19 Branding belongs to me

I have recently returned from Glasgow. That in itself is an achievement, given the breakfast I had at the hotel. Among the coronary-inducing, self-electing choices were: fried eggs, fried bread, potato scones, haggis, bacon, round sausage and square sausage – this last an extraordinary rendition of the laws of science with regard to how an apparently solid object can, on the prod of a fork, turn into 100% liquid fat before your eyes. Reader, I devoured them all.

Square-Sausage

Because I belong to Glasgow. My first twenty years were spent in dear old Glasgow town. This greatly surprises the people I meet in the parlours of the south, who assume that all Glaswegians sound like Billy Connolly humping a goat in Sauchiehall St on a wet Friday night.

It’s interesting how much people know about Glasgow, even people who’ve never been there. They know all about the Gorbals. And that European Capital of Culture thing (Glasgow followed Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris). And how this spurred a pavement cafe lifestyle that overnight replaced the razor gangs, much to the chagrin of the Daily Express. These days, Glasgow’s a cultural wonderland. Everyone knows about the glittering thread of art galleries and theatres and Lord Foster’s fabulous Armadillo auditorium darling. Glasgow’s Miles Better.

Bollocks. Glasgow’s Nothing Special. Every city in the UK has enjoyed a cultural renaissance in the past ten years, if by that you mean a multiplicity of multiplex cinemas, Niketowns and shiny anodyne arcades.

Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds have all had their architectures tickled recently. Where hasn’t? But one Harvey Nicols does not a city make.

Yes, yes. Where is all this heading?
See youz, you’ll see. Last week in Glasgow, I noted that for every sparkling Starbucks a grisly Poundland remains. Which has nothing to do with the credit crunch, it’s just the way UK cities are. Outside Central London, that is.

And it’s like that because for all the glinting steel and glass hotels, for all the doppio frappelattes that we suddenly can’t live without, regional cities and the people who live in them don’t really change.

Glasgow, for example, looks rubbish in sunshine. It was built for bad winters. And all Glaswegians are born with rain in their heart. They are immensely welcoming, they are hard-wired bigots, they are brilliant self-loathing comics. In other words, to use a uniquely Glasgwegian adjective, they are gallus. This has nothing to do with vanilla-flavoured coffee beans.

And how this relates to business is…?
The Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign that kick-started things in 1983 received international awards for its success in rebranding the city. But it only worked because it was authentic. Created by ad man John Struthers who returned from London to his native city, the campaign spoke in the language of Glasgow and – therefore – articulated something simple but genuine about the city back to its citizens.

Identity is not something you purchase, it’s something you grow. Companies who think they can buy branding off the shelf end up with manufactured pap.

Free advice?
Decline all invitations from management consultants and branding agencies to synthesise your corporate identity indicators into a customer-attractional communication paradigm. Don’t sit in boardrooms scratching your heads and scraping the barrel in search of your USP.

Just ask the post-room guy what he thinks. Involve a real cross-section of staff in open discussion groups, and you’ll soon hear all about your company culture. That’s ultimately what makes your customers buy, what differentiates you from the competition. If it’s not the story you were hoping for, you won’t change it without the active support of your people. And you won’t tell it convincingly if it’s not in their language.

Man walks intae a cake shop, says whit’s that in the windae, is that a cake or a meringue? Wee wifie says no ye’re right enough, it’s a cake.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember

All posts also at www.dinwoodie.net

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