Tag Archives: brand

How important is courtesy to you?

I recently received an unusual surprise: an anonymous note on my unit door posted by a neighbor who obviously wanted to remain unknown. The note contained a noise complaint. Days later, having successfully resolved the noise issue (the neighbor never identified himself or herself, and the condo building board never received a complaint), the matter of good manners hovered on my thoughts for a while.

While I was working out the noise problem, I was working with a very polite client of mine on a multilanguage layout project for a local lighting company in Ohio. Each lighting fixture is sold with an information sheet in Spanish and Canadian French. These sheets are composed in InDesign CC; my task involved setting the translated text to an InDesign document (given by the customer or freshly created by myself). A pretty simple workflow.

However, my customer and I were facing miscommunication problems and some curt responses to our queries. My customer is a consummate diplomat in these situations; he has the capacity to listen and absorb his translators’ complaints and misgivings about a project but he will reframe them to the client in a way that is true to content but respectful to the customer.

You may feel like shouting on the phone, but it would be bad manners to do so.

You may feel like shouting on the phone, but it would be bad manners to do so.

Theodore Roosevelt said: “Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.” In Spanish we have an older saying with the same meaning: “Lo cortés no quita lo valiente.

However, there are different degrees of courtesy accorded to family members, friends, neighbors, business associates, distant relatives and complete strangers. The way I learned to be courteous and polite can be summarized thus:

  • Show equanimity (temple, in Spanish) in the face of rudeness
  • Continue to be nice in the face of antipathy
  • Give a calm response to angry outbursts
  • When in doubt, be polite
  • Avoid namecalling
  • Give the benefit of the doubt as the other person may have different reasons for saying/acting the way he does
  • Internalize (i.e. be sincere) all your expressions of courtesy to avoid sounding like a phony

These are some of my own standards of courtesy. Very few things in life anger me more than a lack of civility; however, I rarely, if ever, respond in anger. If I do, I am quick to apologize.

But you might think that all this talk about politeness is old news to you, even a trite topic. But courtesy is like humor: it’s not universal and nobody expresses it quite at the same expected level. Agreed, the Japanese and Koreans may exhibit a more elaborate degree of courtesy than New Yorkers or Texans. The point remains that we should cultivate a basic level of courteous behaviors to the point that they become second nature, regardless of our interlocutor’s behavior or level of courtesy. It is only by internalizing these behaviors that we can avoid two disagreeable outcomes:

  • Look and sound like phonies
  • Our expressions of friendship and concern are manipulative

During a Graham Norton show a few years ago, a British comedian made a shrewd observation about Americans: “In California, people are friendly in order to network and offer their business cards” (the paraphrasing is mine). Sadly, I’ve seen the same behavior in countless conferences, meetups and social gatherings across America. In short, the behavior I’ve witnessed can be summarized as I’ll be friends with you if you buy something from me.

Consequently, have we come to expect courteous behavior only when things go our way or when we stand to benefit from a relationship with a customer or a colleague? What is more relevant to you, business owner or company representative, should courtesy permeate your business dealings in every situation?

The acquisition of manners finds its best vehicle in the home, and behaving well under pressure is its best expression. Good manners harness a person’s virtues —those tried-and-true character traits— found deep inside him as sunlight brings out the hues and tints on a landscape. It is through good manners shown that most people form a good opinion of an individual: she’s patient, respectful, attentive, friendly, dependable. Social media may be the desert mirage where good manners evaporate, but we can still rise to the occasion and let our goodness through with a kind gesture, which is at the root of all civility.

Have we become so concerned with that sad substitute for a good name, brand, that weed masquerading as a flower which thrives only on poor soils? Are we so enamored with the glitter of one-word descriptions as shortcuts to communication, thus relegating courtesy to the perpetual folder of “Nice to have”? I am persuaded that politeness, far from being the much-maligned veneer of politicians, narcissistic managers and con artists, begins with integrity and self awareness, attributes commonly found in “individuals of stature and profundity, of flesh and substance…”, as noted arts advocate Eric Larrabee once wrote.

Being courteous is a hallmark of professionalism as well. Indeed, showing up on time for interviews and meetings, for example, reveals respect for the individual and for her time. In writing this piece, my intent is to invite you to ponder the following: are you being polite to your colleagues, customers and vendors because you are naturally courteous…or because it is a means to an end?

Think about it. All candid and courteous comments are welcome.

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Filed under Courtesy to customers, Public Relations, Reputation

Branding vs. Reputation

Brands are as ubiquitous as human beings. But, does a brand have a code of conduct or values? Can it give you its word? Then, how can you trust a brand? A brand is nothing but a disembodied voice, seductive in delivery, aiming to burn value in your retinas.

One of the most important assets a company has is its brand. That brand is not just the typographical or graphical representation of a company’s identity. When a brand is unknown, it’s just another name, another logo, another pretty image. But once known beyond its initial boundaries, a brand has the potential to become an icon. People recognize the brand and ultimately identify with it.

Some brands have accomplished this by becoming omnipresent. Think Target, Sony, AT&T, Staples, Dell. We have become familiar with them by sheer repetition and repeat interaction with them. We develop a level of trust in those brands to the point that our purchasing decisions become fast and reactive.

However, there’s a movement out there that seems designed to confuse entrepreneurs and customers alike. It’s a the conflation of a personal trait with an umbrella symbol. I am referring to reputation. Having a good reputation is a trait of good character, of moral standing in society. But now branding is being touted as a synonym of, and ultimately a replacement for, reputation. We might want to take a step back and look at what’s going on.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Branding is important. It lends identity to a product line. According to marketers, branding is the idea that communicates value to potential customers about your product or service. In our highly competitive marketplace, however, brands point to a company, product or service in a spectrum of reliability with its attendant consequences. If a product is reliable, then you’ll likely buy it or use it again. Hence, a brand is as strong as the virtues of the product or service it represents.

But, can individuals be considered brands themselves? Why? Some celebrities may be considered “brands” in the sense that they are widely known to multiple audiences and that they offer a reliable product —their artistic performance. People like Beyoncé, Pink, Lady GaGa and Madonna can be considered brands because they stand beyond the universe of commodities. Movies, software applications and other objects of consumption can also become brands. For example, a Madonna song is unique; a Beyoncé album is distinct in quality and experience. That’s another concept of modern branding: experience, which I suspect is meant to mimic what we experience in human relationships.

But branding belongs to things, reputation to persons. After all, a product is made by someone, a service is provided by someone. A person is not a thing to be branded because an individual cannot be reduced to just the value his products or services can offer. Doing so exposes the individual to become a commodity, just like any other consumable.

If we go back to the concept of reputation, we may be surprised at the freshness of this old idea. We build relationships with other human beings based on trust and reputation. The old word-of-mouth concept is a good example of relying on a provider’s reputation to do business with them. On the other hand, designating a person as a brand is dehumanizing and reduces the individual to a dollar amount and a material experience.

Consider cell phone brands such as Apple, Samsung, Nokia and Blackberry. Are they good brands? Sure. Right now, however, two of these brands are undergoing radical changes (Nokia and Blackberry). Nokia and RIM, the Blackberry maker, have been losing market share to Android and Apple competitors. Are they still good brands? Sure, but here’s the difference: their brand and reputation are good, but it’s their experience that is undergoing tectonic shifts. Experience is dependent on reputation, not so much as on brand.

Another reason branding as a misnomer for reputation for individuals —especially small businesses or independent professionals— is problematic is this: branding promises to make you ubiquitous and famous. This may be true of performers such as actors, singers, musicians, etc. who succeed in representing the zeitgeist and having their voices heard and enjoyed by millions. But most small businesses will be happy to fetch a slice of their local or regional market. Some of these businesses will want to grow exponentially and organically, but branding alone will not take them there.

For independent contractors and small businesses, the old standard is true: build on word of mouth and a reputation for quality service and excellent product. How you call your business is your own decision, and you will definitely need marketing help to assert yourself as a reputable business with a solid brand, a recognizable name. But let’s not confuse business growth with ego growth.

In an increasingly competitive and sometimes litigious society, going back to the basics —build your reputation by keeping your promises, never go back on your word and keep a code of honor— is not just a nice idea but it makes good business sense. A solid brand may have quantifiable value, but a good reputation is priceless.

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Filed under Branding, Marketing, Reputation, Value added