’s marketplace, brands must heed Lord Acton’s warning. For example, organic growth is usually a better course than acquired, artificial growth, but often that’s simply not practical to stay competitive. The imperative in this discussion is the supremacy of soft power versus hard power for brand building and longevity. While brands may find power in numbers, as the Mohawk ad suggests, it is the myriad of components that make up the soft power of a brand that will keep it on top. Brands need both to succeed.

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