. The Transom .

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Emotional branding hidden in plain sight

Last night I was driving my daughter home from ballet practice and we passed the local fire station. Out front on the station's illuminated sign read, "SCHOOL HAS STARTED. WATCH FOR CHILDREN." This might be the kind of message that some people have come to expect from fire departments. But if you think about it, the purpose of the fire department is to put out fires. Pretty cut and dry. Yes, they show up to auto accidents, but primarily in case your Nissan Altima's 16 gallon fuel tank decides to explode. They perform a variety of tasks, but first and foremost they simply put out the fires.

So where am I going with this? Emotional branding. The fire department I drove past is doing a good job of emotional branding. They could have put anything on that sign. It could have had fire prevention tips, or congratulated one of their own for 10 years of service. It could have warned us to not play with matches or to keep our logs in a safe place. But what they did was remind us to be mindful of the children who will be on our streets and in our neighborhoods more this time of year. Everyone knows the fire department is going to put out fires. Everyone knows not to play with matches. So they went one step further and reminded us of something bigger than themselves. Watch out for kids. Be a little more careful when you're driving down the roads. Shouldn't that have been the sign in front of the police station?

If you're thinking this has no business correlation you would be wrong. I recently spoke with Matt Miller, the CEO of Playworld Systems. Playworld believes that the world needs play. They are advocates for play. They understand what play does for a child from the standpoint of total wellness - physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Oh yeah, they are also one of the largest manufactures of our country's playgrounds. But if you look at their advertisements, they don't show off their latest and greatest playgrounds. They don't remind you of why their playgrounds are safer, more durable, more fun, etc. If you listen to media interviews with Matt, he doesn't talk about playgrounds. He talks about the world needing play. And he doesn't care if you play on his playground or a competitors. He just knows what play can do and is an advocate for it.

That's emotional branding. I feel more inclined to help my local fire department simply because they gave me more than what I expected. I would seek out a Playworld playground simply because I feel their heart is in the best interest of my kids. A lot of companies can, and should, learn from those examples.

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