Friday, June 18, 2010

How well do you know your own brand?

If you think the answer is a no-brainer, I challenge you to think again. I’ll go so far as to bet the real answer is: not even close to well enough.

I see it time and again… and, as a business owner, I can personally relate. When you are living the day-to-day, it is nearly impossible to have a clear view of what outsiders (a.k.a. potential customers) think of your company or your brand. The bad news: you are likely too close to possibly have an unbiased view. The good news: oft-times, the public’s view of your brand is far better than what you imagine.

I am thinking about this concept in large part because Miamore Communications just wrapped up StyleWeek Providence. For those in Rhode Island or New England, you already know what this event was: the biggest fashion week the region has ever seen. For those outside of the Northeast: StyleWeek Providence was a year-long labor of love. The StyleWeek concept was founded by Miamore’s Senior Vice President Rosanna Ortiz Sinel last spring. Sinel and I met sometime around July, 2009; she told me the basic idea; I fell in love, and off we went… on a dream and a prayer and, most importantly, faith.

The result was a 7-day event that occurred last week, with 14 fashion runway shows for buyers and the press, and nightly after parties for the public. Each show was packed to capacity. The media came out in droves… 2 front page stories in the Providence Journal in one week, daily coverage on the Rhode Show (Rhode Island’s version of “Good Morning America”), an evening news hit on the state’s largest network affiliate, coverage in the region’s premiere business newspaper, and endless blog entries from Rhode Island, Boston, New York, Connecticut, and beyond.

Am I fluffing our own feathers? Perhaps a bit, but that’s not the reason for this post. The point: every time, in the past year, I mentioned the idea to my New York friends, they unanimously responded with something to the effect of: “Perfect! Providence is such a fantastic little city. So much culture! Such a design legacy! Great food! Fabulous places to see!” Those thoughts are precisely why Rosanna (most recently a Bostonian) and me (a long-time New Yorker) knew Providence was the perfect spot for a fashion week. Locally, however, when initially approaching local “bigwigs” and the regional press, we found, well, alternately crickets and “in our state? No. Way” as a response.

In the past week, however, we’ve seen not only the media but—most gratifying—local skeptics reeling. One Rhode Island resident posted on StyleWeek’s Facebook page about how proud she was now to live and work in Providence. Good stuff! Would this fashion/design aficionado have said that a year ago? I doubt it. Why? Because she was too close to it and didn’t understand the power of her own “brand” (in this scenario: her city), so she didn’t quite believe her town (or: brand) was what she’d hoped it could be.

And, so, I return to my original point… do you know your own brand? Do you know what "outsiders" think of it? Or are you so caught up in the mundane that you lose perspective? I’d wager most small businesses trend toward the latter answer (I know I do). So, I offer the StyleWeek Providence example as evidence of the importance of stepping back, looking at yourself with fresh eyes, and listening to the perspective of “outsiders”. Had Rosanna and the team, as Providence “outsiders” a year ago, not understood the potential of this great little city, we’d likely have given in to skeptics, abandoned the dream, and StyleWeek would never have happened.

So… what are the “outsiders” in your realm thinking about your brand? Please: stop and think about it. Ask around. Because, more often than not, it takes on “outsider’s” voice to make you hear what you always knew about your brand, but didn’t really believe.

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