The Barnes & Noble on West Gray last year: a cafe’s-worth of patrons cadges free wi-fi and flips through great stacks of magazines they will never buy. Browsing the self-help stalls, I find myself suddenly drawn to The Secrets of Happy Families, a book by Bruce Feiler. I pick it up. Wondering what “cutting-edge research” has to say on this subject, I find myself becoming seduced by Feiler’s “best practices” approach to family dynamics, as well as his brain trust, which include a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the cast of Modern Family. I am spellbound. All thoughts of the present-day and toileting cease. I finish reading the jacket flap and return the book to the shelf.
Later that night I have a dream in which a man comes to the door and threatens to repossess my home. It is Feiler. He is upset with my management style, saying that families are like companies: either they continue to grow or they die. That’s particularly the case in today’s slow-growth/no-growth economy, he continues, in which smaller entities like mine are just one step from insolvency and/or hostile-takeover bids.
The next morning, I awaken with an uneasy sense that it is time to redefine my family brand. I go back to the bookstore. “My goal was to put together a playbook for happy families,” I read, nodding as Feiler walks me through the steps necessary to reconnect me with my family’s core values, craft a mission statement, even design a logo. I return the book to the shelf, having devoured the entire introduction.
I convene a focus group. “What words come to mind when you think of my family?” I ask a few bewildered onlookers. “Why? Did Aunt Helen tell you what I said?” replies one. “Cynical,” says another. “Turquoise,” answers a third. Next, I redraft a family mission statement. I immediately discard “We dream undreamable dreams,” “We help others to fly,” and other Feiler suggestions in favor of slogans that have brought results. I end up torn between “Have it your way,” “Lifts and separates,” and “What happens here, stays here.”
But what of a logo? I am stumped. One of Feiler’s families hired a designer to riff on a chambered nautilus for its logo, but neither the nautilus nor the hiring seem appropriate in our case. And then one day I come across a strategic action plan for Olive Garden, which has been going through its own branding struggles of late. In it, the spaghetteria is described as an “experience that is casual, yet stylish, creating an atmosphere that promotes togetherness, nurtures relationships and welcomes sharing.” This is it, I say. This is my family.
While not unaware that Olive Garden’s reams of market research ultimately produced a new logo that is widely considered to be a dud, I do not complain. Why? The genius that was the old logo—green-cursive-and-grapes-on-faux-stucco—is now ripe for stealing, which I promptly do. Within weeks, my family is on the rebound. Our future is assured, it seems to me, as long as we continue to offer free breadsticks.