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.
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 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:
It was below ground:
It was on the capsule, and on the shirts the miners wore as they saw sunlight for the first time in almost two months.
The rescue capsule was painted in the Chilean national colors. The name of the country was prominently displayed every time it peeked above ground.
Rescue team members wore red jackets with “Chile” over their hearts.
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.
His loved ones gathered at the exit.
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.”