Excrement in the aisle

My friend Ed doesn’t know exactly what I do for a living. He’s read this blog, however, and, yesterday, asked me a rather honest and – for me – invigorating question: “Does this branding stuff really mean anything to the average consumer?”

I gave him several examples of how organizations use their brand to support their business and how some simply ignore it, and pay the price, but there’s a really good example in a front-page story in today’s Des Moines Sunday Register. Evidently, Iowa’s rivers and lakes are some of the most polluted in the state and it’s going to take a billion dollars – plus or minus a half-billion- to get us in compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act. Yes, that’s a law that’s almost 35 years old!

So, Ed, here’s an example where different people have different agendas, and there’s no common brand driving the decisions. While the state’s economic development people, the chambers of commerce, the tourism promoters, private developers, employers and others are trying to tell Iowa’s great story (see my earlier post suggesting Iowa refocus its efforts on attracting families), the people responsible for keeping our lakes and rivers clean are asleep at the switch.

Iowa is one of the final six states to come into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act, according to John Reyna of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in Kansas City in the Register article. Worse yet, Albert Ettinger, a Chicago lawyer who follows Clean Water Act cases and represents Iowa environmental groups, says “To my knowledge, there is no state that is out of compliance like Iowa is.”

If Iowa was a Target store, this would be the equivalent of an associate defecating in the sporting goods aisle.

Admittedly, getting everyone in a state together – regulators, political leaders, private businesses, citizens – focused on the same task, is a difficult one. It’s certainly more challenging than getting everyone at the local coffee shop to smile pleasantly to the customers, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

It takes leadership from the top. It takes a vision. It takes a brand. And when that’s absent, it just confuses people. Any questions, Ed?

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