'The only thing I really want is a cop on the beat, like the guy who patrolled the streets when I was growing up.'
In his book Beat Cop To Top Cop, the former Chief of the Miami Police Department, John F. Timoney, writes how this was the one lament he heard repeatedly from community members throughout his long career, whether as a young police officer on foot in the South Bronx in the early 1970s or in Philadelphia and then Miami as he rose through the ranks.
He writes about going in search of this legendary cop, "the one who knew everyone in the neighbourhood and who chastised wayward children and settled disputes between neighbours and family members without ever having to resort to making an arrest" and concludes that he exists only in storybooks and in films. The friendly neighbourhood cop is a myth, but a necessary one, "an ideal that most people have regarding police officers in their communities."
As a former police officer myself, I was intrigued to read of this mythical cop, and realised that it reinforces an idea that I've found to be vital to my new role as brand-builder rather than law enforcer.
I believe that other mythical figures and ideas roam the streets of our neighbourhoods in much the same way as Timoney's legendary cop. Throughout our society, there is a longing too for the inspirational teacher, the kindly shopkeeper and the caring doctor. We picture the white Christmas, the heady days of air-travel, the apple pie just like mother used to make (even when the mother in question was no dab hand at bakery). We are nostalgic for a time when everything was exactly as it should be, and for the people who helped to make it so.
As brand-builders, we need to know and understand the myths and stories that inspire our customers and work towards recreating that ideal world for them. This nostalgia - not alone for the past, but for the imagining of a perfect time - is a vital ingredient of great brands. Whether it is in producing the perfect pint, the classic car or the iconic mobile phone, we must strain towards realising the dream.
It doesn't matter that we can never achieve the ideal. As Timoney notes, "There is nothing wrong with this myth. Most people like police officers or want to like police officers. It is the job of every police officer and every police chief to help make the myth a reality, or at least make the ideal a goal."
In working to make this ideal our goal too, we honour the deepest wishes of our customers and are well on the way to building a brand that helps them to resolve some of the heartfelt conflict in their lives.