Have you ever been witness to the Pocket Pat? When it’s done well, it’s a thing of beauty, lemme tell you. I was invited to lunch by a guy I’ll call Lloyd. He’s a successful local businessman and pretty wired into the goings-on in South Florida. When the bill came for our lunch, Lloyd made a flourish of snatching the check from the waiter and announced that it was his treat. He snapped open the restaurant’s little vinyl folder, examined the charge, and reached for his billfold. That’s when I witnessed the Pocket Pat as performed by a master.
Lloyd looked up at me with a look of abject horror as he went through the motions of patting down each of the pockets in his suit. “I must have left my billfold on my dresser at home,” he said. “I’m so sorry. It was my treat.”
“Was” clearly was the key word. I picked up the check and handed the waiter my credit card.
Months later, Lloyd called me to get together for lunch again. Now I might be crazy but I’m not stupid, and I really didn’t relish getting together with him and watching the Pocket Pat again. After all, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice — well, you know what happens then.
But before I could beg off, Lloyd reminded me that he owed me lunch from the last time and it was his treat. He’d be sure to remember his wallet. Okay, so maybe I was wrong. Maybe he really did forget his wallet. I forget things all the time. It could happen to anyone.
Near the end of the meal, Lloyd answered a call on his cellphone. After listening to the phone for a minute or so, his face drained of all color and contorted in pain. “Oh my God, I’ll be right there,” he said as he hung up.
The he mumbled something about having to attend to an emergency while he absentmindedly reached into his pocket and threw a bill on the table as he ran off.
When I finally looked down I found a dollar bill laying there. “He must have meant to leave more,” I thought, “but was clearly distracted. An honest mistake.”
I paid the other 27 bucks.
Stupidly, I agreed to have lunch with him again a few months later. Not because I wanted to pay a third time, but because I needed to ask him about a particular piece of business that he was privy to. Plus, I figured he’d already exhausted his bag of tricks and wouldn’t dare try to shaft me again.
But you know what they say about fighting with a pig — in a word, don’t. They’ll just pull you down to their level and cover you with mud. Plus, the pig enjoys it.
This time I was in a hurry and told Lloyd, who I was now referring to as Pocket Pat (just not to his face) that I had a hard stop at 12:50 and would have to leave then. We picked a cash-only Cuban restaurant near my office. Service was slow and we didn’t get done until almost 1:00, so when the $17 bill came I was really in a hurry. Pocket Pat again made a flourish of pulling out his billfold, but wouldn’t you know it, all he had was a hundred. Well, we could always wait for the waiter to get change (did I mention that I was now 15 minutes late?). I threw a twenty on the table and rushed off to my next meeting.
So why am I telling you all this? Is it because I enjoy telling people I like and respect that I’m a chump? Hardly.
The point of this blog is to talk about branding and Pocket Pat has certainly developed his own brand. After all, as Dov Seidman writes in his book How, “How you do anything is how you do everything,” and needless to say, I’m not the only one Pocket Pat has snookered. As my former partner Phil Schwartz used to say, “If they’ve screwed you, they’ve screwed everyone else.” And being the gossipy little biatches we are, we all talk about it. So Pocket Pat is known around town as a conniving deadbeat.
You see, brands are created whether you decide to build them carefully and compulsively or do nothing at all and just let them develop. The problem is, you only have so much control over what people think of your brand to begin with. And if you’re not scrupulously managing your messaging and activities, you’re abdicating responsibility to lots of forces outside your control, many of which are eager to see you fail — or at least laugh at you behind your back.
Saab didn’t control their brand. Instead of consistently standing for something emotional and focused, they kept grasping at straws and searching for meaning. What happened? While their Swedish countrymen, Volvo, became one of the most profitable European brands in the United States, Saab has been passed from hand to hand and may or may not be out of business by the time you read this.
Sarah Palin didn’t control her brand. Given the opportunity to run for one of the most powerful and prestigious offices in the world, she didn’t do her homework and prepare for news interviews. Instead she watched her public persona dwindle from superstar to question mark to laughing stock. Sure, she built a name for herself and put some money in the bank, but at what cost?
Puerto Rico didn’t control its brand. Once one of the most desirable tropical tourist destinations in the world, years of inconsistent messaging and an island-wide obsession with the Statehood vs. Commonwealth fight has eroded the brand so thoroughly that the Dominican Republic — still arguably a Third World country — has eaten PR’s lunch, fufu and all.
Like Pocket Pat, all these brands lost market share because their actions were not in lockstep with their messaging and chipped away at their marketability. As we’ve said many times before in this blog, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy who you are.” And if the who you are does not present people with a consistent and compelling image of what’s in it for them, they probably won’t buy at all.