Branding Chinatown

Brand Schmand. Yeah it matters!!!

My daughter’s best friend had her cell phone stolen in Chinatown last night. The day before we’re about to leave this wonderful city, Madisyn’s 2-week-old Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G was lifted from her back pocket as we were winding our way through the hawkers with their “Louise Vuitton’s” splayed across the Canal Street sidewalk on bed sheets.

She realized it minutes after leaving a clothes shop she’d been in, and that’s all it took. Whoosh. Gone. Tears ensued. Her dad was going to be sooooooooo mad. All her photos of the day — a full day too, filled with great shots — up on the Highline for a picnic breakfast on the green, the gloriously sunny day spent in Central Park watching the crazy skaters and hip hop dancers, the zoo filled with photo opps of kids and animals, then onto the Plaza to show Madisyn the Eloise Store and where Becca had her 5th birthday party — a tea party — in the Palm Court. All gone. A cell phone is so much more than a cell phone these days.

We thought we’d cap off our last night in Chinatown. And then this. Amidst tears I tried to save the day by yanking them into an old favorite of mine, from my childhood days, 456 Shanghai (at 69 Mott for anyone looking for consistently excellent Chinese) where I knew the amazing soup dumplings (the best!) would perk her up. They did, and we had fun and it was de-lish, but at the end of the day, Chinatown didn’t stand a chance. Even after a Ferrara Gelato on Mulberry Street afterwards, only a few steps from Mott! Only a few steps!

Talk about branding. Madisyn says she now “hates” Chinatown. Noooooooo! I wanted to yell. Chinatown is the best! Chinatown is the thrumping, hot center of New York culture, well one of them. It lives and breathes authenticity and diversity. It has the best tea boutiques! Where else can you go home with little green turtles, intended for soup, for pets? Where else can you get an $8 Louise Vuitron clutch?

It depressed the hell out of me that Madi was definitely not going to share all my wonderful memories of Chinatown — it would be tainted in her mind for life — and that it was out of my control. How sad. Becca and I tried in vain to explain that it could have just as easily have happened in the park, or on the subway, or in the zoo, or quite frankly anywhere else. But no, walking through the quieter, more high end streets of Soho on our way home, Madi was convinced — knew 100 percent — that that would never have happened on Spring Street, or Mercer… because, well, look around.

At the end of the day 14-year-old Madisyn is going to believe what she’s going to believe, and yeah, she knows she messed up by putting it in her back pocket with its crazy pink cover screaming “take me!” but still… Chinatown? In her mind from here on out? BAD. What a drag.

The timing was funny; lately I’ve been reading so much about what “branding” really means, and I came back to the apartment thinking how easy is it to have a customer have just 1 bad experience, write 1 bad review, and suddenly your whole brand is instantaneously formed — and it’s tainted. That’s all it takes… 1 bad review. Our brand is most definitely our reputation… it’s me, it’s you, and it’s whatever folks are saying about us at the time. So we’d better be damn good, have nothing but good reviews for our work and make that our No. 1 priority. I get it now.

Madisyn isn’t buying “the good, the bad, and the ugly” just yet. But I’m going to keep working on her.

The good news: My Becca went to sleep admitting that all my “nagging” about taking the phone out of the back pocket may have made sense after all, instead of just being “annoying.” Aaaaaah, the little things.

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Rick Van Akin August 15, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Suzen, How do you address one bad customer experience? If Madisyn isn't buying it, how do you mitigate the bad press she is undoubtedly spreading about her experience? In every business, inevitably something goes wrong in spite of all your efforts to provide the best possible service. In other words, sh*t happens! How do you protect the reputation you worked so diligently to build?
Suzen Pettit August 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM
great question Rick! I don't think there's any quick fix. You're right that sh*t happens sometimes despite our best efforts to avoid it. And many times it's a synergy thing with a customer, not anything that we've done wrong. In the online world review sites like Yelp, etc. highlight these bad experiences more than ever and make it harder to avoid the exposure. Hence the birth of "Reputation Management" firms. Thats for the big guns though. For us smaller business folk diligent efforts to create great experiences, asking our clients consistently for reviews and testimonials certainly help. And time, the great healer. Eventually we can squelch the bad with an asserted effort to emphasize the good.
Observer August 15, 2012 at 12:22 PM
We need to stop spoiling our children with fancy toys they don't need. Seriously, what is a 14-year-old doing with a $500 piece of technology in her pocket? I'm not saying that she deserved to have the phone stolen, but entrusting a child with such a valuable item is just plain dumb.
Suzen Pettit August 15, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Well, that's a whole other blog now, isn't it? Not that i want to dig deep into that subject here but a few comments to your wise observation. a) i tend to agree with you. however: b)welcome to 2012. have you been to the middle schools recently? they all have them, there's no getting around it, kids and cell phones are here to stay whether we like it or not c) in defense of madisyn, this phone was not given to her(unlike many kids). she worked for it, and saved the money for it, and pays for the service. and d) it is a good lesson in responsibility, isn't it? a hard one for sure, but i can bet you that girl won't be walking around with her cell phone in her back pocket anymore. At least not in congested area's!
Observer August 15, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Suzen, all valid points. I understand that it's part of the kids' culture today, but that's not the point. My mother-in-law has a phone that we activated on our family plan. There's a monthly usage charge, of course, but the phone itself? Free. It makes and receives calls and even has the capability to send and receive texts (she doesn't take advantage of this feature, of course). No reason for any child to be walking around with $500 in her pocket just to keep up with the joneses. They're kids, they shouldn't have to deal with that kind of crap the way we adults do (and we ALL do). I'm glad to hear that she worked for it, but unfortunately this is always the defense I hear when I bring this point up...everybody says the kid worked for it. I'm not saying Madisyn didn't, I'm just saying it's the story we always hear. Also, let's be adults - there's a difference between working for a paycheck every week and raking the leaves in the lawn for a crisp $50 from your dad. And even the fact that she did work for it doesn't really excuse it in my eyes - I hope that when the time comes, I can teach my daughter a few better ways to spend $500 than on a fancy cell phone. As for D, yeah, it's a great lesson. It's just a shame that she has to eat $500 to learn it. :/ I'd love to see a more lengthy post from you on this topic, though. I usually enjoy your blog. :)


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