Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cowboy Up

Last week, a friend of mine made a speech at our local Toastmasters club, and the message has stuck with me for the past 7 days.  Oly Olson was born in Wyoming and has lived here most of his life.  He loves Jackson Hole as much as anyone else who lives here or who visits.  The purpose of Oly’s speech was to bring attention to how everyone comes to Jackson Hole because of it’s unique character, yet as soon as they get here, they want to change it to make it more like the place they came from.
The main point that Oly was driving was to embrace the Western culture of Jackson Hole. 
“Don’t take the Wyoming out of Jackson Hole,” he pleaded.  He wasn’t preaching to preserve some post card picture of the past, with cowboys riding horseback through the town square and everyone wearing a BSH (big silly hat) as they sip suds at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.  He was referring specifically to the character of our town and the people who live here.  He made special reference to the Western Hospitality that Wyomingites are known for; a rugged mix of honesty, manners, and above all else, the understanding that we are an outpost and we need to take care of people.  We don’t need to act like Park Avenue butlers to provide great hospitality.  Visitors don’t want that.  They have come to Jackson Hole for the unique character that first attracted each of us to this beautiful valley.
Now Oly is not some crusty old cowboy.  He is a prominent member of the Jackson Hole real estate community and an active member of the Chamber of Commerce.  He understands that progress and change are not only inevitable, but also good for our community.  But progress should happen within the character of the area and the people who live here.  This is the same mindset that businesses need to take as they evolve and adapt to changes in the markets that influence them.  Change is inevitable, but companies must stay true to their unique identity.
Design expert, Marty Neumeier, explains in his book The Brand Gap that “brands can afford to be inconsistent, as long as they don’t abandon their defining attributes.  Brands are like people.  People act differently at work and home, during the day and at night, without losing identity.”
Preserving culture is not about becoming mired in the past.  It is about staying true to your identity as you evolve to the future.  Every business needs to 1. Define it’s unique value, 2. Relate that value to the variety of different customers they target, and 3. Cultivate a culture that, as Neumeier puts it, “promotes a pattern of behavior that grows out of character.” 
This is an extremely important lesson for every business.  In the 21st Century, it is how a company interacts with its customers that is the number one most important influence on the success of the business.  There are more potential consumer touch points available than ever before, and each and every interaction has a profound influence on your marketing.  To maximize the effectiveness of these interactions, businesses must create a culture that empowers employees to represent the true character of the company, their community, and themselves.

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