It’s fair to say that most products, services, technologies, events and even people are brands.
From Tesla to Uber to Google to TedTalks to Donald Trump, they’re all what we know as brands.
Brands are by definition a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that distinguishes an organisation or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer. Brands are used in business, marketing and advertising to differentiate, position and connect with audiences.
Brands used to be a simple visual device, but they are now also a story about what you do, who you are, what you value and why you do it.
Brands now get judged on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis on their values, their integrity, their beliefs and their behaviour.
Facebook is currently being judged for its role in allowing 87 million users’ data to be captured by a third-party app for less than appropriate usage. Its brand has been ‘losing skin’ and users since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke a few weeks back. And now its founder sits before a combined U.S. Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee explaining how it failed to protect its users’ personal information.
Channel 9 is being hammered online for the axing of the beloved host of their popular Footy Show, Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin. This seemingly simple personnel change has outraged loyal Channel 9 and Footy Show viewers. It just shows how much ownership people develop for their favourite TV shows and personalities, ie. brands.
Last night the 7.30 Report on the ABC ran a shocking story about how it appears that the founder of veteran support charity, Walking Wounded, Brian Freeman has misappropriated donations meant for veteran rehabilitation. Apart from the damage and heartache this has caused for the families of the fallen, it has eroded confidence, yet again, in where your charitable donations go and how they’re used. And brand ‘charity’ has suffered.
Over the past few days, we’ve all been exposed to repeated news stories featuring Peter Beattie, the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Chairman, explaining how they got their messaging wrong about not driving to the Gold Coast. Gold Coast restauranteurs and Café owners have lined up to take a swipe at the Games for ruining their Easter trading. This has taken the gloss off what has been a generally well-run event with some incredible athletic performances by Aussie athletes and a medal tally which will be hard to ever repeat. And the brand’s reputation has been damaged.
What does all this tell us?
Managing a brand in today’s hyper-transparent, 24-hour news cycle, social media-driven world is tough. Every decision, communication, product and action is scrutinised by the community on a live basis. There’s simply no time for damage control or ‘message management’. The word spreads too fast and too wide for brand managers to control it.
So, the take out is this…
For the long-term, plan your brand very carefully around values that people will connect with and then protect these values with a passion. Then, resist the temptation to deviate from these values for short-term gains. Because you will be found out and your brand equity will erode – and mostly very quickly.
For the medium-term, focus on being a ‘do brand’ where you’re judged by your actions, not your words. Put simply, people just don’t believe what brands say anymore. So, you have to prove it. Every day. Being a ‘say brand’ just won’t cut it.
And for the short-term, consider every action carefully. Plan for the worst outcome and work back from there. For example, what if we’re too effective with our ‘don’t drive to the Gold Coast’ message? What would happen to local businesses? What would they say about us? How could this impact on our brand reputation?
Being a brand in today’s world is very challenging.
Yes, there are lots of tools marketers of the past didn’t have access to, and they can be very powerful. But they can also be turned against you.
Plan carefully. Engage good counsel. And finally, constantly monitor your brand activity to ensure it can stand up to detailed scrutiny.
Paul Cornwell is a Managing Director at BCM