Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Branded

Of all the things I dislike about my job, there is one little nuisance that consistently hits the top of my list. My name badge. Every company I have worked for in the past has offered two choices when it comes to displaying your badge: 1. A cloth cord that you wear around your neck (also known as a lanyard) or 2. One of those small clips that attaches to your pocket or the waistband of your pants.

I have always been partial to the clips. They are less intrusive and you can change the placement depending on what you are wearing on any given day. Unfortunately, the Company only offers one option. The Official Company Logo Lanyard. Every day as I walk into the building, I put on my lanyard and instantly feel like a deflated balloon. It just hangs there like a noose around my neck.

There are two things that bother me about the lanyard badge. First, it itches the back of my neck, which makes it really uncomfortable. But more importantly, every time I put it on I am gently reminded that the Company owns me for the next eight hours. As soon as I get into my office I usually tear it off and toss it onto my desk, where it sits until I have to leave for a meeting. Inevitably, at least once a week I forget to grab it on my way out the door and barely catch myself before I am stuck in the hallway with no way to get back in.

As if the Logo Lanyards aren't enough to remind us who distributes our paychecks, this week is "Brand Awareness Week" at the Company. So each day, I receive a message in my in box to help me learn more about how I can support our brand. The first message was about e-mail signature lines and how everyone needs to use the standard template from our website. These templates are so specific they even include the proper format for your telephone number. (In case you are wondering, using parentheses around the area code is frowned upon.)

The next day's message focused on consistency in voice mail greetings. There is a standard voice mail greeting that we must use: Thank you for calling [the Company]. You have reached [Your Name]. Please leave a message and I will return your call promptly.

I find it interesting how we need to say the Company's name first, then our own name. As if the person is really calling to talk to the Company and we are all just hundreds of interchangeable human answering devices that happen to pick up the phone on its behalf.

Apparently, the Company can charge outrageous margins and run three months late on database implementations but as long as we have the proper greeting on our voice mail messages, all will be forgiven. The ironic thing is that one of the core values of the Company is respecting diversity. Yet their entire branding approach is designed to ensure that all of our communications are devoid of any individual personality or style.

The Company is a global corporate giant, which is mostly the result of hundreds of mergers and acquisitions over the years. Many of these acquisitions started as small companies that were led by people with passion and integrity. Once these small companies had attained a certain level of success, the Company purchased them and subsequently eradicated all of the unique attributes that made them successful in the first place. All in the name of branding.

Meanwhile, in my real life I have also been dealing with the concept of branding. My sister is starting a new company that sells t-shirts for toddlers and kids. It has become a shared vision among the women in my family with each of us taking on various roles to help my sister. For example, I have been working on the marketing strategy. We are all hoping that someday this company will take off and we will be able to quit our day jobs and work together.

These past few evenings, I have been sitting at the computer in my robe and writing my sister's marketing plan. Even though we have lots of great ideas about what we stand for, it is harder than you might think to write the words that define your brand. I am discovering that the real power of the brand is how it makes you feel without anyone saying a word. We need to capture good feelings and transfer those onto our customers. That is what will make them want to buy our products.

And I think we are on our way to doing just that. If the level of excitement and energy that we have created around this concept in the past few weeks is any indication, then we are headed for an unprecedented success. Despite our busy day jobs and our hectic home lives, we all come together on the e-mail each night and brainstorm ideas for new t-shirt designs, website content and distribution channels. We are working towards a common goal that we all believe in. It started with my sister. And her inspiration is contagious.

We all have our own brand identity as individuals. And we want to be able to freely express ourselves, even within the context of the workplace. To me, there is something wrong when a company needs to be so strict about enforcing its brand standards. Of course there are practical measures that all employees must follow, but beyond that I think it's better to allow some room for interpretation and self-expression. If the employees truly understand and respect what their company stands for, then their actions will represent it accordingly.

This afternoon I was walking back into the building after lunch and I saw a guy in the parking lot with one hand in his pocket and a vanilla soft serve ice cream cone in the other hand. He reminded me of my seven year old nephew, wandering up towards the building licking that ice cream cone. I wondered if he was at all concerned about the Company's brand image. Did he have the appropriate e-mail signature or was he one of those daring individuals who used parentheses around his area code?

I was intrigued that someone could enjoy such a lighthearted moment while walking into such a hostile and suffocating environment. Unfortunately, he arrived at the elevators just ahead of me and by the time I got there the doors had closed. I will never know what floor the Ice Cream Guy worked on, but I am certain that he could not have finished that cone on the elevator. Which means that somewhere deep within the gray cubicle walls of the Company he was walking around eating that ice cream cone. And that gives me hope.

I am done being branded by the Company. The more time I spend working on my sister's company, the more I realize that I am ready for a different life. It's time to create our own brand. One that represents the things we believe in: honesty, simplicity, freedom and grace. And we won't need lanyards to display our name badges, because everyone at our company already knows who we are.

1 comment:

AG said...

Quick update to this post. I always take my badge off as soon as I leave the building. Yesterday I was out to lunch at Subway and I ran into one of our corporate attorneys. She says to me "Hey, why don't you have your leash on?" That is the perfect description for those stupid lanyards!