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Brand Humility: A Needed Concept for Change & Success

For literally decades the horse racing brand was sound. The stands were full, betting was stout and the state of the game was more than fine. California racing especially had a strong associated brand – the big pools, sunny weather and a place one could always get a bet down.

In 2011, this brand is being challenged; not by Indian Casino’s or slots, but by customers.

When customers challenge your brand it means one thing and one thing only – sales will fall. Organizations meet the challenge different ways, one of which is by clinging to the old brand exceptionalism, and looking for blame rather than solutions. Today marketer Seth Godin looked at this phenomenon:

“So, your brand doesn't do anything wrong. What it does is the best it could do under the circumstances. Someone who knew what you know would make the very same decision, because under the circumstances it was the only/best option…. you say it is not fair or expected” he wrote.

He goes on to say that once this thinking is entrenched, it is “impossible to innovate”, because innovation can mean failure. When you believe you are exceptional and your loss of market share is everyone else’s fault, why would you innovate. It’s a vicious circle.

When we look at failed brands across the landscape, or in general business anywhere, most market share losses can be traced to the corporate culture at its very core: Where decisions are made at a fundamental level. If you don’t even know your brand is broken, and no one you surround yourself with has the guts to tell you it is, you are in serious trouble.

Godin alludes to this:

“Brand humility is the only response to a fast-changing and competitive marketplace. The humble brand understands that it needs to re-earn attention, re-earn loyalty and reconnect with its audience as if every day is the first day.”

Horse racing’s leadership, and media in some quarters, can coddle and sympathize when decisions are made at the highest level. “What else could they do, the economy is bad” we might read. This does not do us any good. Sitting around boardrooms, or reading turf press that encourages failure and the status-quo, with everyone preaching to a choir can be dooming to horse racing, or any business.

Samuel Goldwyn once said: “I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their job.”

In my opinion we need some in our leadership, especially in California, to ditch the yes-man dogma and stand up and say “Our brand is broken because our customers are telling us it is. What are we going to do about it?”

A little bit of brand humility can go a long, long way.

Related: Art Wilson looks at the TOC and California handles.

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