Ask most people what they know about Minnesota and they’re quick to mention the cold and unforgiving winters that can vaporize boiling water into a fine mist of snow in seconds.
Indeed I live in Minnesota. In the winter, highs of 1°F (-20°F if you factor in the wind chill) aren’t unusual. Winters are long, too, typically kicking off in October and sticking around as late as May. For many people, that’s reason enough to not move to this state. But for entrepreneurs, it might be exactly what their bottom line needs.
Sure, headquartering a business in sunny, summery climes can have benefits: large doses of vitamin D, an enticing location for talent and year-round patio dining. But a business can also build its brand around crummy weather as well. Here are just a few ways a cruel climate (whether accompanied by a harsh winter or a sweltering summer) can strengthen your business:
Terrible weather may breed creativity and productivity.
Winter snow, dreary downpours, relentless gray days could be the perfect weather for innovators to cozy up indoors and focus their minds on industry challenges. After all, the distractions out the window will be few.
Instead, more time and effort could be applied to sharpening a skill, thinking through a project or crafting a new capability.
When discussing how weather affects human behavior in his book Drunk Tank Pink, New York University marketing and psychology professor Adam Alter said, "Sunshine dulls the mind to risk and thoughtfulness.“
Added Alter: "Happiness sends a signal that everything is fine, the environment doesn’t pose an imminent threat, and there’s no need to think deeply and carefully.” Minds are working their hardest and at their most thoughtful when the weather is telling them they need to fix something, he has argued.
A Harvard Business School working paper “Rainmakers: Why Bad Weather Means Good Productivity” discovered a similar trend, claiming dismal weather makes for busy workers.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Minnesota has more Fortune 500 companies per capita than all but one state and the 10th most Fortune 500 companies in the nation. Companies like Target, General Mills, 3M, UnitedHealth Group, Medtronic and Best Buy all call Minnesota home. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Minnesota's arts scene is thriving and the state has the nation's second-highest number of theater seats per capita, along with a substantial music, writing and museum scene. Plus, notable Minnesotans include Bob Dylan, Prince, Garrison Keillor and Ethan and Joel Coen.
A harsh climate adds personality to a company.
Consider Red Wing shoes, Faribault Woolen Mill Co. and Duluth Pack.These Minnesota-based businesses have been shaped by the cold and rugged surroundings. And their utilitarian (now luxury) products – from hardworking boots and wool blankets to leather hunting packs – have been influenced by Minnesota’s lakes, winters, mills, logging yards and hunting trails.
Authenticity and local personality are what set apart these companies, going strong for more than 100 years and with products that found their way from Minnesotan farm stores to fashion boutiques in New York and Beverly Hills.
The Wall Street Journal noted that in Minnesota the same “harsh climate and hard-core work ethic” that shaped sturdy brands has prompted a rebranding effort. Brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton "want their region to be recognized for its innovative, sturdy character, honed by long, cold winters.” These two Minneapolis merchants wish to communicate this by removing their state’s long-time Midwest label and repositioning it in a new American region: North.
With a mantra to “own the cold,” Katie Clark Sieben, Minnesota’s commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, says her state can also convey the creativity, ingenuity and economic advantages that accompany it.
Success might not be about just what a business does, how and why. It could also be about where. By baking the location and climate into its brand, a business can find one more thing to set itself apart in a very noisy landscape. Instead of moving to chase some well-publicized trend or trying to blend in with the look of other cities’ brands, companies can start a movement where they are. Be tuned into your unique surroundings and reap the benefits of home.
In terrible weather, companies might be quick to overlook their climate’s business potential. Perhaps they see it as a nuisance or a barrier to attracting talent. But what if, instead of trying to downplay or escape their climate, companies began to embrace it, using their temps to inspire their direction?
They might uncover their true voice and personality, have a bigger impact in stores around the world and gain recognition for their authenticity, ingenuity and homegrown touch. They might just find the secret to their brand’s success has been outside their door all along.