August 03, 2008

Do The Chinese Love Their Children Too?

Just as the 1978 World Cup in Argentina comes to my mind when the football competition rolls around every four years, so too the Moscow Olympics this last week in the lead-up to Beijing 2008. I was fifteen when it seemed half the world decided to boycott the Olympics in the old USSR and my memories of that time are very vivid.

Despite much of the political turmoil and hostility around Beijing's Games, the time when the world was divided east and west by a Cold War seems more than a lifetime away.

Some time after Moscow 1980, Sting recorded a song Russians in which he wondered 'if the Russians love their children too?' Back then, the Soviets (alongside all of the others on the far side of the Iron Curtain - even that expression seems quaint now) were remote and unknowable. In the absence of familiarity, we were free to think all sorts of awful things about them.

The connections made online these days make such remoteness almost unimaginable. Apart from a relatively small number of places like North Korea and Albania, we feel we know the people in other parts of the world and, even when we don't understand everything about them, we don't doubt for a moment that they love their children too. Even in some of the more critical reports of the Chinese authorities at this time there isn't any suggestion that they lack basic human feelings; some of their actions may be monstrous but we don't conclude that they are monsters.

As we grow closer to others around the world, it would be easy to believe that there are no longer foreign countries, that everyone speaks English (or at least understands it) and that we can move effortlessly from one place to another.

But even between two people who share a common language, there can be culture shock when we move from our home place to somewhere else. There are times when even those who live nearby to us can seem alien. They think differently, they don't look at the world in the same way we do.

So what's that got to do with brands and branding?

Well, brands have a remarkable ability to ease that passage from one place to the next. The power of the great brands is to bridge the gap between the familiar and the unknown. Business-owners often underestimate the importance of making this happen and can leave their visitors stumbling about looking for direction.

Whilst those visitors may not doubt that we love our children too, they can quickly conclude that we are unsympathetic in other ways - unfriendly, unhelpful or unprofessional - and break for the border back to the home country or to other, more hospitable, places as quickly as they can.

So as the Games begin, why not brand your way to a greater connection with your customers.

No comments: