Archive for August, 2010

We had been struggling with our dishwasher for a while. Plates, forks and knives came out dull (and not at all clean and shiny the way they were supposed to). It really is a major pain in the neck. I don’t know about you, but with these kind of things I always feel it’s my own damned fault – for not rinsing the plates properly, for not using the right kind of soap, for not adding enough salt (or using the right kind of salt), dishwasher rinse, water hardness settings and what not. You get the picture.

It’s one of those things in life where you really have to rely on an expert, although in the past I have always felt somewhat at loss with dishwasher service technicians – not that we’ve had a steady flow of them – but I’ve always felt they either didn’t give a toss about me as a customer, just wanted to get the job done and out the door as soon as possible or needed to charge me an outrageous fee for something they couldn’t even bother explaining to me.

In the end we had to call Bosch (the manufacturer) and so we set up an appointment. And this is where I was taken by surprise. I’d expected the usual anonymous, know-it-all, couldn’t-care-less kind of chap, but instead this real pro showed up. I won’t bother you with all the technical details, but let me say this: After 20 minutes I felt like an expert. I really rarely come across the kind of person who displays such pride and commitment in his job – in a genuine, not over-the-top kind of way. While he was working, he explained to me about the latest generation of low-energy dishwashers, properties of different types of soaps, the workings of salt, the importance of rinsing and dishwasher life expectancies. In the end I started to feel a bit emotional towards our 6 year old dishwasher…

Anyway, the message is this: The service technician, by simply enjoying and being proud of his work, had a dramatic, positive influence on my perception of Bosch, his employer. In fact, if you asked me right now, I wouldn’t dream of buying another brand, which brings me to my last point: A great company brand is a result of a great company culture, which in turn produces inspired employees, who wow customers. You really can’t fake it.

Oh, and by the way, the dishwasher runs like a Rolls-Royce now!

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Those of you who have to listen to me every day or several times a week know that my conviction is that your culture is your brand. It’s one of the cornerstones of the world’s most celebrated online companies, Zappos, it’s the foundation of Chip Conley‘s boutique hotel chain, Joie de Vivre, and it permeates all the great business minds that I know of.

Yet, for so many years it’s largely been a forgotten virtue. Companies, organizations and cities have talked about rebranding themselves as if your brand is a coat you can buy, wear and discard at your convenience. Many companies have tried and failed.

I recently wrote a post about a local ferry company, Mols-Linien, who, in their 2009 annual report, announced the biggest advertising spending ever to “rebrand” the company in order to become more profitable. The advertising campaign had nothing to do with their culture (and actually ended up insulting a large population group – which is another good story). At the peak of the national television campaign a famous TV chef decided to test the restaurant on board one of the ferries and gave it one of the most appalling reviews I have ever come across (and 95% of all online readers agreed). The food was ridiculously expensive and the quality abysmal. When I investigated further into the company, I found that the ferry company just happened to be hiring chefs for their restaurants at sea – and alarmingly I realized that chefs, among very few requirements, had to have experience with just basic cooking and have a high stress threshold. Imagine that: Unskilled chefs cooking, under stress, with sub-standard ingredients at Michelin star prices. No wonder why the restaurants weren’t doing too well – and it also gave me a pretty good impression of the type of company culture (or lack thereof) you’d find on board one of those ferries.

The case of Copenhagen
Now, this is really just leading up to the real purpose of this post: The case of Copenhagen (you know, the venue of last year’s failed climate summit, the home of The Little Mermaid, at least when she’s not abroad visiting China, and Tivoli Gardens – you get the picture).

Last year, The Danish tourist council, VisitDenmark, decided to launch a covert branding campaign (you know where this is going, right?). They hired a young Danish actress and shot a 3-minute amateur video, in which the actress pretended to be Karen, a young single mother. The video was put on YouTube and in it Karen explained that this was her last resort trying to find the father of her baby son (featuring on her lap), who was conceived with a stranger (a foreigner) on a hot summer’s night in Copenhagen. Not surprisingly, within a very short space of time the video had generated several million hits and at first people were debating the authenticity of the video and soon after who was behind the stunt. Well, within days it was revealed that VisitDenmark was the culprit and that’s when the criticism started – both in Denmark and in several other countries.

The idea was to generate traffic and attract visitors by portraying Denmark as a country with liberal, open-minded, blond people, but instead Denmark came across naive and silly (at best). Shortly after VisitDenmark removed the video from YouTube, they closed all related websites and made an official apology. The video shown above is therefore a pirate version with much fewer hits than the original.

Wearing my your-culture-is-your-brand hat I would have to conclude that the campaign had to fail (if not instantly from the criticism, then at least longer term from the fact that it was a fairly lame fake that didn’t represent what you’ll find in Copenhagen).

Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes
The contrasting video (below) by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Jr. was filmed during the Velo-City 2010 conference in Copenhagen in June 2010 and released in July 2010. It wasn’t sponsored by or paid for by anyone. It’s there because of Copenhagen’s unique cycling culture. No more, no less.

The contrast to VisitDenmark’s Karen video is striking and it begs the rhetorical question: Does it make sense to spend your money and efforts on a branding effort or on creating and developing a unique culture? You see, the same rules apply to companies, organizations, politicians – and cities.

Read the growing number of comments on Streetfilms.org.