Whose Brand Is It Anyway? How To Stifle A Business: Us Versus Them

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One of my first clients was a Best Western hotel nearly twenty years ago and I'm going to share with you about them to illustrate a common challenge to retailers, distributors and manufacturers.

When I got involved the Best Western brand was in a major battle with their independent owners. They knew that a scattered mash-up of properties could not hope to compete against the newer arrivals like Courtyard and Hampton Inn so they came up with new design standards. They established a timetable and fined properties if they did not comply. Let's back up a bit...

In the beginning over sixty years ago M. K. Guertin visited other motels and inspected them. If they met his muster, he included them in his travel guidebook. Motels in the book then asked visitors where they were traveling and then offered to make reservations at one of the "approved" motels.

What had happened over the years was some of the original properties never updated. That meant the brand of Best Western could promise a clean, comfortable room with certain amenities and a traveler could be disappointed at an individual property. (Nowadays travelers would rail on Tripadvisor or Yelp but then, it would just funnel back to the Brand manager.)

The only way to get control of that was to implement stringent standards across the spectrum.

After awhile a group of owners got together to challenge Best Western's new policies. I saw letters that screamed, "Whose customers are they?" Their point was they were their customers, not Best Western's - that they alone were the brand.

An adversarial relationship ensued. Most dropped out but not before creating an "us versus them" mentality and taking their own focus off of serving the guest and building the brand together. (Not until they solved that could they grow the chain to become the largest hotel chain in the world with consistent positive word-of-mouth.)

Could that be you or your company?

I think it starts from a "take" mentality. The dealer will use the brand however they want, discount it, sell off of it or buy enough from one distributor or manufacturer - cherry picking really - enough to be important but use another for the rest of their orders. I've seen this from restaurant delivery all the way down to gift stores.

Here's the thing. If it is an "us v them" how are you going to build either brand? You have to commit to the other party or suspicion and faithlessness ensues.

If we've learned anything from the housing bust its that you can't take customers, retailers, distributors or even manufacturers for granted.

While "us versus them" is a common thread on Cable - everything from Project Runway to American Idol and from CNN to MSNBC and FOX, if we don't change the discussion, we all lose.

What do you think?