3 things the Canadian GEO Community can learn from Colonel Sanders

Jun 17, 2014

HINT: It’s not his secret recipe for crispy chicken!

On the first day of the Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table (CGCRT) workshop in Ottawa on June 9 – Condé Nast posted the article, “The Fast-Food Advertisement That Was Visible From Space”.  Naturally, curiosity got the best of me, and I opened up the article to find KFC’s Colonel Sanders smiling up at the heavens from Nevada’s famous Route 375 – the “extraterrestrial highway”.

Already passé (the campaign was from 2006), this was the first venture into “spacevertising” – advertising through imagery available via popular Internet mapping platforms.  But in an area known for frequent UFO sightings, it was also a publicity stunt – a billboard for passing extraterrestrials – the last pit stop before Mars, 225 million kilometres away, give or take.

As I marvelled at what new and exciting opportunities geo-technologies make possible (and wondered whether Sigourney Weaver’s alien nemesis would prefer KFC’s crispy or traditional coating), it occurred to me that are some lessons the CGCRT could learn from the Colonel.

First, the Colonel Sanders logo in the desert was the largest in the history of advertising. 65,000 individual tiles painted black, white, red and beige combined to make a single imagethat covered 8,129 m2.  Each tile on its own made an insignificant impression from space, but the image of the Colonel in all its glory emerged when the tiles came together.

Like the individual tiles – or groups of like-coloured tiles – it will only be in coming together of the segments of the geomatics and Earth observation communities that the full picture of the community – its collective identity – will shine through, with greater visibility and impact as the payoff.  Alone, or in clusters, the fragments do not present a critical, recognizable mass.

Second, KFC has an incredibly strong brand.  For better or for worse, KFC and the Colonel are known around the globe – and apparently – across the galaxy.  I’ll bet you can tell me how many herbs and spices are in the Colonel’s secret recipe before I can say, “finger lickin’ good”.

The Colonel himself lived the brand in his persona as a friendly, down home Southern gentleman.  He wore his trademark white suit and black string tie in public for the last 20 years of his life, and was buried in it when he passed away in 1980.  And though his image was made a little more modern with a red apron replacing the black tie for his 2006 “spacevertisement”, Colonel Sanders is an iconic figure whose brand lives on nearly a quarter century later.

Leaving summer whites and coiffed goatees to the Colonel, a unique brand for the CGCRT community can increase recognition of the range of quality products and services provided across the value chain of a sizable and experienced sector.  

And here’s a thought:  as “KFC” was a hip replacement (no, not that kind of hip replacement) for the “Kentucky Fried Chicken” brand name, does “GEO” offer a brand that better reflects the community’s diversity than less understood labels like “geomatics” or “geospatial”?

Third, consider the inspirational story of Harland Sanders, the man.  At age 65, unsatisfied with his meagre pension and armed with his recipe for tasty fried chicken, the Colonel set out on a two-year road trip peddling his dream.

Sleeping in his car, Harland Sanders visited restaurant after restaurant, providing cooking demonstrations to showcase his custom spice blend.  He was turned down one-thousand and six times – yes, that’s 1006 times– before his chicken recipe was accepted and the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise was born.

The lesson for the CGCRT?  In a word:  perseverance.  The Colonel doggedly pursued his vision of what he wanted.  He never lost sight of it, and he never gave up until he succeeded.

Coming out of the workshop last week, the CGCRT community has a “Team Canada” vision, a skeleton of an action plan, and champions who have signed on to support the spirit and intent of a Pan-Canadian Strategy.

What are you doing to make the CGCRT vision real?  Let me know in the comments.

Wendy is a senior policy advisor with the GeoSecretariat at the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation, Natural Resources Canada.  Views expressed in this blog are her own.


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