Let me get this out there right away: I hate mission statements.
Whether we’re talking about mission statements, vision, or some other business-school textbook buzzword, they’re all pretty similar. These statements should define the brand. In other words, they should provide a nice little explanation of the brand.
I hate them because they are almost always immense letdowns.
I recognize how these things are tackled: by a committee. Since such entities are intrinsically political, you end up with equivocal blocks of copy that don’t communicate anything. They don’t read well, and so they don’t affect the organization.
Language aside, I hate mission statements because they’re often ignored—or at least stepped around when convenient. I think that the most powerful thing a brand can do is be genuine. Whatever you decide the brand stands for, do that. Live and breathe those qualities in every way you can. And most of all, be genuine at the cost of a dollar.
I’m not arguing for the abandonment of economics. I’m saying that when a brand is confronted with making a choice between being genuine or making a profit, it pays off to be genuine.
Your mission statement doesn’t mean anything until it costs you money.
The Alamo Drafthouse is an independent cinema chain in Texas that has a strict “no talking, no texting” policy. Recently a customer was ejected from the theatre (no refund was given) for repeatedly texting during the movie despite warnings. She called and left a long, rambling NSFW message detailing her experience. And then things took an awesome turn:
The theatre has turned it into a commercial!
It helps that the patron doesn’t come across very well, so she’s easy to dislike. The theatre pulls off this execution brilliantly.
You can’t watch it and not love the vibe you get from the theatre. A quick perusal of its Wikipedia page suggests that the cinema does a lot of other really interesting things to build the culture around its brand, and to separate itself from the competition. I would love to visit these guys—they seem to really have things figured out.
I stumbled across this photo, and it made me chuckle. While whoever created the sign obviously had a sense of humour, I’m always amazed at how many organizations communicate with really poor English. My rule of thumb is that regardless of how “hip” you want your brand to be, always use full and proper English in all of your communications.
At the Pica 2011 conference in Banff last month, I met an interesting man who was about to graduate from the UofA with a double major in industrial design and graphic design. We got along really well, talking for a couple of hours about how people think about a brand. Some of the most famous and well-liked brands have designed the entire experience—from end to end. I think that companies that really get things right design a very consistent and genuine experience.
Many brands, however, overlook the details, the touchpoints that really shape how the brand is perceived. The most influential touchpoints tend to get the least amount of attention. And it’s a shame, really.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, but there are so few examples in my day-to-day life of brands getting this truly right. I was really tickled by this overview of a kindergarten in Japan though. These architects didn’t just built a new school, but stopped to consider the experience that the students would have. I love seeing this kind of work from innovative architects.
Look at it. Just look at it. The SR-71 aircraft still makes me stare in slack-jawed wonder (and I’ve seen an F-117 in person).
Beautifully designed things can remain fresh-looking for incredibly long periods of time, if they’re truly exceptional. The SR-71, designed in the early 1960s by Kelly Johnson, is just one example. It was so fantastic of a design that twenty years later it still “inspired” many comic book imitations (X-Men, Transformers, and GI Joe, off the top of my head).
There are some other classic designs that really stand up over time:
The Barcelona Chair, designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1929 for the World’s Fair.
I came across this image a while ago, and it made me chuckle. I took a similar picture (albeit without the clever sign) a few years ago at my old office. The new phone books were delivered, and everyone was sort of nonplussed about the whole event. These giant books don’t mean much anymore, but no one is quite sure what to do with them. The volumes sat in a pile outside of every office for a few days before people started bringing them in because they looked bad just sitting in the hallway.
I recently spoke to a client about her ad in the phone book. She pays about $600/month, which is pretty small for the Yellow Pages but still got her the largest ad in her section. I challenged her to measure how many new clients she gets from this listing, so she tracked the numbers for three months. She found that she received, on average, about 3 new clients a month from the Yellow Pages. Each client brought in about $80. Therefore, she was spending $600 a month to get $240 of business. What was her number one source of new clients? People seeing her building or pylon signage.
Dropping Yellow Pages ads may not be for every business, but it’s certainly worth looking into.
A really clever little spot for XXXX (company name removed so as not to spoil the twist). This is the kind of fun work that inspires people to get into the industry. The kind of work that makes people in the industry shake their head at and say “I wish my clients would let me do work like that.”
Today I bumped into an old business associate while shopping at Costco with my family. I haven’t seen or heard from him in over three years, though I still receive his weekly emails that I can’t seem to unsubscribe from.
Our conversation centered on three main points:
He’s not busy.
He wants to know if I have any work I could send his way.
Maybe if I send him some work, he’ll reciprocate.
This would not build a strong business relationship! While relationships should be quid pro quo, it’s imperative that they’re genuine. Do you want work (or anything else) from me? Then take an interest in me. Put me in your debt. Be a nice person, genuinely. Make me like you.
Do not imply that if things don’t turn around for you soon, you’ll have to sell your house.
Last night I ran into a colleague in the ad industry, and she told me this story.
On May 16, 2011, a wildfire tore through the town of Slave Lake, Alberta. One-third of the city was destroyed. Fortunately, no one was reported hurt.
My friend thought that one of her clients, a home builder who does a lot of business in the Slave Lake area, should do something simple to help the people of Slave Lake. She came up with a great plan to have the client set up donation boxes at show homes across the province. It seemed like a real win-win-win for all: It would be easy to set up, wouldn’t cost much, would get the client some additional traffic into the show homes, and would help people affected by the tragedy.
The client scoffed, however. “We don’t want to be associated with tragedy,” my friend was told.