We start this Sunday with a fairly straightforward question: where does Santa live? Leaving territorial disputes and Finnish brand-grabs aside, we can all agree that Santa lives at the North Pole. Right? He has other logistics set-ups around the world, of course, and Finns will argue that the pole is little more than a letterbox for intellectual property reasons as Santa’s real base is near the town of Rovaniemi. If you’re reading this in Ottawa or Oslo you might take a rather different view. Many children in Canada and Norway are taught that Santa, in fact, hails from the far north of their respective countries and that Finland has no legal claim to white beards, red get-ups, curly-toed boots or snorting reindeer. Which brings me to my first of a couple of seasonal messages: it matters where you come from.
Earlier this week I noticed that my various screens were being filled up with ads for a newish car brand whose name sounds like it could easily be part of Santa’s global conglomerate. On Tuesday that included a quite irritating takeover of the website of a favourite newspaper. At first I tried to ignore it but then decided to click through to see how this company was presenting itself to all those who might be in the market for some electric mobility.
The homepage was nice enough, the photography crisp yet rather chilly and here and there across the company’s site I was reminded of the clean credentials behind the brand. So far, so predictable. I pretended for a moment that I didn’t know much about this company (in case you hadn’t guessed it’s Polestar) and waded through multiple screens in its “About” section. Unlike Santa I had no idea where the company was based, who runs the show or how it got its start. The vehicles look nice enough but there was nothing on the design team or what happens in the studio. The further on I travelled the more I realised I could have been in any other direct-to-consumer website, where there’s lots of talk about sustainability, inclusion, diversity and all of the other essential buzzwords but very little in the way of real grit about the essence of the business.
At a time when every brand wants to do a bit of storytelling (a word I am working very hard to eradicate from Monocle) it’s surprising how many companies devote so much space to unpacking their stories and wind up saying very little. Should we pause here to consider why that might be? Why is it that you have to get to the “Contact Us” part of Polestar’s site to find out that it’s based in Gothenburg? And when I arrive at the site why am I not thanked for making the journey by someone resembling a chief customer officer or even a good old CEO? Could it be that too many digital frameworks are pure cut and paste, and designed only to be filled with content? Could it also be that too many companies don’t want to talk about provenance because there’s a belief that it doesn’t matter where you’re from so long as you pepper your story with enough of those buzzwords? And finally, why hasn’t anyone noticed how opaque all of this is in an era when we’re all supposed to be open, transparent and – all together now – inclusive.
For the record it does matter where you’re from, for myriad reasons. In part because we’re simply curious about the origins of the things that surround us. Does the question “where are you from?” not seem like an obvious one to tackle when telling your brand’s story? In part because it might open up a quicker channel to engage with a potential customer: “Oh, you’re sort of Swedish. I love Sweden. I have family from them there and I like listening to Neneh Cherry.”
If you’re a business owner thinking about your brand and the dreaded task of relaunching your website as you shift into 2021, consider this: do as Santa does and remember where you come from.