U-Haul or MyHaul?

25 Aug

My wife and I needed to move a couch yesterday, and re-discovered the great deal that is the $19.95 rental fee for a 10-foot U-Haul truck.  My wife admitted — and then was picked on for doing so — that she never realized that “U-Haul” is so named because they let “you” haul stuff.

So I suggested back that you’d never name that company “U-Haul” if you were starting it today.  Back in 1945, it made sense.  The country was on the move, and folks were willing to move themselves.  But it was almost impossible to rent a truck or trailer for a one-way trip.  Sam and Anna Mary Shoen came up with a business model, a name and painted a lot of orange trailers.  U-Haul was born with a promise to a “do-it-yourself” nation — as U-Haul puts it, “Serving U Right Since 1945.”

Today, the Shoen’s would probably have come up with “iMove“, “MyTruck” or “MyHaul” (and, for the record, I was picked on right back for suggesting this — U-Haul is a great name!).

Today, it seems like branding isn’t about the feeling that “we” the business are serving “you” the customer, but more about how “we” and “you” are all on the same side.  It’s not just a business where I buy stuff, it’s all about me, myself and I.  It’s not “YourSpace”, it’s “MySpace”.  There’s a burger joint that’s not the Burger King, it’s “MyBurger“.  At Coke.com, you can ‘Design the World a Coke,” as if you were a part of the great effort to bring cola happiness to every corner of the globe. There’s MyYahoo, iTunes and iGoogle (OK, so yes, “YouTube” is the exception…).

In social media circles, we talk constantly of engaging the consumer, of enlisting our biggest fans as advocates, of encouraging consumers to take over the brand by empowering them to discuss, review, comment and create.

This is an important, vital shift in the marketplace that is only growing in strength.  To a point. There’s a population out there with a passionate need to create and express themselves.  If they love a brand — or hate it — they’ll find an outlet in that.  They will “create” for your business, and you can be a part of that with them and with the right care and feeding it open all sorts of opportunities.

There seems to be a backlash.  Small example, interpreted far too broadly:  Microsoft Office 2007 puts files in folders called “Documents,” “Pictures”, “Music” and “Downloads” — they’ve removed the “My’s”. I think the pullback of the “my” trend will save the news business as well: While people want the news they want, and many want to participate in sharing and amplifying the news, the popularity of blogs and collaborative news sites like Digg and Metafilter indicates an equal desire for news judgement — whether it’s a guy with an opinion, the wisdom of crowds, or the (hopefully) evolving standards of a proud journalistic tradition.

The answers are complicated, and they are simple.  Complicated, because customers are diverse, individualistic, and exacting — and expect you to treat them that way.  Simple, because good businesses come by the right approach naturally.  They know that there are plenty of folks out there who don’t want “your business” to be “my business.”

They serve.  They entertain.  They inform. They deliver.  They don’t just create one more thing for me to do. They do something for me.

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