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October 27, 2019 | Tom Ballard

Don Miller, Fred Diaz polish Tennessee’s brand during GOVCON presentations

For those of us who carefully construct articles every day, it was truly refreshing to hear one of the featured speakers at last week’s GOVCON – the annual “Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development” – say that words really matter.

Don Miller, Chief Executive Officer of Nashville-based StoryBrand, annually works with more than 3,000 business leaders to help them clarify their brand message. He’s also the author of three books that were New York Times Bestsellers, and his presentation continued to build on the theme from the opening session about Tennessee’s brand (see Friday’s feature article here).

“It’s all about words, and the wonderful thing about them is they are free,” Miller told attendees at Thursday’s luncheon. “People need to hear or see words that make them want to buy a product.”

Noting that a person’s brain is key, Miller said that messages must “align . . . with the survival instincts” of the individual and not cause the brain to use more than its normal daily consumption of 600 to 800 calories. In other words, make the message simple and ensure that it improves an individual’s life in some significant way that doesn’t require too much additional processing to understand what is being communicated.

“God has designed my brain to stop listening to you” if the message does not address survival and takes too much time to understand it, Miller told the attendees. And, he repeatedly reminded them that “clarity is going to win. Communicate more simply. If you confuse, you will lose.”

Miller moved from Portland, OR about six years ago and founded his company in Nashville. Last year’s revenues were $13 million, and he expects them to reach $20 million in 2020.

The final plenary session on the first day of GOVCON featured Fred Diaz, Chair, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA). The Japanese automotive manufacturer is relocating its MMNA corporate headquarters from Cypress, CA to the Cool Springs area of Franklin.

During a Q&A with Commissioner Bob Rolfe of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Diaz described the process that the company used to select Tennessee and also his strategy to rebuild a brand that now accounts for less than one percent of domestic auto sales.

“Our brand is riddled with legacy issues,” he said while also noting it was founded more than 100 years ago as the first Japanese automotive manufacturer. His strategy for reviving it revolves around the right team.

More than 80 percent of the MMNA leadership team is either new to the company or promoted from within to a higher position. As it relocates to Tennessee, the company offered transfer opportunities to only 30 percent of its California-based employees; the others received severance packages.

“We are hiring 150 white collar people here and expect to complete that by March 2020,” Diaz said.

The former executive with Nissan North America said the site selection firm identified six cities for relocation – Charlotte, Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, Dallas and Nashville. That list was quickly culled to the last two.

In his Nissan role, Diaz had lived in Nashville, so he was excited about that option, but the city was not that familiar to Mitsubishi executives in Japan. A Sunday morning visit Governor Bill Lee hosted for a key executive convinced him that Nashville was the correct choice.

As the search progressed but before the final decision was made, Diaz said he was a little worried about his top executives’ thoughts and willingness to follow him. To a person, they responded as follows: “If it’s Dallas, we’re not going. If it’s Nashville, we’re all in.”

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