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Brand Lessons from Mexico: Who Would Have Thought?

by Leslie Ungar

A recent trip to Puerto Vallarta Mexico yielded two lessons in protecting a brand and protecting your value. Although the little locally owned store may seem miles away from the international golden arches, each had a story to tell about value.

In early morning the city is home to walkers, runners, dog owners, skateboarders and surfers. About a mile walk from any direction brings you to the centrally located golden arches. When you have to use a restroom, those arches were so welcoming. This year the powers that be of the kingdom of hamburgers made a new rule: bathrooms for customers only. For 16 years anyone could use the facility. Now it is guarded more seriously than Fort Knox.

 

Here’s the funny thing. When it was free, we almost always got their ice cream cone after using the facility. Now that we have to purchase, we –the tourists-feel as though our American icon let us down. In a strange land it was a friend, a beacon from afar. Was this decision really worth it? Labor is cheap so to pay someone as guard is not expensive. But was it worth it to their brand? The arches were always welcoming. To thank them we purchased. Now we do not use the facility and we do not purchase. We walk by because they truly do seem like the ugly American.  The lesson to be learned is Are you being penny wise and pound foolish in any way?

I returned home and wrote the golden arch people. Another funny thing, in this world of email, their website provides a brick and mortar address not an email address for the corporate office. So complaining under my breath, I printed out my email, put it in an envelope, stuck a stamp on it and sent it on its way. To be answered or not answered, time will tell if they compound my unhappiness with their brand or try to diffuse it.

 

The extreme opposite of the arches is the tiny locally owned store in Puerto Vallarta. Six years ago there was a painting that we liked. The woman, hopefully not the owner, held her price. Every year since it has become a joke; every time we went to Vallarta, we would go and see if that painting was still hanging on the wall unsold. This year the store moved, downsized and still dragged that painting with it. Here is the funniest part, same woman and she still does not want to negotiate. Perhaps it is time for someone to yell UNCLE or just walk away.

The lesson here may be that sometimes we hang onto a moral victory. Is there really a value in keeping a product for six years? Do we get too involved in winning rather than selling?

While these are two lessons in protecting your value or not protecting your value, there is a bigger lesson to be gleaned. There are lessons everywhere if you look at your world through the lens of value. Look around you: are companies and people (companies are made of people) making decisions that protect their value or hurt their value on an everyday basis? Any company can gather once a year for a strategic meeting or a business plan. That is the easy part. Do they make decisions on a daily basis that correctly identify their value, communicate their value, and protect their value?

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