John Deere and brands as families

On August 14, John Deere CEO was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, saying that the company and dealers of its farm equipment are "not a family. What we are is a high performance team....if someone is not pulling their weight, you're not on the high performance team anymore." The company is getting rid of some smaller scale dealers as part of its business strategy. This is not to debate the merits of that strategy but rather to note the danger of telling your business associates that they should not consider themselves part of your family, especially when they are fiercely loyal. In the case of Deere, the Journal reports, dealers have been known to say they "bleed green," the company's signature color.

In the book Creating Customer Evangelists, authors Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba note that people are loyal to people not to brands, and that top companies create a sense of family both internally and externally. (Examples are Southwest Airlines and Build a Bear.) The first part of
that statement is debatable, but what is clear is that by alienating its dealers from the family they once had, Deere is creating the risk that they will go elsewhere for business opportunities for themselves.

Smart brands create and encourage the perception that employees, customers, and other key stakeholders are all part of one big, happy, warm family. The high performance team aspect of that family relationship cannot be forgotten, but it is subordinate to the family relationship.

Do you think that brands can operate as families and high performance teams at the same time?