Patriots Day lessons: Branding

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Today is Patriots Day in Massachusetts. Maine is the only other state to celebrate this day, which commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord that started the American Revolution. (Fun fact: Maine celebrates the day because Maine was once part of Massachusetts.) The holiday and the Boston Marathon that is held on it are part of the Massachusetts brand. (I would add in the Red Sox early start Patriots Day game, too, but they got swept by the Rays this weekend, so the less said  about them the better.)

There are many other things that make Massachusetts stand out, of course, like our colleges and universities, our high-tech prowess, and our beautiful seashore. But the state’s role in American history, as highlighted by Patriots Day, and our rabid devotion to sports, as epitomized by the crowds that come out to cheer runners at every step along the 26.22 mile marathon course, are surely two of the strongest part of the Commonwealth’s brand in many minds. They are what draw visitors here by the droves to view our many historic sites and to cheer (or often to root against) our various championship-winning sports teams.

State and local government and tourism offices all across the state work hard to promote the Massachusetts brand. Boston is always voted into the top ten list for favorite cities to visit by both Americans and foreigners and Cape Cod and the Islands are also perennial favorites of visitors from both near and far.

This morning, when I woke up to a holiday that is unique to Massachusetts (and Maine), I got to thinking about the Massachusetts brand and what lessons small business owners might learn from this. Two came to mind:

• Know what you’re good at and stick with it. Massachusetts is really good at featuring its history. Although there are certainly some historic properties and sites that fell to the forces of development  over the years, by and large over the past 50 years, the state has woken up to the reality that “history sells.” Preservationists don’t win every battle but they have probably won more battles than developers have. Thus, if you come to Massachusetts, there is still tons of history to be seen and experienced.

So what are you good at? What did you start out being passionate about? What made your business stand out in the beginning and have you stuck with that? Unless something big has changed (as in your whole industry has been seriously altered by technology or other market developments that demanded that you change dramatically), you’re best off in sticking with what made you a success in the first place. Of course, this is sometimes hard to do as your business grows. But the lasting brands, like the Massachusetts brand, manage to do it. To quote a Shania Twain song, “Dance with the one  that brought you and you can’t go wrong.”

• Don’t be afraid to be different or to be the first. Let’s face it; Massachusetts sometimes does things that make it stand out like a sore thumb from the other 49 states. We were, for example, the only state to vote for George McGovern in the 1972 Presidential election. And we were the first state to offer universal health care, a fact that makes many of us  proud while it ticks off others.

But the truly great brands are generally those that aren’t afraid to be different or to be first. Before Ben & Jerry, for instance, no one was selling pints of premium ice cream in grocery stores for the kind of prices the Vermont duo set. I’m sure there were tons of industry experts who thought consumers would balk at the price. But instead, consumers licked up the goodness, the unique flavors and their quirky names and, voila, a  great brand was born.

So go for it. Establish a brand that offers your customers or clients something unique, something they can’t get elsewhere. Sort of like you can’t get a beautiful spring day off in the middle of April with a world-class marathon to boot anywhere but Massachusetts. (Oh, yeah, and there’s that Red Sox game with the 11 a.m. start, too. Surely  it will have a better outcome next year!)

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