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Two Words That Make or Break a Brand

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Click Here to read this "Guest Mindsetter" article online!
Click Here to read this “Guest Mindsetter” article online!

Wow! This past week in Rhode Island has been “cooler” than normal! Although the whipping wind has certainly put a bit of a chill in the air, I am referring to Rhode Islander’s reaction to our state’s newly proposed logo and slogan: Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer.

I must admit, I have been a bit obsessed with reading-up, listening-in or watching critique after critique slamming the ambiguity of the slogan; what does it really mean and are the words too passive? The logo itself, created by iconic designer of the “I Heart NY” logo Milton Glaser, has been compared to a logo created on Microsoft Publisher and other less sophisticated graphic design programs.

The story get’s worse! The new campaign website was riddled with non-factual information including highlighting famed Al Forno Chef George Germon, who passed away in 2015. Need I add insult-to-injury and mention our lovely promotional video that contained a stock image from Iceland. Yes, Iceland. But don’t worry, we were assured that the skateboarder in front of the modern building is a Rhode Islander!

This week, in Rhode Island anyway, our new Marketing campaign “trumps” the current political campaign.

As in every mistake or misunderstanding or whatever you want to call this flawed Marketing campaign, there is always a teachable-moment. The lesson circles around 2 crucial words to consider when brand and image building: Intention versus Interpretation.

Allow me to elaborate; Intention is loosely defined as the act of doing something consciously for a desired result. As someone who prefers to look at life as the glass-half-full, I believe we more often than not have “good intentions.”

Growing up, my Great Aunt Evelyn was a thorn in my side. She corrected my every etiquette step, seat or bite I took. She often firmly directed: “Put your napkin on your lap, do not cross your legs when you sit, speak slowly and clearly.” As a young girl, I completely misinterpreted her intentions. Her desire to make me appreciate the art of being proper (which turned out to be one of my key convictions today!) was lost each time she forced me to eat tuna mixed with lime Jell-O! “You must always try the food placed in front of you!” She would command. Yucky yes, except now I coach my clients that very point! Who knew!

Interpretation is like Aunt Evelyn, always letting us know when our clients, prospects and/or colleagues approve or disapprove of your idea or action. It’s other’s perceptions or their reality. That perception is what determines whether your business or you are trusted and hired or tossed aside for the next best option.

The new RI Tourism Marketing campaign is a classic example of good intentions being whole-heartedly (by a large number of citizens in our state) misinterpreted. The credibility and integrity of this campaign was doomed at the gate.

Here are a few of the many reasons why:

  1. Next Time Keep It Local: Former RI Tourism Marketing Chief Betsy Wall (a resident of Massachusetts), hired a New Yorker to capture the heart and essence of Rhode Island in our logo and slogan. She also hired a Massachusetts firm to create the new website. Why not source these in Rhode Island? To enlist buy-in to an idea or project, look to build relationships and trust from within your local community, in this case Fellow-Rhode Islanders. It’s harder to garner buy-in to an idea when the target audience is not incorporated into the decision making process. Rhode Islanders possess a unique sense of nostalgia and pride for their state. Wall’s campaign strategy and state-wide negative reactions after its launch, left many questioning our Chief Brand-Building Officer’s loyalty and credibility. As expected, Ms. Wall’s “Personal Brand” was quite tarnished and thus she resigned. Beware, this could easily happen to your personal or corporate brand too.
  2. Ambiguous Slogan: Using the passive words in our slogan, Cooler & Warmer, left a “than what? “or “huh?” taste in many mouths. Cardinal rule – if you have to explain your logo and slogan and others still do not understand it, please take a step back, interpret the feedback from your target audience and try again!
  3. Investment in our future? Tax-payers perceive the hiring of out-of-state resources for this historic project as yet another shining example of Rhode Island’s misappropriation of funds. A concerted effort to repair and rebuild their trust (keeping in mind an up-hill battle) needs to take center-stage above all else. Credits from the vendors alone is not enough. The next phase of slogan creation must include the ideas from within.

One really cool result of this entire process, are the truly amazing and creative alternative ideas that went viral on social media. Two stand out for me. Both local designers, Missy Hardesty and Karen Jiminez Elliott.

The next time you build a Marketing Campaign, Sales Strategy or look for ways to build stronger brand loyalty and trust among your clients, ask the questions why are you building this strategy and how will this impact my audience? Remember, perception is reality.

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