Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It's everywhere.

My cousin, I'll call him Myron, was in town last night and came up to my apartment for an early night-cap. Myron is a mensch of a man. Good, honest and a no bullshit kind of guy.

Myron's spent his life working in the luggage business. His family manufactured briefcases starting in 1919, and somewhere in the late 80s or early 90s, they sold out to a giant manufacturer. Myron went to work for that manufacturer.

The company he works for now sells luggage, accessories and business cases and by all accounts are hugely successful. They have gone from being unknown to being a "hot" brand in just a few years. A testament to this is the fact that, for what it's worth, they have almost 81,000 Facebook "likes."

At his heart, Myron is a sales guy. After all, what would his company's business be if they had one-million likes but sold no luggage. Myron believes that sales drive the company. Perhaps causally, he leads the divisions that account for both the largest and the second largest number of sales in the company.

Right now he's engaged in a ongoing battle with the CEO of his company--a guy worth probably $60 million because guys like Myron sell. (The company had $400 million in revenue last year.) Myron's boss told him this: "we're not in the luggage business, we're building a brand. Sales aren't important, our brand is."

One of the great maladies of our age is the obfuscation of work. It's not enough for us to be in advertising anymore. We have to be "brand stewards." Or we have to be "product innovators." Or we have to help clients "navigate the changing media landscape." (On a separate note, I've never pulled the car over into a scenic overlook to view a media landscape.)

Life, if you can filter out the horseshit, really is simpler than all that. Without a good product, good brands don't exist. Apple became a strong brand because they built better products. BMW ditto. Nike ditto. Very few brands are so strong that they can tolerate bad products, bad service or bad sales.

The "Obama" brand, which seemed so strong just four years ago might be out of business in three months. The product didn't live up to the branding.

I had no words of wisdom for cousin Myron. Except maybe he should call my brother Fred, the lawyer. Howard has a lot of stock in his company. It might be time to sell.

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