Friday, June 28, 2013

Your Brand Is No Good If It's Rotten Inside

Awhile back we were looking at real estate. At one place they had a batch of chocolate chip cookies on the counter.

Those cookies smelled so good. Steam rose out of them. They were warm to the touch. I took three.

The place was not otherwise appealing to me. It had narrow spindly stairs, it was too far from mass transit, and the area was sterile.

Staging the entry got me in the door. But the nuts and bolts were all wrong.

Often we visit Florida. I love the Sunshine State. But once there, some troubling observations.

--The lady working in the hotel gift shop can't recommend an activity because "I can't afford anything around here." 

--The guy scrubbing the stairwell on his hands and knees with a brush.

--The rich hotel guest berating the desk clerk. The clerk apologizes profusely. Then curses the guest when she walks away.

--The man in the touristy place who can't wait to be served till we take a photo. Who says to me, impatiently, "My money comes first."

--The multitudinous cabs with signs atop them advertising "clubs," each one with a different name and each one with another young woman's made-up face. Young but with old and troubled eyes.

--The stares at my husband's yarmulke and the occasional comment about us being Jewish, on the street or on the bus. 

--The little bitty takeout meals wrapped in huge Styrofoam trays and plastic bags. I imagine a river choking.

What is the real Florida, for a tourist, for me? It is the beaches and the sun and the sweet air, of course. But it is also poverty, exploitation, class and other divisions, and waste.

The brand of a place is only to a very small extent determined by advertising. Maybe that is what gets you in. But once you are there, you are continually making a shopping decision: Should  I stay here, live here, buy here, return? 

The answer to these questions has to do with management. Not ads and not leadership which is radically overemphasized.

The truth is that leaders have a very limited amount of personal political capital even in the best of times. One wrong gamble and they're like a car badly dented.

On the other hand management is a series of intertwined processes that form the basis of the organization's functioning. 

And when the brand - its promise and its values - is operationalized, it becomes a self regulating feature of the community. This is to say that we do not wait for leaders to constantly articulate and enforce it. We make rules that shore it up and we are accountable to them on our own.

The brand promise does not have to be sheer perfection. But it has to match inside and out. If you stage a homey home, the home should be cozy and its immediate community should not be built sterile.

Similarly if you promise an area of natural and human-made beauty, you should promote a beautiful experience for all who are there - respect for self, other and the environment.

Branding is a management function.

* All opinions my own.