Leslie Ungar, The Inner Brilliance of Electric Impulse, Inc.

Where Ideology and Rubber Meet the Road

Leslie’s Articles

I’m from Akron, Ohio.
We used to be the rubber capital of the world.

Akron was home to Firestone, Goodyear, Goodrich, General Tire, and many of their predecessors who no longer exist. Tires made Akron an industrial giant. Every tire’s moment of truth is the moment the rubber literally hits the road: when ideology figuratively meets practicality. So the symbolic place that rubber meets the road has special significance to this native Akronite.

The same truth applies to our lives: we need to find where ideology and practicality meet the road. In my senior undergraduate year, Dr. Hart swore this would be the last time in our soon to be complicated lives that we would ponder deep philosophical questions. I was living at home and commuting to college when I took his Introduction to Philosophy class. I would return home from the library late each night and encounter my Dad, consciously or subconsciously, waiting up for me.

He was always the first recipient of the questions I was asked in class during the day: if you replace one plank a year on the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria, at the end of the 100 years is it the same boat?If you leave your car in a parking space, how do you know it stayed there all day?

Like many fathers, his response was probably to be expected.
I’m sending you to college to ask these questions???

Dr. Hart was wrong. At least in my case, and for my clients and audiences. College was not the last time that I asked myself or others questions that at first look unanswerable. It is in the branding exercise that I experienced the most recent blending of ideology and practicality.

The exercise goes like this: you are asked in a group or individual setting to identify what kind of car you or your company is now, and what kind of car you want to be in 5 years. The exercise serves many purposes. For many people, it is easier to think of value in a car than themselves. The lessons that you can learn from this exercise are virtually limitless. Everyone does not aspire to be a Maserati nor should they.

Administering this exercise to a company is part of a process to identify their value. One defining moment for me while conducting this exercise was this client’s response. The Marketing VP said, “we want to be perceived as a Buick: affordable and dependable”. This one line was a huge step in identifying their marketing strategies. Marketing pieces and process will need to match this core value: slick and expensive pieces will not be a good match.
Each time I orchestrate this exercise I learn something new!
In the most recent application of this exercise one participant said the kind of car they want to be in 5 years has not been invented yet!
Meaning they want to be cutting edge.

Another said, today they are a Lexus, but in 5 years they want to be a Honda. Meaning today they are seen as a luxury, but they want their product to be seen as an affordable option in 5 years.

This branding exercise is a great way to look at yourself or your business with less of an emotional connection: for ideology to meet practicality. Once you see yourself as a car, or the car you want to be, you can begin to align all facets of your business to this brand.

This is where my ideology met my practicality.
My Jeep is 7 years old. I thought I would simply turn it in at the end of the lease and get another red Jeep. I love red Jeeps. I like the boxiness, the intensity of the red that holds its color through snow, sleet, and sun. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Jeep stop making both my model of Jeep and they stop making red.

So I decided to keep my red Jeep until . . . Until this summer. When the broken almost unfixable air conditioning prompted me to re-visit: what kind of car am I and what kind of car do I want to be?

My mission took me through many dealerships, websites, and questions.
What once would have been a car decision became a business branding decision.

Am I an automatic or a stick shift that requires more thought and action?

Am I a bright color or a color that can’t commit?

Am I an easy 4-seater or do I make it clear that you have to schedule ahead
for my 2-seater?

Am I a big SUV making a statement on who owns the road, or a smaller step sister?

Am I practical or an indulgence?

Am I a smooth ride or put on your seat belt?

This exercise is at once clarifying and confusing!

One question to ask yourself is: Are you a past, present, or would-be giant in your field? The tire companies stand as examples of past Akron giants. Their moment of truth was when the rubber actually hit the road. Our moment of truth is the moment the rubber figuratively hits the road: when ideology meets practicality.

Although I have administered this exercise countless times, it was only when I applied it to a real life car selection that I learned where the rubber met the road for me. Where do they meet for you?

Hint: this exercise may help or hinder your next car search. It will definitely help you identify your competitive edge.