What Your Mother Taught You About Branding.

Fifteen years ago, I ran marketing for the second largest brokerage firm in the US—Smith Barney (now, sadly, subsumed into Morgan Stanley). Part of that job required me to make decisions about where we would spend our advertising dollars—pretty standard stuff. But of all the decisions I made, big and small, one in particular raised eyebrows: I refused to buy time on The O’Reilly Factor. It really didn’t have anything to do with political leanings (OK, maybe a LITTLE)—we advertised elsewhere on Fox. I refused Bill O’Reilly for one reason alone—he was the rudest m-f-er I’d ever seen in front of a camera.

My media agency did a wonderful and wholly responsible job analyzing our “perfect” customer and the shows and properties most likely to attract them. Of course, O’Reilly was the Pied Piper of rich middle-aged white guys—our sweet spot. Hence the raised eyebrows. But, there had to be other ways to reach those folks (I hoped) and I told the agency to find them.

Quaint, right? Refusing to spend money with a certified superstar, guaranteed to get me a bumper crop of just the eyeballs I wanted, simply because the guy was rude? Damn straight. I felt it was my responsibility to associate our venerable, albeit a bit fusty brand with content that did justice to it, and O’Reilly simply didn’t. In no small part, I needed to show my team; the Smith Barney Financial Advisors and not least of all my kids that the sort of behavior O’Reilly demonstrated was not acceptable.

Done right, brand stewardship is hard work. It is the epitome of leading by example. It is about behavior. Attitude toward others. About acting the way you want people to view you–everything your mother always said was important. And for my 2 cents (or $30MM), we could not patronize a nasty, rude bully who, if he were 14, you’d advise your kid to stay away from.

I tell you this not to demonstrate my prescience (although, I am a mother, so… I told you so) but to demonstrate the importance of the obvious—do what feels right and it usually is. Whether you head a brand, a business or just little ole’ you—don’t underestimate the gut check. And don’t waver when your decision is not a popular one, because frequently the right choice isn’t.

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