When I went to elementary school on Miami Beach there were just four or five African-American kids in our group. I remember this only because I found out later that there were very few black families living on South Beach and the kids in our class were the children of teachers on Miami Beach that were able to bring their kids with them.
When I got to seventh grade the school board integrated the Miami-Dade school system and black kids were bussed across Biscayne Bay to Miami Beach. This redistricting immediately changed our student census from about 50/50 Hispanic and Jewish kids (with the occasional white Christian students and some Jewbans sprinkled in for good measure) to roughly 1/3 Cuban, 1/3 Jewish, 1/3 African-American.
Of course the groups mixed together warily. If being 13 to 15 isn’t an awkward enough time already, imagine what it was like to suddenly find yourself in a brand-new environment with brand-new kids and brand-new expectations. As I remember it, the transition was a bit rocky for almost everyone involved.
But there was one oasis of calm in the swirling sea of turmoil – the music department. Kids in band and orchestra were there not just because their friends participated or because it was required but because they played an instrument and were interested in music. More importantly, there was a merit system based solely on talent and ability where race, religion, and upbringing didn’t matter. Finally, our two instructors represented our student body – bandleader Mr. Martin was white and orchestra director Mr. McCall was black. Because of this, I remember the band room as a relatively calm place where everyone got along and became friends.
Having grown up on Miami Beach, my elementary school friends and I spent almost every after school afternoon in the water – either swimming in the ocean, diving in the bay, or horsing around at the community pool at Flamingo Park down the street. And of course once we got to junior high, our new friends came with us. But here’s where our differences were clear.
While I know it’s not politically correct to say that blacks can’t swim, our black friends in the band really couldn’t. Shockingly (to us adolescent Miami Beach residents, anyway), most of these kids had never been to the beach or the bay even though they lived blocks away in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami.
Now why do I risk incurring your wrath by telling you this? No, I don’t want to emulate Jimmy the Greek and his racist comments. Instead I want to point out how great branding and marketing works.
The other day I was honored with the opportunity to present my thoughts on branding to the Board of Directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). To get ready for my presentation, I read through all the materials they sent me, including their fundraising brochure.
The cover presented a beautiful little girl with the headline, “Imagine… 8 years old and she’d never seen an elevator.” Then I turned the page and experienced this: a picture of a man and a boy standing on the beach and staring out to sea under the headline, “Imagine a child growing up in Miami who has never been to the beach.”
BAM!! Junior high school memories that I hadn’t thought of in years – the story I told you a moment ago – came flooding back to me in a flash. It was what I call a GBM – a “goose bump moment.” In that heady instant I was bewitched and suddenly relating to BBBS with my heart and not my brain. It was such a powerful experience that the brochure’s body copy felt like it had been written just for me:
“From the perspective of our comfortable lives, it’s hard to realize that these kids can’t even imagine much of what we take for granted. (But) you have the power to change that…”
As I said, BAM!! Suddenly I was looking at BBBS in a whole new way.
What can this insight do for you? By taking a page from the BBBS brochure, you too have the power to supercharge your marketing messages. Look to create GBM shared experiences where your brand exists NOT to satisfy you or your boss but where your audience feels that your message makes THEIR lives better. Because while a good brand makes you feel good, a great brand makes you feel good about yourself. And when you can move your customers’ response from their minds to their hearts and generate a GBM emotional response your brand will benefit. Just like all of us who went to school together all those years ago on Miami Beach.