Pamela Wilson

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Branding Lessons from Chile, or How to Dig Out of a Bad Spot

Last Tuesday night I knew the first Chilean miners were due to be brought to the surface after more than two months underground. On a whim, I clicked on a live feed of the rescue effort to see if it had started.

Big mistake.

how to make a brand like Chile that shines when the world is watching

I couldn’t sleep until I saw the first miner above ground. When I woke up the next day, I turned on the rescue efforts and watched as I ate my breakfast. I was hooked.

I took my laptop to my office, and streamed the rescue effort in the background all day while I worked at my desk.

When the first miner made it above ground, I burst into tears. I thought my emotional reaction would subside as the day wore on, but time after time I got weepy as each miner was reunited with his loved ones.

The rescue effort continued, and I was able to eavesdrop on conversations between miners, their loved ones, the President, and the rescuers. I speak Spanish fluently (want to know why? Read this post).

A Brand-tastic Day

In the days following the rescue, I’ve read many interpretations of what we witnessed that day. Was it a product of faith? An engineering feat? Capitalism in action?

I think it was all these things, but I saw something else, too: a miracle of branding.

It’s not often that the eyes of the world focus on Chile. It’s a country of only 16 million people: that’s less than the population of New York City.

Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s president, had been criticized for his handling of the earthquake in Chile’s Maule region earlier this year. The pressure was on him to get this rescue right.

how to make a brand shine by making decisions like the president of Chile

How did Chile dig itself out of this situation? What branding moves helped Chile triumph on their historic day?

Manage Expectations Ruthlessly

When the miners were first discovered alive after 17 days, the government began its efforts to extract them from half a mile below the earth. They estimated they’d need to dig until Christmas.

Instead, one of the three holes drilled reached the miners in six weeks.

The Chilean government estimated it would take 36 hours to bring all 33 miners to the surface. It took 22. At first, it was one miner out per hour. By the end, the last few miners went from their underground cavern to the light of day in about 12 minutes.

The lesson here? Manage expectations. Be realistic about results. Then work like crazy to over deliver on your promises.

Reinforce Your Visual Brand at Every Turn

The Chilean flag was everywhere that day. It was above ground:

how to make a brand visible like Chile in their rescue efforts

It was below ground:

how to make a brand visible like Chile in the miner rescues

It was on the capsule, and on the shirts the miners wore as they saw sunlight for the first time in almost two months.

how to make a brand visible like Chile did when the world was watching them

The rescue capsule was painted in the Chilean national colors. The name of the country was prominently displayed every time it peeked above ground.

how to make a brand visible like Chile did in their rescue efforts

Rescue team members wore red jackets with “Chile” over their hearts.

how to make a brand visible like Chile did during their miner rescues

Miners were able to groom themselves before the eyes of the world were on them. They were freshly shaved, had trimmed hair and looked clean.

Chile’s visual brand was on display in almost every television image shown that day. This repetition reinforced the perception of a unified team working together in this heroic effort.

Create a Predictable Pattern of Behavior

Miners received media training in the form of a booklet that was sent below ground for them to study before they had to face the glare of the media spotlight.

It was clear that both the rescuers and the miners understood exactly what needed to happen that day. The operation moved like clockwork.

A miner entered the capsule and was cheered by those below. As the capsule ascended, a respectful silence fell on the crowd.

how to make a brand that captivates an audience's attention

His loved ones gathered at the exit.

how to make a brand stronger by using the power of a united group

As the capsule approached the surface, an alarm sounded. About 10 meters from the top, a designated rescuer called out to him. As soon as the rescuer heard an answer, he gave a thumbs-up signal, and the crowd cheered.

The miner arrived to a round of applause, and as he left the capsule, people broke out in the “miner’s cheer:”

“Los mineros de Chile!”

After warm handshakes and hugs that sent hardhats flying, the miner was led to a stretcher and taken into triage.

Several times I heard the medical staff say “protocolo” to the miners. I believe it was to remind them to follow protocol and move to the waiting stretcher as soon as possible after their greetings were done. Everyone knew what had to happen so the day would run smoothly.

It was a privilege to witness these historic moments, and one I won’t soon forget. I watched as President Piñera greeted each miner, saying:

“Welcome back to life. Welcome back to the new life you have ahead of you.”

how to make a brand memorable by focusing on emotional impactCongratulations to the engineers, the people of faith, the businessmen … and the branding experts. It was a job well done!

Pamela Wilson

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8 thoughts on “Branding Lessons from Chile, or How to Dig Out of a Bad Spot”

  1. What interesting observations!

    Patriotism as branding. Branding as unifying.

    The Chilean government really managed the media well and they maintained control of the situation. Reminded me a bit of NASA when they send people to space, everything is calculated to the nth degree and every possible error is considered.

    I think this rescue showed great leadership and vision. I wonder who decided it should be so?

    • NASA was consulted on the capsule construction, and helped the Chileans with nutritional supplements the miners drank before heading up.

      That’s what the news reported, anyway, but I wonder if NASA offered operational assistance as well. I kept thinking about the moon landings and the space program as I watched the rescue, too.

  2. What an insightful post, Pam!

    Reminded me of my UNICEF days when we would be “branded,” head to toe, when going out on field. It was absolutely necessary to always be visible in action, so that donors and prospective donors would remember us and know that UNICEF is always there when children are in need.

  3. Interesting observations. It’s funny how one can spot marketing at work in the strangest places. Of course if this happened in the USA they would have all had Nike logos and Gatorade 🙂

  4. This is one of the most dramatic rescue operations I know.

    Seems like you are very observant on the brand Pam…. Yeah you’re right… The symbol of Chile is everywhere.:)

    I think one of the lessons is that, if you are a part of the brand, you yourself should be proud of that brand without any hesitations to show it to the world. And this is exactly what the people of Chile did.

  5. I couldn’t sleep that night. I had to sit there and watch and cheer as each miner emerged from the capsule. And I cried every time they successfully brought another one up. And now you’ve made me cry again with that “Welcome back to life” quote. But this whole endeavor was amazing to watch unfold.

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