Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There's probably nothing wholly original in this piece, but sometimes, circumstances just get so out of whack that someone has to blow a school yard whistle and bring everything to a screeching halt. Sometimes, you just have to stop everything it its tracks in order to re-calibrate reality. And this week's legalization of gay marriage in California seemed like one such occasion.
In case you've been out of the solar system, it is -- for the short term, at least -- now totally and completely legal for gays and lesbians to legally marry. That's right, the ceremony that has been idealized for generations has now undergone a somewhat radical change in that it is no longer the exclusive province of one man and one woman.
Well, that's not entirely true. If you go back in history, you'll find all sorts of marriages between men, my favorite being among Roman emperors who seemed to possess a pronounced inclination toward (and actually married) well-oiled musclemen. But I digress.
Today, the most noticeable effect of gay marriage isn't between gays and lesbians who marry each other; it's among the people who disapprove of gays and lesbians marrying each other. Typically, these are bible-thumping folks who devote their days to disrupting the lives of others in the name of Jesus, God, Allah or whatever name by which they refer to The Invisible Giant. Most of these people call themselves "conservatives", but in truth, they are the farthest thing from it.
If you're really a Conservative, you espouse the basic theory fundamental to all Conservative theory, that being pretty much the following:
The government is here to defend my civil and physical freedom.
See, the whole point of Conservative philosophy is to not get involved in other people's affairs because you don't want anyone meddling in yours. Even if you're the most religious guy in the world, completely secure in the knowledge that your neighbor is going to eternally burn in hell for whatever people burn in hell for, Conservative theory states you have no business, obligation or standing in your neighbor's decision.
If you're a true Conservative, you believe that as long as nobody hurts anyone else, everyone should be free to do what they can in order to better their own lives. That means you can't tell anyone what to eat, whom to date or how to hold their fork at dinner. It's their individual choice. And what could be more American than that?
In stark contrast to Conservatism is Liberalism, which believes that government owes its citizens far more than defense of civil and physical freedoms. Liberals believe in social responsibility and helping those less fortunate, because in the real world, everyone is not created equal. Some people are born with birth defects; others into a racial or economic class from which there is no escape. Liberals believe there's nothing wrong in assisting reality in order to level the playing field and give everyone a shot at a better life.
Of course, there's a trade off with Liberalism: In order to get stuff, you have to give up stuff, most notably, your personal freedom. Which brings me to the weirdest question of all:
If gay marriage conforms to the Conservative ideals of government protecting individual freedoms, why would so-called Conservatives be against it? If anything, Conservatives should be its most ardent defenders, beating back the prying eyes and ears of a government whose founding articles are based on individual freedoms. If anything, the opponents of gay marriage should be Liberals, whose philosophical platform actually endorses a government's right to intervene amongst individuals' affairs.
Personally, I don't care who you marry or how or why. Just make sure you don't leave your trash on my lawn, eh?
Monday, June 02, 2008
Fedex dumps Kinkos for good
Wherever I go, whenever I speak to groups, invariably the question comes up: "So Rob, which brands do you think are doing a good job?" In my book, The Revenge of Brand X, I have a list of brands that I happen to think are doing a swell job of branding, but the one you'll find close to the top of the list every time is Federal Express, or as they're now known, FEDEX.
I like FEDEX for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they subscribe to my tenets of branding without even knowing who I am. That's neat. I like how even from the beginning, FEDEX branded themselves from the outside in. While all their competitors were puffing about their airplanes and trucks, FEDEX focused on the one reason why overnight delivery was invented:
They covered your ass.
It's true. While everyone else was primping for profit, FEDEX was making sure your career was safe and secure by working on your behalf, getting the package where it had to be, "absolutely, positively overnight." Sure, they've changed their taglines over the years, but the brand strategy has always remained the same. FEDEX even introduced their innovations smartly: Yes, their pre-printed shipping labels cut down shippers' costs, but they also increased FEDEX's efficiencies but cutting down the amount of time it took sorters and drivers to read your handwriting. Their shipping boxes were free, too, but that's how it looks to you because FEDEX wanted you to see the benefit. The real story is that standardized packaging allowed FEDEX to make much more efficient use of their shipping containers.
Get the idea? These guys are smart. And when they acquired Kinko's, they were just as smart.
Recognizing that small and micro-businesses were a nascent, high-growth sector, they cleverly snapped up Kinko's copy and office centers in order to expand their client base. They did it smart and they did it fast (beating United Parcel Service to the bunch, leaving UPS to acquire an anemic also-ran in the form of Mailboxes Etc.).
This week FEDEX made another smart decision: They decided to drop the Kinko name from their operation. And even though it's going to cost them something like $869+ million, they did it for a very good reason: Kinko's brand sucks.
Hey, Kinko's has all the assets for which it was purchased. Unfortunately for FEDEX, all that fixed capital came handcuffed to the developmentally disabled legion of humans known as Kinko's employees. And before you get all politically correct on me, think about your own experiences at Kinko's.
No, let me rephrase that: Think about all those infuriating, exercises in frustration at Kinko's.
Whether it was waiting in line too long, printing a job on the wrong paper, not knowing the simplest answers without checking with the manager, Kinko's -- a great business success story despite its people -- has a brand more aligned with incompetence than the brand strategy borne or FEDEX. If FEDEX were more like Kinko's, their tagline would have been, "Package? You had a package?"
I'm sure that Wall Street pundits will pummel the decision for the short term, but from where I sit, the FEDEX decision train just keeps on rolling. And the sooner is rolls over Kinko's the better.