In case you missed it, there was a great article last week in the Wall Street Journal (“Minnesota’s Cool New Image as ‘the North’ ”) about the move to rebrand Minnesota as “North.” It’s nicely summarized as “a number of local influencers … want their region to be recognized for its innovative, sturdy character, honed by long, cold winters.” The trigger? Hats branded “North” are selling like crazy.
As a former Minnesotan (Northian?), marketing guy and Golden Gopher (graduating with an economically pointless degree in geography), I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this topic, since we seem to be dealing with a blend of state pride, branding and place.
That said, my first decision had to be what to write about. It would be easy to go howling down a tangent about class warfare or the influence of money and politics in retail: spokes-Northians for the effort are Eric and Andrew Dayton. Their dad is governor; their great-great-granddad was a successful small-town banker (hey, Worthington!) who moved to the Twin Cities and started Dayton’s, which begat Target, so there’s that.
Or, I could write a snarky piece about branding they didn’t choose, like “More than Fargo” (meaning the city and the movie), or “Politically, we’re Boston” (won’t fit on a stocking cap) or “Has anyone seen Ole and Lena?” (I actually kinda like that one.)
However, as I mentioned, I am a former marketing guy, so snark is out.
What does that leave? Leadership!
If you know Minnesota, you may have noticed the same thing that I did. There are at least five lessons of leadership in this piece that highlight the best, lasting values of Minnesotans.
Here we go:
• Reframe a difficult issue: The Dayton brothers have found a safe way to reframe a touchy subject (cold vs. north). They are recasting Minnesota’s paralyzing exothermic winter experience into a community built around a shared response to suffering. On second thought, let’s just stick with the headline — reframe a difficult issue.
• Quality is universal: The story is full of great stuff that’s been made in Minnesota for ages — boots, blankets and hats. It’s as if L.L. Bean spontaneously emerged from the tundra and began the long march to New York City, where this stuff is showing up on hipsters. Dad is gonna be so mad to see his boots walking down Broadway …
• Keep it together: There is no North or South Minnesota. There is a North and South Dakota. (Trust me on this, I’m a professional.) If North Dakota ever asserted its geography and said “We wanna be ‘North,’ ” the answer has to be: “You are north. North Dakota.”
• Go the extra mile: Take a look at a map (or maps app). See that bump on top of Minnesota? It’s called the Northwest Angle. Whether Minnesota won it from Manitoba in a simple mapmaking error or a curling tournament, it’s the part of Minnesota that bolsters the claim to “North.” Geography suddenly seems very, very relevant doesn’t it?
• Finally, share the credit: There is a small town in northern Minnesota that is routinely cited as having the coldest temps in the Lower 48. This is a distinction of great honor, and Minnesota could have called the place “Nordic Heritage Falls” or “Minnesota’s Frigid Falls,” but that would be bragging, and that’s not North. The name they went with? International Falls.
How gracious is that? Our car won’t start, but everyone — literally everyone — gets to claim a piece of our pioneer spirit. Pretty cool.
Dennis Brouwer is a leadership coach (www.crew11.us), writer and recovering Northian. He and his wife (also from Minnesota) live on a small farm in North Virginia. He’s at DB@crew11.us.