Brands: Everybody’s talking about them, but what does it really mean to be a brand? Starting as early as the ’50s, we fell into a line of thinking that every business is a brand. In fact, when Madison Avenue got hungry for money, there was such a palpable shift, you could practically pinpoint the very campaign that set it off.
Overnight, businesses were no longer businesses. They were brands, and they wanted to do brand things. Fast forward to today where it’s act now, apologize later. Do something culturally insensitive? Host a workshop. Upset a celebrity? Apologize via Twitter and beg a certain pop star to shake it off. What has resulted is the idea that we have to create controversy to become relevant. Of course, that’s not sustainable. You’ll keep finding yourself under fire.
It’s time to break the cycle. If you’re on a path to endless corporate apologies, here’s how to get back on track.
Tell the truth
When promising enterprises are wrecked in the Great Sea of the Public Eye every day, we should train ourselves to view strategy as more than a buzzword. Let your brand’s truth become your decision-making guardrails. As brands lose sight of strategy, they veer into unfamiliar terrain and get lost in an ever-changing consumer landscape. You can probably find your way back after a couple of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, media coaching or crisis management meetings. There’s an easier, more pocket-friendly way to prevent off-roading: tell the truth.
Consumers don’t expect transparency
If you’re not sure how to start, follow the path of a soul-searching millennial: pique your curiosity, do some digging and conduct a genealogy test on your brand. Looking to your brand’s heritage can be a wake-up call or a chance to return to your values, from social responsibility to simplicity. When you own that truth, the benefits easily follow. Let’s just say, no one has ever exposed a brand for being too damn good to the community—but maybe one day.
Think beyond the campaign
Campaigns can be memorable, but flashy campaigns do not a brand make. If a campaign doesn’t tell your story, it’ll drift into the forgettable oblivion of “that was pretty cool.” Campaigns that continue a narrative, on the other hand, create decades-long consistency, leaving competitors wondering how they had the foresight to be so spot-on. Take Nike, the ad world’s Iron Chef. “Just Do It” transcends cultures, age groups and eras. By maintaining a consistent story, they’ve taken their brand from being an athleticwear industry chapter to being a best-selling novel. A great campaign can get you buzz. A business-shaping strategy can get you long-lasting brand awesomeness. Make sure the customer is always right at the heart of your focus.
We’ve all witnessed the horror of echo chambers. You’re in a brainstorm, and someone presents a decent idea or an outright bad one. Others agree enthusiastically. Suddenly, something that you know will get torn apart in the court of public opinion becomes real.
Note: I believe this is how many “act-then-apologize” fiascos begin. Although smiling and nodding appeals to our nonconfrontational tendencies, these brand blunders almost always commit the same offense: forgetting the consumer. When we stop thinking about the consumer because we’re thinking about what our boss thinks, what everyone else is doing or what’s for lunch, that’s when the faux pas creeps in. They’re sneaky. As basic as it sounds, be an actual advocate for your consumer.
When your brand lives by these three simple concepts, the future becomes clearer. Don’t forget that when it comes to keeping your brand on the public’s good side, it’s a lot like dealing with a spouse. It’s always better if you listen (really listen) and do the right thing instead of waiting for them to tell you what to do.
Don’t miss Brandweek, coming up September 23–25 in Palm Springs. No panels, no sales pitches—just three days of interactive discussion, problem-solving, entertainment and networking. Learn more here.