#220 – Dick Bernard: Target, MN Forward, and the other side of "Branding"

Breaking news on this issue. The remainder of this post was written before this news bulletin was received.
In recent weeks Target Corporation has found itself in the national Bulls eye for corporate sponsorship of a “business as citizen” political action committee called MN Forward.
Pipsqueaks, common citizens like myself, can’t impact on such a behemoth…or can we?
I keep thinking back to a surprise snowstorm around Thanksgiving, 1983. I was enroute to Duluth, and at tiny Canyon MN, the snow on four-lane highway 53 became so heavy that I and other motorists were literally stopped in our tracks, and had to be rescued by snowmobiles.
Salvation for me was being able to stay overnight in the tiny store/gas station/home which is pictured below. The proprietors harbored myself and an over the road trucker who was, like me, stalled on the freeway. We had beds to sleep in, and a simple macaroni hotdish – under the circumstances a gourmet meal.

Canyon Standard Oil Station Spring 1984

The Canyon store had been, and continued to be a good way stop for me as I traveled from Minnesota’s Iron Range to Duluth. I’d get gas, maybe a candy bar, and engage in some conversation.
The first credit card I ever had was a Standard Oil card, and it was used exclusively for gas and oil – this was in the days before full service convenience stations. Standard Oil had my loyalty – a positive brand image. Not only did I have their card, but one of their stations had gone the extra mile to give me exceptional service.
But all was to change, probably less than a year after the Thanksgiving good deed.
I stopped by the station as I always did, and the owners told me they were no longer going to be carrying gasoline. Standard Oil higher-ups had decided they were too small, and they were taken off the distribution list for fuel products. Their only sin, best as I could tell, was their small volume. They weren’t worth the trouble. Ultimately the store closed.
When the Canyon Store stopped selling Standard Oil products, I stopped going to Standard Oil, and I never went back, even as the brand changed names as the company was bought and sold. If the sign said “Standard Oil”, wherever I was, I went to the next station down the road….
Twenty years after Standard Oil had issued me one of their credit cards, I stopped patronizing Standard Oil. Their branding had become a negative for me.
I’m not naive.
My petty amount of business would not bring Standard Oil to its knees.
Similarly, my not shopping at Target will not seem to have an impact.
But image is critical to a company like Target, or like Standard Oil in an earlier day.
You cannot rebuild a reputation simply by hoping people will forget.
I never did….