Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

1 April 2013

As some semblance of financial stability returns to parts of the world hit hard by the financial crisis, first-time entrepreneurs and established investors are tip-toeing off the sidelines and setting about with new business ventures with a surprising sense of optimism. From charming hotels and crafty restaurants, smart retail operations both big and small, new businesses seem to be sprouting up around us with hopes of carving out their niche in long-battered, yet resilient consumer markets. And now, perhaps more than ever, businesses seem bound and determined to sell potential customers on their brand story. In other words, who are we and why is our business different (and hopefully better) than the guys down the street? What makes us unique? And what can we offer you that you’ve been missing for so long?

This sort of storytelling in its most basic form is indeed an essential part of explaining why people should open their wallets for you. If you’re a bricks and mortar shop, you’ll probably tell us that you’re all about service, filling some sort of gap in the market, perhaps you’ve even got a “well-curated” selection of products that everyone seems to be clamoring about. And if you’re a hotel, it’s safe to assume service is paramount in the pecking order of your mission statement. You’re probably also focused on quality food and drink, good design and a general focus on making sure guests feel at ease. Regardless of what business you’re in, it’s safe to assume you’ve gone to great personal lengths to envision your operational points of pride, and you’ve likely paid some talented advisers a hefty sum to help you craft the language to help customers better understand what you’re all about. These, of course, are necessary things to consider, well before opening the doors of your new venture.

But it seems too often, crafting this sort of identity comes without any sense of commitment from those who tell the story. In other words, you set about telling what sets your business apart but fail to live up to the standards. To give an example, I was recently in a small, independent clothing shop here in New York. I’d read a good bit about the shop’s focus on service and its promise of a smart product selection, all before popping by for my first visit. Sadly, when I entered the doors of this much-lauded new establishment, I wasn’t given more than a split-second glance before a few employees returned to their computer screen, on which they were probably watching a YouTube video about a baby monkey riding on the back of a pig. Or at least that’s what I imagined, given their hysterical laughter and unwillingness to acknowledge my presence in the shop. What was that they’d promised about service? Hmmm. As I walked around the shop, I thumbed through a handful of truly nice garments, but couldn’t help notice they seemed to resemble the same things I’d find in every other menswear retailer in the city. Well-selected products, yes, but the same as everyone else. After a quick round-about on the shop floor, I left thinking I’d perhaps give it one more shot at some point in the future, though I probably won’t.

In retail, good service and a unique product selection is sort of expected. And if you codify these things in your brand story, it’s probably worth taking it seriously. Don’t promise service if you, or your staff, haven’t committed to providing it. And if there’s nothing unique about your business, you probably shouldn’t make too much of a fuss suggesting that it is. Now, more than any time in recent years, there’s an opportunity for new businesses to flourish if they’re willing to live up to their stated mission. But not living up to the basic tenets you set out for yourself and promise to those who support you is probably a recipe for failure.

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