Being non-popular is not the same as being unpopular. Brands that are non-popular are simply not prepared to do whatever it takes to court popular favor. They do their own thing, their own way – and look to attract cult followings via like minds. But brands that have become unpopular have lost likeability. That’s a disturbing development if you’re trying to be liked by as many people as possible.
The hardest thing about seeking to be liked is that we all do business today in an environment where criticism is ubiquitous. The ability for anyone with an internet connection to not just hold an opinion but to broadcast that opinion to the world is freedom of speech on a good day and freedom to abuse on another day. At a time when it’s easier than ever for others to get the knives out, the problem it seems to me has shifted for those on the receiving end. The dilemma these days is less about what do the critics think and rather, which criticisms should you act on and which are you better to brush off as beneath your dignity?
While every brand will quite rightly set its own guidelines, there are some clear principles that make sense to me in terms of meeting the balance between maintaining reputation and over-reacting:
- Hold firm on your purpose, your worldview and your values.
- Debate priorities, opinions and options.
- Initiate or at least participate in conversations about matters that have been raised that you believe have not been properly explored and to which you believe you can bring a refreshing perspective.
- Encourage suggestions, feedback and criticism of experiences and service. (As long as you’re prepared to reply stating what you’re going to do about what’s happened.)
- Acknowledge and apologize for mistakes, errors of judgment, accidents and cases where you have not been fair or consistent.
- Redress scaremongering, inaccuracies, speculations, lies – and sometimes comparison wars and competitor taunts.
- Acknowledge, even applaud, a witty joke or satire at your expense (depending on its cleverness)
- Ignore idiots.
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There was an interesting interview with Bacardi’s CMO Dmitry Ivanov in the Australian marketing magazine Mumbrella last week. He was quick to acknowledge that he “sits in the camp” of those who believe that TV is a medium in decline. Asked whether he believed TV had become less relevant for a company like Bacardi, his answer was unequivocal. “I would agree with that,” Ivanov told the magazine, “and it is proven by…how much time the younger generation spend watching any TV program.”
Obviously, as the CMO of a giant company like Bacardi, Ivanov has access to swathes of complex and expensive data that your humble columnist isn’t party to. Far be it for me to suggest that he should take another long hard look at actual audience data to check his facts and the gloomy prediction of TV’s imminent downfall. But that wasn’t what caught my eye from his interview. It’s what he said next.
Ivanov announced that Bacardi would soon make its first steps into the world of programmatic through a partnership with global media agency OMD Worldwide. “It makes logical sense for some of the people we are trying to track and to be more relevant in their lives,” he explained. “People are talking about programmatic and we want to head down a more digital path.”
Programmatic is a new concept for most and, even by the lightening-fast adoption standards of our industry, it has entered the marketing lexicon quickly. Nonetheless, Ivanov’s comments are puzzling. Surely the big data, artificial intelligence, Age of Ultron promise of the programmatic era dispels the need for these bold medium-specific pronouncements. Isn’t the whole ethos of programmatic driven by the belief in a data-driven model of real-time media neutrality?
Why do consumers go out and buy a Lotto ticket or take part in brand-run promotions when they know that their chances of winning are so very small? According to Kelly Goldsmith in this article in the Time blogs, it’s not because of what they stand to win, it’s actually because of where consumers focus.
Most people it seems focus on the investment – it’s just a dollar or two. And when they connect that investment to the potential reward, then they basically believe they have nothing to lose. Involvement appeals directly to the universal love of curiosity, surprise and of course winning. But, ask people to think about the problem the other way round, in terms of their chances of winning, and interest wanes substantially. In other words, where something is portrayed as hopeless, we find it much harder to justify even a small amount of money.
We’re hugely inclined to chase a dream if the price to do so seems small enough, but that interest declines rapidly when we’re reminded that we’re unlikely to get anything back.
That’s also why people travel to Hollywood, or try and break into the music business, or look to publish a best-selling book, or attempt to become a big-time motivational speaker. That’s what ensures that talent agencies, publishing houses and speaking bureau stay in business. That’s what gets thousands and thousands of people to line up to audition for American Idol or Project Runway. The industries are adept at getting people to bet time, money and talent by publicizing the potential rewards – prizes for which the investment seems relatively small.
Recently Jan Rijkenberg raised some interesting points in an article in which he questioned the importance, indeed the relevance, of underpinning individual brands with the identities of their corporate owners. It does brands no favors, he suggests, to collectivize them as part of the bigger entity. In so doing, he maintains, they lose their individuality and therefore their specific appeal. It’s a well-argued and reasonable case that cautions against big picture corporate brands overshadowing their assets and diluting their valuable personalities to fit with a bigger body’s self-aggrandizing agenda.
Personally, I can see a case for corporate brands – but I think their roles are specific, and that there are clear responsibilities that come with running a diversified portfolio. I also believe that, too often, Rijkenberg is absolutely right.
So, let’s start with when an owner’s brand might be useful. I agree with Rijkenberg that there are specific activities that are much more suited to the corporate brand than the individual marques.
- The investor brand – if the company is publicly listed, then that entity needs to be speaking in a branded and clear way to investors and the markets. It must explain not only who the brands are but also how they have collectively performed. By allocating this responsibility to the owner rather than the individual brands, the corporate entity is able to talk to the investment market about the same entity they have invested in. Receiving reports from the individual brands would be neither practical nor legal. So, if you are a large beverages company for example, and you are publicly listed, it makes sense to feed back to the markets on how the portfolio as a whole has performed.
- Corporate social responsibility – for the same reason it makes sense for the whole entity to discuss the programs it is running at a brand level and a wider corporate level. This enables the efforts of each brand to be seen in a wider context.
- Internal – the people responsible for managing the brands within a corporate structure should be accountable to the same rules and behaviors as each other and the rest of the organization. So it also makes sense for example that, in an employer brand sense, a large corporate would want to talk about its collective values and behaviors. We could debate for some time as to whether in many cases these amount to little more than platitudes, but there’s no denying that this too is a corporate-level responsibility and therefore should be linked to that brand.
None of this is contentious. Where it becomes more knotty is when organizations look to overtly extend the ownership of the corporate entity into the brands themselves – as Unilever and P&G have done in recent years for example. From a corporate investor point of view, this makes sense because it provides a clear portfolio footprint. Consumers can see which brands are part of which entity and the hope of the marketers is that the goodwill will halo to the corporate brand, and vice versa.
Oh the irony. For years, many of us tried to get the people we worked with to broaden their understanding of what a brand was. It’s not just a logo, a product, a TV commercial – that conversation. We were fighting to make the definition of brand bigger. Now I’m wondering whether we have to start going back the other way.
Suddenly, there are no people, countries, groups anymore. Instead, everywhere I look, everything’s a brand. Donald Trump is a brand, Charlie Sheen is a brand, so are Kate and William, the President’s a brand, Greenpeace and just about any professional sports team or association you care to name. America’s a brand, so are the Tea Party, Survivor, Wikileaks, the Beckhams and Lady Gaga. You are a brand.
That suggests to me that the media is in the process of redefining a “brand” as anything that gets or has our attention. In the new parlance, brand now is much more about profile. So I think Paula Lynn is right when she comments on this story in MediaPost that, “The media and its frenzy make brands brands.”
Brand increasingly means buzz, or perhaps something or someone that is buzzed about: something or someone who has got or is getting attention, for good or bad reasons.