Posted by: kwbrand | July 17, 2008

Accidental Branding: A Mistake You Can’t Afford to Make


I live in Colorado Springs. And, God I love this town. The sun shines on 300 days of the year which means we have sunshine immediately after cozy snowstorms, as the leaves turn and after the mountain rainstorms that make the flowers bloom. Colorado Springs is located squarely at the base of Pike’s Peak and I can get on my bike and be in the mountains in 20 minutes. People are healthier and more active in Colorado Springs than many cities in the US. This city is small enough to feel like you know people but big enough to have a solid economic base and cultural options.

Recently, however, I noticed that when I tell people I’m from Colorado Springs, I’m often met with silence and a little suspicion. A few of the more intrepid souls have clarified their reaction by asking the follow up question: So is Colorado Springs really as conservative as it seems?

Ah yes, Colorado Springs and conservativism. We’ve got all the popular signs of “conservative” values. During the 2007 Patrick’s Day parade, I stood on the curb with fellow residents and watched as people marching under a banner of “Peace” were literally dragged off by police as some of the bystanders yelled things like: “If you want peace, move to Boulder.” We’ve got two active and growing military bases and the US Air Force Academy. We’ve got Focus on the Family and its vocal leader Dr. Jim Dobson. We’ve got New Life Church, which used to have Ted Haggard until he was outed by gay escort Mike Jones. 

All of this begs the question: Do all Colorado Springs residents support a conservative evangelical, pro-war , traditional family values agenda? No, of course not. I live in the downtown area where the average neighborhood leans to the left. We’ve got pinko-commie liberals just like any other town. But Colorado Springs is the perfect example of what happens when an entity neglects to purposefully brand itself.  We, as a city, have come to be known as the hyper conservative town because we’ve got big, squeaky wheels getting a bunch of press as the rest of us are busily going about our neutral lives and yet we find it a little stunning when we’re lumped in with the ad hoc reputation that has been created about this city and by extension, its people.

Here’s how it happens. With few notable exceptions (Here’s to you, Lakota and Mary and Lyn), most business leaders see brand marketing as optional, something best accomplished with as few resources as possible. Large organizations approach it in a disorganized and often decentralized process. Small organizations are so busy putting out fires that they don’t have the time or energy to strategically think about their identity. But here’s the thing: you are building a brand whether or not you pay any attention to it. The human brain requires categories in which to organize information and when none is provided, it looks for clues of its own. The lack of a purposefully directed brand does not mean that your organization doesn’t have a brand. It does, it’s probably just a collection of impressions, experiences and hearsay that may or may not be true and may or may not (often not) position your organization to meaningfully stand out from competitors in a positive way. The rest of the United States doesn’t have the time or interest to really get to know Colorado Springs, so they take what they’re given and form over-simplified impressions.

I think that rather than letting its brand be something that just happens to it, the city of Colorado Springs should do a better job of taking control and steering its identity.

What about your organization?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

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Responses

  1. Brands are such a funny thing. Some organizations see them as optional, and then some like Tropicana invest millions and blow it by messing with a brand that’s working. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/business/media/23adcol.html). So once you have a brand, do you mess with it?

    I wrote an article thinking about how online brands get created, especially since organizations are starting to turn over their online brand to all employees (through things like Facebook Fan Pages and Twitter). The brand becomes made of of things like:

    1. Speed of responsiveness
    2. Tone of voice
    3. Coolness
    4. Content

    There are many others. Original article – http://brooks.cloudprofile.com/1805/2009/07/23/brand-wisdom-from-a-5-year-old.html


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