The Brand Follies -- Does Your Company Qualify?
We must protect our image!
How many times have you heard this refrain from executives who elected to conceal misdeeds in the name of safeguarding their organizations' brand? How high can you count?
In writing this newsletter, I considered another title: The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but opted for 'Follies' as it speaks to the insanity that leads otherwise smart, sophisticated executives to do dumb things. By the way, when I refer to 'executives,' I'm not just thinking about business executives. I'm also including others such
as coaches and priests. They too have executive responsibilities; indeed, all executives are responsible
for their institution's brand. Which leads me to ...
The Perfection Misconception
In studying the misguided actions of so many well-regarded organizations, it came clear to me that they all share a common flaw: they equate brand strength with perceptions of perfection. In my experience, there's no perfect company, any more than there's a perfect person. It's an unspoken misconception that seems to have gotten a lot of organizations into a lot of trouble, as they've worked to cover up -- well -- various "imperfections."
It doesn't matter what industry you look at: auto, food, industrial, banking, Big Pharma: Corporate brands tend to imply images of corporate perfection. And when a given perfection bubble bursts, the fallout is ugly. Speaking of fallout ...
How to measure the cost of Brand Follies
Measuring brand value has become a popular business metric. So, why not measure the fallout from Brand Follies? The obvious cost to every institution is loss of reputation, which can be determined in many ways. If you're short on time, here are three simple yardsticks:
For businesses: revenue and profit dollars; market share
For universities: alumni dollars; tuition income
For churches: donation plate dollars (and, in this case, cents)
As I see it, there's a new business school course in the offing here. It's called How to steal brand equity from yourself.
My Top 5
Enough background. Let's cut to the chase. Here are my current, top 5 brand follies candidates with a revealing story about each:
- Penn State ... How can one man -- and one sport -- commandeer one great institution?
- Toyota ... Why was protecting profit acceleration more important than avoiding unintended car acceleration?
- The Catholic Church ... Is a church that shields
child molesters really "holy?"
- BP ... How can you trust a company that labels itself "beyond petroleum," when 75% of its revenue comes from oil?
- Olympus ... Is there really any way to save face in the "face" of a multi-billion dollar loss?
Each of these organizations lost its way and some are still in the woods. All of them made decisions to "protect their image," which ultimately backfired, which in turn qualified them for the Brand Follies.
This may be a metaphorical reach, but in the end you can't fool Mother Nature. It's only a matter of time before she calls you out.
How to avoid qualifying for the Brand Follies
Your company's brand doesn't stand apart from the actions of its executives. Your brand is the actions of your executives, whether those actions are publicly visible or not. To avoid achieving brand folly status, follow these
Adopt the Haas rule -- Robert Haas, one of the early family leaders of Levi-Strauss, espoused a values-based company, dramatizing his commitment with the words: A value isn't a value until it costs you money. Next time you're faced with a tough call that might cost the company money in the name of its values, write the check and let your employees know you did it. Watch the engagement numbers increase.
When building your brand, make the stories real -- I don't mean factual -- I mean a little edgy, maybe a tad scruffy. Show some vulnerability by sharing a story or two of when the company didn't get it right, but then fixed the problem. Humanize your brand. Make it easy for 'real folk' to relate to you. It will build a reservoir of trust.
Hold a 'Come to Jesus' brand summit -- No, this isn't a religious imperative; it's an institutional imperative. Take stock of any and all organizational issues that could conceivably rock your corporate boat and decide how to address them, directly, to avoid qualifying for the Brand Follies. Not easy, but it's the best way to really protect your image.
Can you name one or two organizations whose actions undermined their brands and what the costs were? Any favorite Brand Follies candidates?
Share your views on my blog at Identity Beacon.
See you online!