Tag Archives: Brand Story

The Brand and the Apology Strategy

When a brand makes a public apology, we are sure of one thing: the story that people are talking about makes the brand’s leadership uncomfortable.

Whether it’s a gross error in judgement, negligence or corruption that is exposed, an apology is a clear sign that change is forthcoming.

But in this fast paced world of instant, permanent and amplified communication, brand apologies have taken on a new form; a knee-jerk reaction to the slightest ruffled emotions, or actually part of the (terribly misguided) strategy.

“Do it, and ask for forgiveness after” might be good wisdom for an innovative culture. And it’s a great tactic for breaking through red tape rules that get in the way of progress. Lately, though, it seems this mindset is also used as a lazy fall back when a sloppy attempt at awareness generates the wrong kind of attention.

Brand leadership is about honouring your stakeholders—the employees, customers and communities that support your brand.

As individuals, we align with brands that take a stand on issues and lifestyles. So it makes sense we’d rather see a brand accept that it might offend some people and not feign an apology after just to appease those who don’t understand or share the culture or sentiment in the first place. Show those that love your brand—and everything you stand for—that you are connected and understand them; that’s what deepens the brand relationship.

A little controversy—a difference of taste, opinion or attitude—is at the root of a great brand strategy. But when something appears to go sideways, and those differences show up as very public rage, brand leaders need to anchor back to the core of the brand promise.

If the action/message is inconsistent with your brand, you apologize and take action to change it.

It’s good to apologize for true mistakes; errors that occur when systems break and products fail. There is tremendous value in being accountable to your stakeholders and honouring your side of the brand promise.

However, if the action/message is consistent with your brand—perhaps just a little bolder than people are familiar, or more revealing to the uninformed—you’re likely apologizing to make amends with the wrong audience. Or worse, you’re apologizing because you really didn’t believe in your brand.

When you apologize to the rage of those who were never aligned in the first place, you reveal weak positioning and undermine your entire brand strategy, and all your efforts outside of this one controversy come under scrutiny. You’re apologizing for being who you promised you were going to be, but only apologizing because it got a little uncomfortable.

Brand strength is about honouring your attitude and culture. It’s about being proud of your values and how they manifest in the world. That’s authenticity showing up and adding value when it matters. That is brand strategy.

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Mind the Gap.

You’re probably well of aware of the concept of “the brand gap”—the difference between the experience you promise and the experience you deliver.

You should know that nobody cares about the ‘gap’ except you.

The brand gap only exists in your mind—it’s the strategic vacuum between your promise and your capacity to deliver the experience consistently. The gap doesn’t exist in your customer’s mind. Or any other stakeholder, for that matter.

No one else knows what experience you intended to deliver. No one else sees a gap. Everyone else sees it merely as a promise that you failed to deliver, and now over-promised or failed-to-deliver is part of your brand story. You exaggerated your capacity and the value of the experience; no gap.

A regular assessment of the gap is a helpful brand management tool; it’s important to take a brutally honest look at the experience you are delivering against the promises you make.

Defining the gap, though, is not a stage of brand development to work through. It’s a failure of your brand strategy and any sign of a gap is a serious wake up call. If there is a disconnect between the brand you want to have—the promise you believe is compelling—and the brand experience you offer, you must change one of them fast.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Six

People love stories. It’s not something we learn or develop as sophisticated consumers; human beings are hardwired to respond to stories that inspire us, challenge us, entertain us, empower us and comfort us. Stories that engage us matter to us.

Human beings don’t respond nearly as well to facts or statements. We think we do—we want to believe we are logical beings capable of making rational, practical choices—but we aren’t motivated by a fact until we consider it within the bigger context of a story.

We need to know how we feel about the facts before we decide if a fact is important.

A story is not a single message, nor is it just a series of facts. The story defines the relationship people have with the facts. A story provides the context for the facts, and the story we believe is how we know how we feel about the facts. Those feelings anchor the relationship, and the relationship matters.

People won’t connect with one message, but they will understand one story.

Since the early days of brand strategy, common wisdom emphasizes “one message”—one single message that occupies the mind of the consumer. This basic philosophy—correct, but too simplistic—undermines the complexity of the relationship people will have with the brand. If you focus only on one message, you risk bombarding your stakeholders without engaging them. It’s not about you—it’s about how they feel when you’re part of their experience.

Your brand is deeper than one single message. Your brand is one story—one complex, evolving idea shared through simple narratives which capture, celebrate and reward the human condition. Your brand is the story that puts facts into context.

Facts can be copied; stories are unique. Facts can only be absolute; stories are fluid. Facts change; stories evolve. We learn facts; we love stories.

A great brand strategy is built around one shared story. It invites people to share in the greater vision by experiencing the story, often in a variety of different ways, and continues to reward everyone with new adventures, new ideas, and new opportunities.

Your brand is one story—one awesome story—with many engaging chapters.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Three

The Rule of the Fluid Formula.  

I am a firm believer in the concept that ‘Everything Matters’. Every single touch point factors into the brand experience equation. How much each elements factors in is a matter of debate and strategic preference, but make no mistake about it—everything matters.

If you’re looking for a proven formula, though, you’re out of luck. Great brands embrace the fluid nature of the experience. Here’s an example:

As I walk into a local cafe, music plays in the background. The coffee is good and the seat is comfortable, so I sit down to work. The soundtrack is a cool retro 70s funk—loud enough to recognize the song, but not so loud that I can’t think. If the total brand experience is equal to 100, the music is probably a 5. Maybe less.

So, the music in the cafe is equal to 5% of the total brand experience score. Not really significant. I’ll be back, but not for the music.

As I walk into the same cafe the next day, there is no music playing. The coffee is still good and the chairs are still comfortable, so I sit down to work. There’s a weird silence. Lulled by the sound of refrigerators humming, the soundtrack is punctuated by sounds of coffee machines buzzing, mugs hitting tables, and chairs sliding across the floors. I can even hear the person three tables away tapping on their keyboard. The lack of music is distracting. If the total brand experience is equal to 100, the lack of music probably distracts 50 or more points away.

Now, the music in the cafe is equal to 50% of the total experience. Pretty significant. I won’t be back, simply because the music was a mistake.

Is the music worth 5% or 50% of the total brand experience? Actually. It’s both.

Often, it’s impossible to define what makes a great experience great; it’s the collection of every little detail working together in a constant, fluid experience. However, when one detail fails—one detail that contradicts the expectation—it becomes pretty clear why the experience is negative.

There is no strategic formula that defines how much each touch point is worth to the brand. The key is complete understanding of the experience you are promising, being aware of every possible detail, and giving your team the necessary tools, training and permissions to act. You have no idea which detail will have an impact.

Poor brand strategy relies on a few key touch points to wow their stakeholders—assigning fixed values to an arbitrary formula—while believing the failure of less important touch points doesn’t damage the brand. Poor brands ignore the details. Great brands know that everything matters, and leave nothing to chance.

Great brands embrace the Fluid Formula.

The Rules of Brand Strategy, Part Two

Be amazing at the one thing you promise. Every time. No exceptions.

You have a lot of options for your brand story. You get to explore different ways to deliver your service, how your culture fuels the brand experience, how leadership pushes new boundaries and how you continue to engage and excite your stakeholders. It’s your brand; it’s your story to tell.

Every story, though, is based on a familiar plot. Just like an action story needs an adventure or a love story needs a romance, a brand story must live up to the core promise. If your brand can’t manage that one thing, nothing else matters.

Too often brands get caught up in the elements that make the brand unique but drop the ball on the one simple thing that anchors the relationship. Poor leadership gets in the way— it’s either laziness (just too uncommitted to care), complacency (believing people will judge the brand on intent and flair rather than action and results), or ignorance (having no clue about expectations).

Brand Strategy always starts with clarity about your capacity to do the one thing you promise. Without a solid grasp of this reality—and a commitment to deliver an uncompromising experience—success is simply out of reach.

Photo Note: I snapped the accompanying photo in 2004 during a vacation in Oregon. In 2011, while traveling the same route, I couldn’t find the business. Not surprisingly, Golden Touch Signs is no longer in business. A keen eye will notice the company name in red letters over the door; another fine example of this company’s stellar work.