Sometime near the end of seventh grade I got my first report card with all As. This had never happened before because of my abysmal performance in phys. ed. It would never happen again because along with pimples and puberty, eighth grade introduced me to the Pythagorean theorem. Algebra and trigonometry became the bane of my educational experience from then on. But on that spring day the planets aligned and I brought home my first (and last) ever perfect report card.
Of course my parents were pleased that I was doing the right thing. They made a fuss and promised we’d go to my favorite restaurant on Miami Beach to celebrate.
But I thought doing the right thing was worth more.
I patiently explained to my mom and dad that my buddy Alan got $10 for every A he brought home and based on that scale my folks owed me 60 bucks. I even thought there should be a bonus added for my perfect score.
My dad stared at me like I was a green-headed Martian. He explained to me that not only wasn’t I going to be paid for my grades but that he was stunned that anyone would be paid extra for doing the right thing. As he made very clear, “you’re supposed to get good grades. That’s what you do. You go to school, you do your homework, and you get good grades.”
“Sure” he continued “we’re proud of you and we’ll celebrate your accomplishment. But you’re not going to be compensated for doing the right thing.”
As my parents saw it, you shouldn’t need instructions or incentives, you should simply do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
Imagine that. No explanation necessary. No divine intervention offered. No promise of a heavenly afterlife or threats of eternal damnation. No equivocating. No shades of gray. Just black and white. Just right and wrong.
There’s no question of how right and wrong is actually defined. Good grades are good. Bad grades are bad. No ifs, ands or buts. It is what it is. We all know the rules, we all understand what’s expected, we’re all on the same page. We are all supposed to be doing the right thing.
It might not seem so but this single-minded attitude is not only great parenting but also great branding. When practiced properly and consistently, great brands establish identities that are understandable, aspirational, and stand the test of time.
State Farm has been “like a good neighbor” since Barry Manilow wrote the jingle in 1971 (Yes, THAT Barry Manilow.).
BMW has been the “ultimate driving machine” since the early seventies. The company confirmed their positioning in a recent TV ad that says, “We don’t make sports cars. We don’t make SUVs. We don’t make hybrids. We don’t make luxury sedans. We only make one thing. The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
From his very first store in 1962, Sam Walton’s philosophy was “Always low prices.” Still is.
Volvo stands for safety.
Porsche stands for performance.
Ferrari stands for impressing young women at nightclubs.
It’s this understanding of – and commitment to – a company’s authentic truth that makes branding such a powerful force. And not only does it make it easy for your customers to understand what to expect, it also tells your employees how they should act in almost any situation.
Doing the right thing works for brands. And it works for parenting, too.