Learning the rules to play the game better

Following the ordeal of the last few months and my commitment to ensuring we never go through it again, a healthy body and a healthy mind have been my big focus for 2020 and beyond.

As a gift for Christmas, I received a box of positivity cards. Some of them are good for a laugh, and then there are some that strike a chord. The card for yesterday was one of those. It quoted, “Learn the rules of the game, then learn to play better than anyone else.”

It is not only something I strive for in my personal life as a parent and partner, but also in my business. It signifies the need to understand the situation, then determine the approach that works best; that will capture the audience more than anyone else’s solution.

With all of Australia trapped in a raging inferno or breathing in smoke-infused, highly polluted air and the endless tails of loss and tragedy we hear on every medium, it highlights to me that many Australian businesses are playing well. The chronic state the country is in is unprecedented, so going back to the beginning to learn the rules is imperative for a brand to position itself appropriately.

There’s a fine line between saying the right thing and coming across as harsh or unsympathetic. It’s also hard to return to work after the Christmas break, amidst the turmoil and understand what ‘normal’ now looks like. While Aussie businesses are genuinely concerned and wanting to help and therefore doing a great job of articulating that on the socials, there are many (and I refer particularly to the leaders of our country) who haven’t cared to learn the game in the first place, let alone how to do it better.

As I scroll through the socials, listen to the radio, stream online and watch the news, I see great Australian businesses, like Cotton On and Gorman, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as matching the donations of their employees. Their posts are simple images with simple but highly powerful messaging.

“We’re with you,” says Cotton On, against an outline of Australia in white on the navy background. Gorman’s is a koala cradled in the arms of a volunteer firefighter, his back turned from the camera to focus on the burning tree ahead. Both their Instagram bios tell the story of their donation and call for others to do the same (via a link set up by Bendigo bank to be used in localised funding – the brand well played). Country Road, Mecca, Zimmerman, Westpac, Sage X Clare, Mister Zimi and Adairs, to name a few, are all demonstrating their support for the crisis so many Australian communities now face.

Then I see ScoMo – or as he’s now known, #Scottyfrommarketing and #SmoKo – at Kirribilli with the Australian cricket team, as though that’s the more pressing issue for all Australians right now. I’ve read many articles on his poor choice of words, where he says that Australia is a great place to raise kids and that Australians will be inspired by the feats of our cricketers, and I really wonder if he bothered to learn the rules in the first place.

Despite his marketing background, and therefore I would have assumed his knowledge of brand (including the importance of personal brands), his position on the unprecedented natural disaster we face certainly brings into question his capability as leader. It does, however, tell me that his family is a priority for him.

Just as Barrack Obama was questioned over his decision to continue on his family holiday in Hawaii in 2013 when America begged for strong leadership, we see the same happening with our Aussie leader. In Michelle Obama’s book, she reveals the decision agonised the then-President Obama immensely as they weren’t simply holidaying, their daughter was suffering terribly with illness. It doesn’t just beg the question of how does one juggle different roles – but importantly, how to respond in each capacity without damaging your brand?

There is a fine line between saying the right thing from a brand perspective and looking like you don’t care. Clearly some brands think it is better to say nothing. Or, as per the aforementioned brands, minimal comments that have nothing to do with the product being sold is the right message.

But in the case of our current Prime Minister, seeking better counsel on what action should be taken and how that message should be delivered is a must. His personal brand, and therefore that of the Liberal party, is in a hole dug by the leader, and they are now all struggling to escape. These are unprecedented times, likely to become more normal as we see climate change take hold. For each and every brand, walking the tightrope between empathy and selling is imperative.

And so, I may turn over a new card tomorrow that begs a laugh or strikes that chord, but either way, I intend to always ensure I learn the rules so I can play better than anyone else.

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