When Ivy waddled into my life a few years ago, I didn’t expect to fall in love with her, make her a member of my family or give her a job as KOTAW’s Brand Ambassador.
I thought I’d just return her to Jose, our neighbor who’d adopted Ivy as a five-week-old puppy, tell him she was escaping to our house when he was at work, and that would be that.
But Ivy kept escaping, clumsily traveling the sidewalks past two other houses before she reached ours and wriggled so excitedly when she reached her destination that she struggled to navigate what should have been an easy walk through the rails of our fence.
As Ivy grew, she ran rather than waddled and, when she could no longer fit through the rails, she took to crying at the gate to be let in. And no matter what measures Jose took to keep Ivy at his house, she found a way to ours nearly every day.
She was determined — beyond determined — to see Woofie, our golden-retriever chow mix. It was love at first nose press when Jose first introduced Ivy to Woofie. He gently set her down in front of Woofie’s fluffy face, they went nose to nose and, from that day forward, Ivy found a way to keep escaping to find Woofie.
Whenever Ivy escaped from her yard to our house, Woofie greeted Ivy with her usual serenity. She’d watch quietly as Ivy bounded through our yard and house, rah-rah-rooing with joy at ear-splitting shrillness. Seconds before I’d voice my thoughts about the chaos and noise — Woofie would smile and emit a nearly inaudible “grrrr.”
Silence came instantly. And so it continued. Whenever I thought it was time for Ivy to stay or come, lie down or pipe down, Woofie would gently “grrr” from across the room, and Ivy heeded the instruction. Sometimes Woofie whispered longer messages into Ivy’s ear, and Ivy would either take a nap until I finished a deadline project or beg me to take her and Woofie for a walk, which would turn out to be exactly what I needed to gain new insight into a problem.
If I ever stopped to doubt whether this were possible, whether Woofie was mentoring Ivy or using Yoda-like powers to transform her, Woofie would look at me and smile serenely.
And I’d remember the day in 1999 when I saw Woofie for the first time on the street near our home in San Diego. She was a skinny, scared, injured and wild stray that neighbors demanded Animal Control capture and put to sleep. Even with a broken leg, she eluded her would-be captors for weeks and, when they finally gave up, she followed my daughters, our Great Dane and me home.
I didn’t plan to keep Woofie longer than it took for her leg to heal and for me to find her a new home. But I quickly realized that no one would adopt this biting, barking beast and I had no choice but to tame and train her. Frustrated, I emitted an involuntary growl. I think — I’m almost certain — I “grrred.”
Woofie proved a remarkably fast student, perhaps because she knew the payoff I hadn’t yet considered: a permanent, loving home for 14 years.
Six months after rescuing Woofie, we moved. We walked Woofie several times a day so most of our new neighbors saw her on a regular basis. They took one look at her fluffy face, noted that she was well-behaved and believed she was born that way. We moved five different times in Woofie’s life and took her on our travels to dozens of cities. Everyone, everywhere — including people who disliked dogs — concluded that Woofie was the most lovable animal they’d ever met.
Brand Loyalty and Disloyalty
No one who’s met Woofie believes the story of her mean past, and they resent me for telling it, for casting her, even for a moment, in an unfavorable light.
That’s the power of branding — and brand loyalty.
Ivy was born sweet-tempered and docile. She shies away from confrontations, furrows her brow with concern if one of us emits the slightest cough, and nurses neighborhood kittens when their mothers cannot produce enough milk to nourish them.
Unlike Woofie, she has no violent history to live down. But Ivy’s reputation precedes her birth. Before she took her first breath, she was branded as a vicious animal.
Ivy is a Pit Bull.
When my daughters and I walk her around the neighborhood, people cross the street or hurry in the opposite direction. Mail carriers reach over our fence to swat at her with sharp objects. A friend whose maltese-poodle we took care of for months at a time for seven years stopped allowing her dog to visit when she learned that Ivy had become part of our lives. We showed her a video of her dog and Ivy playing happily together and pictures of them kissing one another, and she still imposed the ban.
That’s the power of branding — and brand disloyalty.
The Pit and the Penultimate Branding Challenge
It’s why I tell clients to brand themselves before someone brands them first and why I fight hard for people and companies whose reputations have been unfairly damaged.
Good reputations are easily tarnished. Bad reputations are not easily repaired.
This is my New Year’s challenge to you: Imagine that you or your company were a Pit Bull. What would you do to redeem your brand? What will you do to build or bolster your brand in 2014 before a competitor, an unhappy client or a calamitous event tears it down?
Think it can’t happen? Neither, in her puppy innocence, did Ivy. But something drew her to Woofie, to us. She is now a permanent family member (Jose moved away and Ivy chose to live with my daughters and me.) And she now has the entire KOTAW team committed to rebranding her — and all Pit Bulls — as lovable.
One day, one story at a time.
Ivy, the Red Nose Pit Bull, deserves to play in reindeer games. Your brand deserves to glow.
It’s better to give than to receive, but I do want something from you: your comments! Please share your thoughts below. Wishing you and your loved ones a fabulous holiday season!