Friday, October 15, 2010
A South African fellow of my acquaintance has an expression for this: “smelling your own socks.” Vivid image, that. But I suppose this is what I was doing the other day when I picked up a copy of The Orange Code and skimmed through it for the first time in a long while.
It’s been exactly two years this month since our book about the story of ING Direct launched, which would not ordinarily be an interesting piece of information. Not unless it was this particular two years. Remember the fall of 2008? The Lehman collapse, and the looming sense of apocalypse in the aftermath? Remember that uneasy holiday season, and then, finally, the crapstorm itself at the dawn of 2009? Bank failures, government bailouts, foreclosure signs on lawns across America… it was pretty sketchy for a while there, and some experts suggested that we’d all come closer to the abyss than anyone wanted to admit. And in the wake of it, a consumer who had both lost confidence in banks (according to Gallup, fully 38% of Americans had “very little confidence” in the country’s financial institutions even as recently as last month) and was flat out angry at them. Of all the ‘toxic assets’ in the system, customer faith was surely the most so.
Things have settled down a little now, but the relationship between banks and their customers has probably changed forever, for the banks left standing, that is. And for me, The Orange Code is born anew. You see, when we wrote this book, it was a story about a successful brand. There have been lots of those. But rarely in the history of business writing has anybody described a successful branding model and then –with the ink on the page barely dry – had that model tested on so biblical a scale. Today, après le deluge, ING Direct is still trucking along, still enjoying passionately loyal customers and a healthy business. All that stuff my co-author said about principled leadership and the paramount importance of a customer-focused mission, it turned out to be true. It turned out to have built an enterprise that was more seaworthy than anyone could have predicted it would need to be. Suddenly, thanks to the intervention of history, The Orange Code is a lot less theoretical.
I think that’s why it’s worth a read now more than ever, if you haven’t yet. Yeah, I know, I’m just promoting our book. But just because it’s marketing doesn’t mean it’s not true. Or that it stinks.