This was years ago.
I’m sitting with the company CEO, and we’re spitballing ideas. Brainstorming. Mindmapping.
It was, by far, the best part of the job. The most fun.
The vision casting.
“But what we really have to do is figure out why people think our brand is cool.”
I hadn’t thought much of the word before, and it wasn’t used as much back then, but it was what I like to call a “moment of clarity” for me.
The truth was, there was a lot involved in making the brand cool. First, we shouldn’t call it cool, but I digress. It’s about the genre (fighting), the positioning (the best and most expensive), the tagline (“Be Inspired”), and most importantly, the devoted fans, including those receiving a paycheck (a melting pot of all cultures, classes, and creeds unified by a love of martial arts).
But what made people want to wear our t-shirts on a leisurely weekend out on the town? Heck, why did we do it?
What made people halfway across the world, people who have never stepped foot into one of our gyms, want to buy and represent our brand?
Why would they tattoo the company logo on their arm?
It’s so simple, so obvious, it can only be true.
It’s all about the promises we made (and kept).
And how we made them feel.
Not too long ago, our family was in the market for a new car. Newborn turned to toddler, which means the days of sedans, even big ones, made less and less sense.
The morning we were to go on an extended vacation, I had the wild idea to go and take a look at a car an hour north of us. There’s plenty of time, I surmised, as I sped up the interstate to take a test drive, leaving wife behind shaking her head, but unsurprised.
I didn’t buy the car.
But I got a great story.
The salesman was a nice man. He was from our town. Grew up right around where we lived. Or maybe he was trying to build a connection, build rapport. Who knows. I didn’t mind either way.
He was probably in his late 50s or early 60s. A 30-year car salesman. A seller. A closer. As he was typing away at his screen, running numbers, I noticed a big, chunky, gold ring on his finger.
Trying to build rapport myself (this is a car deal, right?), I told him I liked his ring and asked if it was a class ring.
He thanked me for the compliment and said, no, but informed me happily that the makers of class rings actually did custom-make this ring for him.
What was the ring for, I asked.
To commemorate his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Another moment of clarity.
Did he still own the bike?
Oh yes. Loves it. Rides it all the time.
So why does he have a ring on his finger to remind him of it?
We all get down on one knee.
For certain things.
To propose to a lover. To see what’s under the Christmas Tree. Even, these days, as a political statement.
But we also get down on a knee to say we love things.
Some of us wear a ring on our finger to signify a lifelong bond to an idea, or a product.
To a brand.
We could call it brand loyalty, but buying a ring to remember a bike you still own is a bit more than that. It’s a bit beyond love, even.
It’s blasphemous, but true. It’s true.
What would make someone worship their Harley?
What does Harley bring to its followers? What does it promise?
Freedom, power, speed, masculinity.
What does owning a Harley make you?
A rebel. An outlaw. A man’s man. Or an empowered woman. A patriot.
“There’s just nothing like it,” the car salesman explains, unable to explain. Oh, I get it, I assure him. And I do.
I do get it.
And I can’t help but feel torn about the whole thing. Equal parts happy that the guy found what he was looking for, and sad that the guy found what he was looking for in an inanimate object.
The fact that he wasn’t wearing a ring representing the makers of the car dealership he worked for was just icing on an otherwise enjoyable, and instructional, cake.
The Secret Sauce
“If we can figure out why people think it’s cool to wear our stuff, train at our gyms, and use our gear, our growth will be limitless.” He smiled widely, waiting for my reply. The only thing missing was a big, gold ring.
I didn’t have a good answer then. I was just a kid who had and enjoyed big ideas.
Here’s what I have learned since, from salesmen and saints:
We all worship something.
Be it God, or something less than God.
Take a look around, inside, outside, and on yourself.
Who or what do you worship?
Do you know why?
What do they promise you? How do the promises make you feel?
Do they keep them?
In the end, let us pray we all believe in something a bit more than getting what we pay for.