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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Excuse me while I skip ahead to educational lessons I learned not while studying humanities, but while pursuing something totally different: an MBA. Sometimes my inner MBA rises up and pushes all that humanities knowledge to the side—though I’d like to think the analytical skills I honed in classes such as English literature led to my not only being able to analyze plots, characters, and themes, but also to do so with balance sheets, customer service philosophies, and branding decisions. Maybe that’s just why some people in the business community would rather not hear what I have to say.

So one of the big buzz words these days is branding. Branding this, branding that, branding yourself, branding your corporation, branding your non-profit, whatever. Really, it’s simply what Shakespeare brought up in Hamletto thine own self be true. And when you apply that to a business, branding is about making sure that the goodwill about your organization remains consistent with your mission and how you want those values communicated in the commercial world.

With large organizations, we, the customers, supposedly know what to expect if the company has created its brand well and protects it well. Whether I go to a Wendy’s by my home or thousands of miles away, there is this consistent feel to what it means to eat at a Wendy’s. Though menu variety and pricing fluctuates in minor ways from state-to-state, Wendy’s is still Wendy’s. If I want something else, then I go to the local Mom & Pop restaurant that does what it does—in a consistent or inconsistent manner—but knowing that that restaurant has its own way of doing things. If there’s no formula, as the consumer I take the risk that my experience will turn out better or worse than my expectations. Branded organizations such as Wendy’s are essentially making a promise that Wendy’s is what it is—nothing more or nothing less—but that I can mostly rely on a standard expectation of what going to a Wendy’s means. If that is not true, then Wendy’s brand begins to slip in the consumers’ minds.

Which is why I am flabbergasted to discover that the stand-alone Verizon store by my house is not what’s called a direct store, but an indirect store, similar to those found inside Target or Wal-Mart, according the Verizon representative.

Back story: what began as a simple online chat to discover how to access the discounts on Verizon accessories we were supposed to receive on our most recent purchase, led to my discovery that our Verizon store was in fact not a Verizon store. Now mind you, this did not come out until the representative finally figured out why she could not access my receipt, despite my giving her the invoice number and the time stamp. This is an hour of my life that I will never get back, but what I discovered about the business practice employed also makes no sense.

OK—so we can get the discounts applied through this local store. Small problem will get resolved—although I have to think it shouldn’t take me an hour to discover just why the branded representative could not resolve my problem herself. Plus, I think she should have been given some systemic way—through the receipt number or something—that indicated to her that I had in fact made the purchase at one of these so-called indirect stores.

However, the big issue comes down to trust. If I am not walking into an obvious indirect store, such as those in discount stores, why would I not think that a store that has the Verizon name on its walls is anything but a real—I mean direct—Verizon store? Frankly I don’t even know if our purchase price and the associated services are any different from what we could get in a direct store, but I do know I feel duped. We wanted to upgrade this Verizon phone through a direct store as we had done for every phone we have gotten since 2007—including the three phones we upgraded this year.

It’s not up to the customer to realize that the store he or she is visiting is a different sort of store—this information should be obvious. My experience with the brand told me a store meant one thing but apparently Verizon is using its brand for more than one kind of a store. That makes no sense to me—either as a customer or as a person who studied business. By making this issue confusing to the average customer, Verizon is muddying what its brand means and is at risk for introducing doubts about what else it might be muddying. I, for one, feel as if every time I go in such a store that I receive a different story about what costs are and what services come with what. By obfuscating what a store is or isn’t, Verizon is also leaving me to question the trustworthiness of these other practices.

I can’t say if Verizon is being true to me, but I have to say that it may not be being true to its own self—by introducing doubt into what is really included in its brand. But here’s what this one particular customer wants—that direct stores have a standardized look that is distinctly different from indirect stores. Maybe Verizon thinks the look is different enough, but if it is, it’s not so different that I knew that this local store is not the same kind of store as the ones I’ve patronized in the past.

The humanities taught me to question and analyze concepts presented to me as truths, while what I learned in business school taught me the hows and whys behind business concepts. In either case, what I gained was a deeper ability to dig beneath the surface to understand when something made sense—and when it didn’t.

To thine own brand be true—that’s just good sense—business or otherwise.

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Remember how in school you didn’t always get to choose the topics of your papers? You might have had some control over the specific focus of your topic, but the teacher didn’t usually say, “Write about whatever you want, d’ahlings!”

Other than personal pieces you write and try to sell after the fact, most professional writing is like that. You might suggest the general topic, but the editor can change the angle or tone, whether or not you like it. Sometimes you get an assignment on a specific topic that you maybe never wanted to write about, like breast pumps or how to handle spider bites.

Yes, those are past assignments of mine that I don’t really care to delve into further, but I did a fine job doing the research and presenting the information as requested. So far I’ve written articles and essays on general parenting, raising twins, product usage in families with twins, multiple safety topics, and faith, as well as done profiles on journalists.

For the past year and a half I’ve been editing, coaching, and doing some ghostwriting on a family historical fiction book that required me to learn about 1,000 years of history on topics ranging from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of Roses to the difference between Puritans and Separatists and to events in Colonial America such as the Salem Witch Trials and the Revolutionary War right up to many of the important happenings in 20th Century America.

I’ve compiled charticles filled with numerous objective facts. I’ve waxed poetic about my newborn babies (OK—they’re 16 now and I’m a lot less poetic!) I’ve created fictional scenes that demonstrate characters’ personality traits. I’ve verified historical information, as well as researched facts that are disputed and come up with reasonable reasons for discrepancies. I’ve provided resources within articles and in sidebars.

But if I pursue the old saw “write what you know,” I haven’t even scratched the surface of my own personal knowledge base. For one thing, I can still read a financial statement—I didn’t need the government to tell me that the U.S. was in a recession. Here’s just a sample listing—in no particular order—of other topics that have been or are part of my life:

  • Gifted education
  • ADD
  • 21st Century Learners
  • Aging parents
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Helping a loved one with cancer
  • Running
  • Personal writing
  • Dogs
  • Guinea pigs
  • Family businesses
  • Container gardening
  • Living with teenagers
  • Being “sandwiched”
  • Book clubs
  • Teen drivers
  • Celiac disease

I could go on (and on and on) but I already have! Relationships, business, health, hobbies, education, writing, pets—and that doesn’t even include my faith, politics, and personal rants.

True to my liberal arts upbringing, I aim to be a lifelong learner and choose to study, even when I don’t need to do so. But every time Life throws me into something I never wanted to know, I put on my student hat and try to find out everything I can. And whatever I discover that helps me might help someone else.

In the end, providing that help for someone else is exactly what I want to write, even if I never wanted to receive the specific assignment or know that a certain need existed.

Did I mention I come from the Heartland? Nebraska, specifically. I can’t help but think about branding livestock when I hear the word “branding,” even if I was a town girl the whole time I lived there. Suffice it to say I know enough to know that branding is painful enough the first time, so there’s no way an animal wants to do it again.

OK—I don’t suppose it’s quite that painful to “brand” myself. I am prone to hyperbole from time to time.

Yesterday I talked about my liberal arts degree—and yes, I have read the book Jobs For English Majors and Other Smart People because let’s just say some people in the business community don’t appreciate generalists. Me, I’m an English/Spanish major/MBA. Put that in your box!

Over the years I’ve been paid to do magazine circulation administration, financial reporting standardization, financial report preparation, editing, and writing. I’ve also added accountability oversight, systems creation, and productivity improvement into my volunteer, as well as personal activities.

Are you thinking that’s a pretty random background? Truth is it’s not as random as it seems. All those jobs involve an eye for detail, the ability to do research, analytical thinking skills, and a desire to provide resources. Yet what was missing in my early work years was a chance to do really creative work, and perhaps help solve a problem, at the same time as I was doing the detailed-work.

Over a decade ago I finally realized that Renaissance Men and Women are my heroes. I’ve been trying to live my life that way ever since. I’m impressed with people who choose to pursue multiple knowledge areas or who can do seemingly opposite things well.

I guess I didn’t realize it, but my family is made up of these kind of people. Check out a few of them:

  • my pharmacist father who held leading roles in several Neil Simon comedy productions in our town
  • my musician mother who could improvise on the piano keys, but could follow the rules in her job deciding who should receive unemployment compensation
  • my brother who is a human resources director (paperwork king!) and whose singing voice stands out—for good reasons
  • my football-playing lineman nephew who does well in his science courses
  • my daughter who excels in biology and art
  • my son who can act and do abstract math
  • my computer programmer husband who blew away our Great Books group members (mostly CPAs!) with his ability to expound on philosophy
  • my English Springer Spaniel who can’t seem to find food that’s been dropped on the floor, yet can figure out how to open the gate (Whoops—not quite the same, is that?)

I guess I still didn’t get to the writing brand that says Trina. More tomorrow on that—just expect that it will be a little bit Renaissancy. OK, maybe I did make up that word.

Forgive me, it’s just the creative writer in me going a little too far after a day spent performing too many administrative details, like paying bills, arranging appointments, and trying to clear off my desk. Always the desk—and that, my friend is not a very Renaissancy activity.

Not Just Pants. Anyone else remember the ads for a store called Just Pants? That’s how the jingle went: “Just Pants . . . not just pants.” Talk about an identity crisis. If they wanted to sell more than pants, why didn’t they call themselves Not Just Pants?

Last week I went to hear a speaker talk about branding which led me to try to figure out how to create the brand named Trina Lambert. That means you will know what my various “products” are or mean to you based on my name, just like you know what Nike means or what Apple means. In accounting talk, that’s goodwill you can put as an asset on your balance sheet.

I’m all in favor of goodwill, but I’m afraid to brand myself like Just Pants—and then realize down the road that I want to sell more than pants. (OK—don’t worry, I don’t want to sell any clothing!)

I went to a liberal arts college where I “got to” learn about something from each discipline—whether I liked it or not. Sometimes the classes themselves were painful to me, but I don’t regret what I learned in them.

One of the first classes I took was Philosophy of the Greeks and Romans, taught in the dreaded post-lunch hour by a man who talked like he was stoned—which he probably was. I may have slept through many of the lectures, but I will never forget the cartoon we watched on Plato’s Cave. True confession: the understanding for one of my favorite “intellectual” discussion topics comes from a cartoon! Just ask those who know me too well, I can go on for hours about the Cave.

The liberal arts student in me is afraid to limit what the brand named Trina Lambert means. I like to think that with access to the proper resources, I can write about almost anything, even if it’s new to me.

Tune in tomorrow as I ponder what I’ve written, what I already know about, and how I figure out how to brand myself loosely enough so that in the future I don’t have to create a jingle about my brand that ends with “not just . . . “

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert