Branding lessons from an old hometown
Two weeks ago I returned to my old hometown in Minnesota for the first time in 18 years. And I still can’t shake the obvious: change is constant. Whether we like it or are prepared for it or not.
I could only identify two stores along the three-block downtown that were there in my childhood. Most of the businesses appeared to be on life support. Further south from downtown a once modest commercial stretch reminded me of an abandoned cowboy town. Only the tumbleweed was missing. My high school had been leveled and rebuilt on the north edge of town. My parent’s last and once-proud home, across from the school, stood lifeless. And the downtown store my dad started in 1948 and sold in 1980 is teetering on the verge of going out of business. Perhaps the hardest change of all to swallow.
Little about my hometown seemed as I remembered it, except the pretty lake at its center. It hadn’t died as a community. It only felt that way. So much that anchored my memories of growing up there has now disappeared, if not physically, then emotionally. I told my wife the last morning we were there, I’m not sure I will ever have the need or desire to return.
Business is never usual
As I write this post, the Occupy Wall Street movement remains in full force, joined by Occupy Portland and dozens of other Occupy camps across the country. Who knows what will become of their protests. Something positive, I hope. Regardless of the outcomes, there’s no going back to business as usual. BAU, as I have seen it referred to elsewhere, is a myth. Nothing ever just sits, immune to the one thing we can’t change: the constancy of change itself.
After nearly two decades away, I could see the etchings of change all over the community that raised me through high school. As much as I wanted it to still be the Mayberry of my memories, that community is long gone. Replaced by something different. And if I return in 18 years, it will be that much different again.
Wiser people than me long ago recognized that all that exists is this moment, right now and now and now. The past is gone, the future not here yet. I have made a career out of marketing and communications. That means telling stories. Sometimes the stories of returning to the way things once were. Other times imagining a future yet to be. What feels in short supply are the stories of delight with what it is now, today, in this moment.
Branding in the moment
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon sang. Is it any different for a business or a brand? We make plans to celebrate the past. And we make plans to dominate the future. But what about now? What are we doing and experiencing as an organization today? And what about our customers, employees, markets, competitors? Are we attached to relationships and conditions as they once were or obsessed with a future that may never arrive?
Or are we finding ways to share the pleasures that today brings with the stakeholders that help our business prosper? I’m not saying it’s easy, but I’m pretty sure the business, the brand, the person that accepts change and stays awake to the opportunities present in any given moment is the most satisfied of all.
And right now, I suspect some young boy is riding his bicycle around my hometown lake, oblivious to all but the red autumn leaves blowing across his path.