November 21, 2008

Stepping On Toes

I was hugely tickled to read in yesterday's
Irish Times
of the uproar over at the BBC where a 'non-dancing Mickey Rooney' (AKA John Sergeant) is stepping down from the BBC's flagship dance programme Strictly Come Dancing for fear 'that I might win the competition'.

The show follows the now-familiar format of ousting one dancer per week and the strictly too-serious-for-their-own-good judges are outraged that the public continues to vote for a contestant based on his personality rather than his dancing prowess. Naturally enough, this only encourages the public and Sergeant has taken the decision to waltz into the night as he thinks his winning might be a "joke too far".

Brand-owners often trip over themselves in the same way as the BBC judges by mistaking the basis on which the public makes its buying decisions. More often than not, the customer votes with their feet according to the appeal of a brand rather than its technical excellence. The brand-owner can rail against the poor judgement of the customer but is missing the point.

As business-owners, we can't argue our customer around to our perspective; instead we must sell to their standpoint. Too many of us tread on the toes of the shopper by rattling on about the features and benefits of our offer, whilst they're just looking for someone to gaze into their eyes, whisk them off their feet and dance the night away.

November 06, 2008

Obama & The Brand Of Opportunity

I have to admit that the outpouring of emotion from the far side of the water has these brand-coloured spectacles misting up more than just a little.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the euphoria of the last day or so has hit these shores with such force. After all, the tides that ebb and flow between the fortunes of brand America and our own sense of who we are here in Ireland run much deeper than the surge of investment money that has flowed into our country and watered our recent economic successes.

And whilst we sometimes like to assume the age-weariness of our European neighbours and look down on the adolescent eagerness and excesses of our American cousins, in truth we're much closer to Boston in spirit than we are to Berlin. But it's not only the Irish who share a sneaking rapport with the boundless optimism of the American dream. For hundreds of years, countries across the world have sent their huddled masses, yearning to be free, to her shores.

After all, the American dream tells a story that crashes onto the shore with a force that can literally take the breath away. And even the stoniest heart thrills to its sweeping narrative arc of rags to riches.

The wave that Obama rides is one that's been waiting to crash for some time now. Brand America, which is founded on the principles of hope and freedom, has suffered badly during the last number of years. There's been a jaded cynicism at work which has paid lip-service to those founding virtues and callously pursued political and commercial agendas at their expense. For what is America without its optimism, its sense of a goodness that wins through in the end?

Despite that optimism, America has long denied many of its people the freedoms it promises as a birthright. More recently, even hope has been abandoned in the name of homeland security. Meanwhile, those at the wheel have been in denial almost throughout. It's as though Nike had responded to the reports of slave-labour in its factories with some convoluted excuse that the end of 'Just Do It' had somehow justified the means. For many, Brand America's promise had become a bad dream.

So, of course the response to Obama's triumph has been pent-up. Of course it's over the top. Brand America (and those of us in thrall to it) have been waiting for almost a decade to utter a heartfelt 'Yes We Can'. Optimism sustains the entrepreneur in all of us and optimism has been in short supply during these troubled times.

Whilst Obama and the rest of the world face rough waters ahead, there's no doubt in my heart that we can navigate them much more successfully if we steer by the promise of hope and freedom that stands at the gateway to Brand America.

I won't end with a 'God Bless America'. That really would be over the top.

But you get my drift.