Saturday, March 31, 2012

How Many React To The Challenge Ahead

Shel Sliverstein wrote a great book of poetry title Where The Sidewalk Ends.

I remember reading Shel Silverstein's book titled Where The Sidewalk Ends back when I was in High School and immediately concluded that despite its cartoons and kid feel, it was really a book of poetry for adults. 

Or at least those that permit the child to dwell within.

One of the poems in Where The Sidewalk Ends is titled The Generals.

The poem is about General Bore and General Gore and is a commentary about attempts to negotiate peace among warring parties. 

The poem sets up the two Generals deciding to try something different…

Said General Gore to General Clay,
"We could go to the beach today
And have some ice cream on the way."
"A grand idea," said General Clay.

But as soon as they embark on the journey, they immediately raise concern and barriers…

Said General Gore to General Clay,
"But what if the sea is closed today?
And what if the sand's been blown away?"
"A dreadful thought," said General Clay.

And fears…

Said General Gore to General Clay,
"I've always feared the ocean's spray,
And we may drown!" "It's true, we may.
It chills my blood," said General Clay.

And finally, they end up going back to their tried and true and eventually cease to exist…

Then General Clay charged General Gore
As bullets flew and cannons roared.
And now, alas! there is no more
Of General Clay or General Gore.

Doing what I do today with companies and advertising agencies, I cannot take the poem out of my headset. 

Many companies I have worked with over time have invested in stepping back and taking a journey away from the day-to-day conventional context of their brands and journey out to observe, listen and explore ways to re-charge and re-invigorate.

They dwell for a short time in a different perspective and they realize…also for a short time… that to move their brand forward, change in perspective is a requirement.

Oddly, when ad agencies and PR firms participate, I enjoy seeing creative members smile… but at the same time, I sense management members sitting with a degree of hastened breath.

Then I start hearing words and phrases like “well you know,” “what if this happens,” “can’t do that” and “too risky right now.”

And before you know it… the glimpse of what the brand can be fades and the conventional context of the brand returns… perhaps wearing slightly different clothes…and little to anything changes. 

Here are two things I encountered in the past two weeks that made me think about the poem. 

(1)  I ate lunch in the food court of a mall and observed customer flow at the counter of a past QSR client. 

The client invested a significant amount of money to “re-brand their stores to bring in a new set of customers and compete against a new set of competitors.”

In this mall, one of the new competitors had opened up right next to there franchise location. 

While the new logo looked nice on the past client’s storefront nothing else was incorporated to drive home the brand "at every touch-point of the brand experience."

It made the competitive brand appear distinctive, consistent and competitively superior. 

What I remember most distinctive about this client was upon reviewing the re-branding strategy and receiving a standing applause from franchise owners and staff members, the CEO called me on the phone the next morning and said he could not sleep through the night because the new brand foundation was very troubling to him.

Funny how change breeds bad dreams.  

(2)  When I went to make a deposit to my corporate account, the branch manager of the bank… a client that has recently gone rather quiet…shared with me that she had attended a system-wide meeting to unveil their new brand line.

The new brand line unveiled is “We Mean Business.”

This client also invested a significant amount of money to “re-positioning their banking chain” to reach out to business owners embracing the post-Great Recession marketplace.

I was surprised at just how strong business owners found the positioning platform to be… scoring it high on value, uniqueness and believability. 

I was not surprised at just how quickly the bank took the positioning opportunity and crafted it into a statement of self-proclamation. 

I was not surprised at how quickly the agency closed the door and embraced a “yes Mr. Client whatever you want it to be” service mode.

Funny how simply changing the pro-noun from “We” to “You” can move a brand forward versus entrap it further in current market category disdain.

Now not all of the clients or ad agencies I work with fit into the scenario of the poem. 

I have a client that is in the home design business that is embracing a new way of viewing their marketplace, opportunity and retail mix.

I have two physician practices that are both brave enough to be innovating and moving their practices beyond the model that is quickly fading from the scene.

I head over this next week to work with a new financial services client that is ready to change most anything from its operational model, site locations… shoot even their brand name and logo if needed to embrace market changes… and evolving opportunities.

I have written in this blog about the ripple effect and how once stones stop dropping into the water, the water eventually goes back to being still and undisturbed.

The race to win never stops. 

If your role on the brand team is very comfortable and you already know the answers and strategy that works, maybe its time to get up and go to the beach today.