What Your Brand Can Learn From Fargo

I'm not talking about tips you can take away from the Coen brothers' movie or TV adaptation. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm afraid that's an entirely different article (though I'd bet amidst the oblivious police force and self-invested criminals in the Fargo on screen, you could find some solid takeaways about the importance of cohesion and cooperation). But it's the real Fargo -- a city that has slid under the radar apart from its big-screen name fame -- that you can and should be learning from.

I know what you're thinking. Can that joke of a city you see on screen, the one with the thick, cartoonish accents and the abundance of bomber hats really teach us anything about successful branding?

You betcha.

First of all, it's worth noting that despite the name, the Coen film and TV adaptation actually take place in Minnesota. (For those geography-impaired with regard to anything north of Nebraska, Fargo is in North Dakota.) And despite the bad rap the city might get from outsiders who have never traveled to the northern tundra, Fargo is experiencing unprecedented growth and gaining national spotlight as one of the nation's best places to live and work and one of the smartest cities in the nation.

So Fargo is clearly doing something right -- and it has nothing to do with a woodchipper. Actually, the city is doing a lot of things right -- and your brand could learn some valuable lessons from its example. Here are just a few:

It's all about perception.
Make a trip to Fargo and you might be shocked to hear fewer "don't-cha-knows" than you expected. Real-life Fargo is hardly similar to what you see on screen. But that's how the world works. People form perceptions -- and misconceptions -- based on what they think they know (from the media or otherwise). That's why your brand could elicit a negative connotation from someone who has never even interacted with your product or service. Maybe your angry customer has a friend who ranted about a terrible experience with your company. Perhaps it's as simple as the colors in your logo reminding them of something they don't like. Whether you caused the negative perception or not, it's your responsibility to change it.

How does Fargo do it? By recognizing the over-the-top stereotypes of Fargoans and joining in on the joke. If you know there's a common misconception about your brand out there, the best thing you can do is acknowledge it -- then, show people why it's not true.

Size doesn't matter.
Fargo is a relatively small city -- boasting a population of around 110,000 people excluding its neighboring cities. But smaller doesn't mean less capable, and it shouldn't for your brand either. Whether your company employs five people or 500, the challenge is the same -- to build a brand people notice and trust. Unfortunately, there's no secret formula. There's no recipe calling for one part great logo and two dashes brand consistency to land your brand among the ranks of Apple, Microsoft and Coca Cola. But you don't need to be up there in size with the biggest to compete with them.

Fargo is no L.A. or New York City, and it probably never will be. But it's certainly more successful in terms of unemployment and happiness of its residents. Likewise, you don't need to be a corporate giant to provide value. Find the things your brand can offer that the big dogs can't, and run with it.

Your people are everything.
A city is nothing without its people -- and neither is your brand. You need to find out what your customers like, want, need, fear and hate. You need to know what's important to them and how they like to communicate. Then, you need to use that information to tailor your brand to them.

The customers who love what you have to offer will become your biggest brand ambassadors. They'll be loyal to your products, tell their friends and advocate for your brand against your competitors. Take it from Fargo. When people love you, they'll tell the world. That's how the city is getting noticed nationally.

Fargo is a prime example of branding done right. So whether you're discouraged by misconceptions people have about your brand or you feel too small to make a difference, learn from the city's example and transform your brand into something people will love. Oh, and if you've been inspired to finally make the trek to see what all the hype is about, just remember to come in the summer. The Coen brothers did not exaggerate what our winters look like.