The Corporatorium: We Are Happy (Episode 13)

“Churl! You—are—late!” Terry announced as I stepped off the elevator.

Now you may have noticed by now that I am almost always late.  Normally any statement of the obvious does not warrant my attention, but coming from Terry who was too keen, too creatively sarcastic to use the obvious as a conversational gambit, I turned around and raised an eyebrow.  “For?”

“The Lizzie Borden webcast?” he stated more question than answer, raising an eyebrow to match mine.

“Shit! Why aren’t you on it?”

He pointed to the discreet earplug jammed into his head and mouthed, “I am.  Your battleaxes are logged in from the conference room.” Then he shouted at my hastily retreating back, “It’s just starting.  Technical difficulties, you know, caused a delay.”  I could feel the eye roll.

I pushed into the room and no one looked up, damning testimony to the accepted fact of my habitual lateness.  Lizzie Borden’s voice boomed from the speakerphone.  Nigel pushed a chair out for me.  The Cerberus looked at me, disapproval at the ready, then looked at TWO for guidance.  As she was studiously ignoring my late entrance, they did likewise and folded up their collective frowns, though I’m sure somewhere another black mark was entered on my permanent record

“We are pleased to inform you that The Corporation is rolling out a new brand campaign,” Lizzie Borden began.  “As you probably know, a Brand is a distinctive identity that differentiates a relevant, enduring and credible promise of value associated with an organization and indicates the source of that promise. The promise must, of course, be tangible and predictably manifested in an organization’s business behavior and, ultimately, in its client relationships and services.

“What you may not know, is that a successful brand can enhance the perception of value of that organization’s product or services.  In fact, studies show that a brand name can command a premium of up to 19 percent over a  less well-known or respected brand.  That directly translates into a 19% increase in revenue!

“Our brand is what will define us and what will be our differentiator in the marketplace.  The core essence of our brand consists of consistently exhibiting to our clients a set of behaviors, what we’re calling our ‘brand behaviors’.”

Pressing the mute button, TWO asked incredulously, “So there’s going to be a new brand except instead of a new logo or a color our brand is going to be a set of behaviors?”

“Well, that’s just stupid! Why can’t they just change our logo?” Ivy blurted.

“A logo,” Diana, sighing, intoned, “Is not a brand

TWO glared at her.

“I’m just saying…”

My first encounter with “branding” had occurred years earlier when I worked at a well-established “white shoe” law firm whose name was well known but whose image was a bit outdated, much like the attorneys themselves. The firm had a tendency to refer to itself as, well…”the firm,” which I found both affected and annoying. In an effort to reinvent the firm, from a marketing perspective, it was decided that the brand would be “spit-polished.” The lynchpin of the new brand was a color, which would come to be known as “Firm Blue.”

Firm Blue.  The lead on the creative team, an aging but still buxom, still blonde, bombshell in the Marilyn Monroe mold, had convinced the managing partners, a trio of aging but still vital, respected but degenerate, lotharios, that this particular shade of “blue” had been shown in focus groups to lead to a perception of “higher value.”  Thus ,using that color would allow the firm to charge more for its services, while clients would be left with the feeling that whatever the cost, “it was worth it.”  A win-win for everyone.  Well except me who had the poor judgment to point out that “firm blue” wasn’t actually blue.

I was told in no uncertain terms that firm blue was indeed blue.  “Well surely,” I countered. “It’s the gayest of blues.  In fact, it’s a blue so gay it’s lavender.”  And that is how I found myself working in the Corporatorium.  I saw my time here less as time spent in hell than as time spent in purgatory until I could repent or be forgiven for pointing out the emperor was not so smartly dressed as he thought but was in fact quite naked and really my dear if he was going to debut that new look don’t you think he might have hit the gym the teeniest bit harder in preparation?

Remembering all of this now, I kept my own council about our new brand.

Resignedly, TWO unmuted the call as Lizzie Borden, picking up steam, continued, “Our brand behaviors are as follows: We are happy—we meet our clients with a smile and a positive attitude assuring them by our quiet confidence of a positive outcome.”

“Oh brother!” Ivy said, disgustedly, too loudly.

TWO slapped a finger to her lips and stabbed at the mute button.

Chagrined, Ivy  clapped her palm over her mouth.  The other two Cerberus shook their heads in dismay.  “Tsk. Tsk.”

“We are good stewards,” Lizzie Borden continued blithely, “We treat our clients as we treat ourselves.  Our clients’ problems and challenges become our problems and challenges.  We are as careful with our clients’ money as we are with our own.

“We are committed—We provide clients with creative and responsive solutions that meet their unique needs. We’re committed to delivering services and solutions that will best ensure their success.

“We have a passion for excellence—we strive to exceed client expectations one hundred percent of the time.”

She stopped abruptly, and then collecting herself, continued. “Our new brand is just the public manifestation of our intent to build a culture through which we will adopt and internalize these behaviors so they become the bedrock of our corporation’s future state!”

Diana, Nigel and I were a bit dazed at this point because we’d recently gone through a bruising global rebranding with a major client whose parent company was far removed—both in distance, being located in Switzerland, and in reality, obviously inhabiting the alternate universe their brand seemed to portray—from their U.S.-based subsidiary. 

A stunningly ill-conceived brand, the brand palette consisted of the colors red, black and a yellowish-green so that everything we produced for them looked like a wound. The brand-approved photo library consisted of “people in motion” meaning the photos were all blurred as if the photographer hadn’t known how to focus.  And every person was blonde, impossibly tall and thin doing what only blonde, impossibly tall, thin people did –skiing, playing cricket, lunching at cafes at the foot of impossibly photogenic snow-capped mountains with other blonde, impossibly tall and thin people.  The fact that these photos were not at all representative of the actual employee population bothered no one but us and the company’s U.S.-based HR department.

Clearly, our own leadership team was not at all disturbed by the fact that none of these brand behaviors were currently exhibited, nor were they likely to be convincingly exhibited any time soon.

“Originally, our director of global HR was going to co-host this webcast but we have decided to schedule a separate webcast for tomorrow during which he will explain how our new performance enhancement methodology will support and reinforce our new brand going forward.  This affects every employee so please make every effort to attend.   Thank you for your time today.”

As usual no questions were allowed and she rang off at which point all eyes turned to TWO who shrugged, uttered a singular, “Indeed,” and rose to her feet.  The Cerberus quickly rose as well and forming a phalanx they left the room.

Missed Episode 12, The Brett Factor? Read it here.

Read the entire series from the beginning here.

Final Episode of Season One, Wednesday, August 24.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

Feel free to comment on this story, or share your own experiences in Corporate America below. Also, connect with me on Twitter & Facebook


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