Time To Rebrand New Jersey?

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
| CRM, ERP, Contact Center, Turkish Coffee and Astroichthiology:

Time To Rebrand New Jersey?

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is my five-year old daughter Zelda's two favorite songs to sing along with, as she's doing: Loudon Wainwright III's "Dead Skunk," and Frank Sinatra's "Ol' MacDonald" from Sinatra's Swingin' Session. Once Zelda tires of this -- which won't happen, the question is how long can I stand to keep repeating them -- it's back to The Supersuckers' Singles Pack:

Smart Online has sold the assets of business software maker Computility for $2.6 million to Des Moines-based Alliance Technologies. The move is part of Smart Online's decision to exit the networking business. It had acquired Computility in October of 2005 in a stock deal worth approximately $4 million.

Computility was founded in Des Moines in 1999 as Harvest Services and focused on Web-based Sales Force Automation (SFA) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications. In the official filing papers, Smart Online stated that it had sold "substantially all the assets" of Smart CRM for $600,000 in cash. Alliance also assumed $1.7 million in debt.

Alliance Technologies' president Mike Lang said in a prepared statement that his company will pick up 110 new business clients, consisting of 65 small- to medium-sized businesses in central Iowa and 45 small- to medium-sized trade associations located through the country.

A new global public opinion poll, called the Anholt State Brands Index, collected data from 9,000 U.S. citizens and more than 12,000 foreigners "regarding the appeal of all 50 states," in terms of where you'd want to live.

Call it an informal survey of customer perceptions of brand names. Classic CRM stuff. And maybe it's time to rebrand New Jersey.

The survey asked Americans and foreigners which states they think are the best for living and working in. Since First Coffee's wife is a New Zealander with American citizenship who's lived in Connecticut and Virginia I was able to duplicate the survey here at home in Istanbul (rebranded from "Constantinople," now "Turkey" could use deft rebranding.)

The Anholt survey showed that among Americans, North Carolina and Virginia were considered the two most desirable states, combining factors such as livability, climate, economic opportunity, cost of living, recreation and whatever else goes into choosing a state to live in -- distance from in-laws, quality of public education, whatever.

Furriners put California and Florida first and second. Shows how much they know, huh? Actually my wife, guessing what Americans would say, put Florida first. Guessing as a foreigner she did put California first.

Government advisor Simon Anholt, the poll's creator, said that North Carolina and Virginia's high rankings are "presumably all down to local knowledge of the real economic situation of the states," whereas the foreigners are "largely guessing."

Florida, Colorado and Oregon rounded out the top five for Americans' preferences. The top ten for foreigners included, in order, California, Florida, Hawaii, New York ("[Foreigners] seem to think that New York City and New York state are pretty much the same thing," Anholt explained) Washington ("largely because they believe it holds Washington, D.C.," according to online commentator Jim Walsh), North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado and Texas.

The bottom five for foreigners? Arkansas, Delaware, Michigan (!), Alabama and… New Jersey. Sorry, but it's true.

"It is well known that even highly rational decisions -- such as major investments and business relocations -- are partly driven by so-called 'soft' factors, and measuring the brand images of states is an excellent way of getting a handle on these factors," Anholt thinks. This means "brand image is critically important to the prosperity of all communities, yet it is hard to identify, hard to explain, and remarkably hard to alter."

It is "critical," he says, for the "political, cultural, social, educational and business leaders" of each state to understand their brand, and to see how potential visitors, investors and future citizens view them: "If the image doesn't match up to the reality, they can decide what to do to close the gap."

Walsh comes up with a half-serious suggestion to change the name of the place, throwing out "North Florida" to get the creative juices flowing. Hey, why not? They have to do something, stealing Ellis Island from New York didn't work, and heaven forbid the state improve governance, taxation, regulations, environment, crime, Newark Airport…

First Coffee grew up in Tarrytown, New York. A nice place to live. However, the town (or "village," or whatever the official screwy New York State jurisdictional designation was), of North Tarrytown, at least back then, was not a nice place at all. Negative associations abounded. Real estate suffered. So the North Tarrytown leaders got together to tackle the problem in a meaningful, far-sighted way, and decided to roll up their sleeves and… change the town name to Sleepy Hollow.

Bingo presto, no more negative associations with North Tarrytown. Now they had funky associations with headless horsemen and Washington Irving. (The state of Washington Irving, not the city, mind you.)

It's a good concept. Bianca Perez-Mora Macias had to work for a living until she upgraded to Bianca Jagger. Kept the brand name in the divorce settlement, I notice. Enjoyed a Chinese gooseberry recently? You have, just as a "kiwi fruit."

Tired of being associated with the Salem Witch Trials, part of the town of Salem, Massachusetts short-sightedly broke off and renamed itself Beverly. The part which stayed Salem makes a killing in witch-related tourist business. First Coffee thinks the early settlers missed a golden opportunity to seriously rebrand when they settled for plain old New England instead of New And Improved! England.

But the point is, customers have associations with brand names. And as far as foreign investment's concerned, American states are brand names. It's one thing to throw out on the conference table in Barcelona, Osaka or Minsk a prospectus for establishing a presence in Florida or California, it's quite another to suggest New Jersey or Delaware. Never mind that Delaware's in all likelihood a much better place, businesswise, to incorporate than California or Florida. The brand name stinks.

Companies with negative brand names do it all the time. Goodbye "Philip Morris," hello "Altria." Might slip past a few more noses.

Sometimes a place name change makes sense. "Calcutta" bad, "Kolkota," well, it's an uptick. "Burma" to "Myanmar," hard to see the rebrand value there.

Sometimes states overestimate the value of their brand: In 1990 the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in an extraordinarily stupid example of brand-kill, trademarked the name "Kentucky" and charged license fees to companies or entities using the name. That's why Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC, the Kentucky Derby became "The Run For The Roses," companies changed "Kentucky Bluegrass" seed to "Shenandoah Bluegrass," and Neil Diamond asked that "Kentucky Woman" be pulled from radio play since he actually lost money every time it played.

Kentucky lost inestimable publicity and positive associations and other states learned from their folly. But hey, that's why those guys are in government and not private industry.

It works for semi-national institutions: During World War I the ruling family of England was the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Not the name you want when your finest citizens are being slaughtered by Germans left and right. So the family rebranded themselves the Windsors, to the relief of necktie knot inventors everywhere.

New Zealand was considering changing the name of the country to Aotearoa, the Maori name for the place (means "Land Of The Long White Cloud" in Maori. In other words, it sure rains a lot.) Then they must've done a survey and found out that most people in the world had positive associations with "New Zealand" -- clean, green, safe, outdoorsy. You don't hear much about changing the name any more.

So why not states? Some do consider it. A couple years ago the governor of North Dakota (#44 among foreigners, no doubt at least that low among Americans), tired of all the negative associations with his state, publicly mulled changing the name of the state to "Dakota." It would have been the first state named after a car.

The governor of South Dakota's official comment: "They can rename it Lower Alberta for all I care."

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