I was just about to make a positive remark about the attractive design on the cover of the document, when a colleague of the person whose department was responsible for putting the piece together blurted out, "Hey, Jim, the county's name is spelled wrong on the cover of your report."
You could have heard a pin drop as Jim (not his real name) flinched with embarrassment.
This scene unfolded during one of my branding workshops to a group of 20 county government leaders. It was at the point in my presentation when I gathered everyone around a large conference table to peer-review each other's printed materials. The purpose: To determine how well the materials reflected their respective departments' brands.
Was the error that was pointed out on the document a mere typo? Hardly. The document in question happened to be a financial report that was scheduled to be released to the public.
I saw a teachable moment.
Reassuring Jim that I wasn't trying to embarrass anyone but rather attempting to make a point, I asked the group, "If the county's name is misspelled on the cover of this document, how can we be guaranteed that the page after page of dollar figures inside are correct?"
In effect, the typo represented a breach in the trust Jim's department was trying so hard to restore under new leadership.
The episode reaffirmed what I had been telling the group from the outset; that there is nothing an organization can say or do that isn't a reflection on its brand, everything from how courteously its phones are answered, to whether or not staff is dressed appropriately, and, yes, even typos—especially if you're responsible for financial figures.
What the Public Perceives
The fact is the public picks up on all kinds of cues that provide them with insights—be they right or wrong—about who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why they should care, which I believe are the key questions any good brand must address.
Here's an example that demonstrates the other side of this coin.
The local affiliates of a former national client of mine operate thrift shops, which represent a significant portion of their annual local revenue streams. I had the good fortune to be asked to tour several of these facilities located in different parts of the country and to give my impression of what I saw.
In short, I was truly astounded by how neat, orderly, and well organized all of the thrifts were.
Things weren't piled on the floor, and shoppers weren't forced to rummage through boxes to find what they were looking for, as one might expect in a thrift shop. Rather, floor space was divided into attractive departments, some using iconic art work to let customers know which department they were in; the clothes were all neatly stacked or on racks, some attractively placed on mannequins; the furniture had all been restored and laid out as it might be in a high-end department store; the jewelry was all sorted and neatly displayed.
The message these shops implicitly conveyed to me was "If this organization is such a good steward of donated used clothing and furniture, it just might be paying the same kind of attention to detail with respect to the funds these thrifts bring in and the services it provides to its clients. This may be an organization I'd like to support."
Rightly or wrongly, perception is reality. And the perception this organization was tacitly conveying was "Trust us. We know what we're doing." A powerful—and desirable—brand message any organization would be happy to have.
The lesson: Pay attention to details. They matter when it comes to how people perceive your brand—namely who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why they should care!
Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2010, Checco Communications
Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and author of Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization. Larry is a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding.