Every organization has people who act or work in ways that are detrimental to the brand. Often, if these people get results (meaning they make financial targets or otherwise achieve the goals that have been set for them), they are praised and rewarded.
These off-brand people are a deadly disease. Anyone who is rewarded for working in ways that are harmful to the brand experience will damage your ability to deliver on your brand positioning.
For The Ad-Free Brand, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg let me do a sidebar about what he calls the Law of Institutional Idiocy. It does a great job showing how the disease of off-brand behavior spreads, but it also applies at a broader organizational level beyond the brand as well. Here it is:
In the beginning, your organization has a tree full of healthy employees.
If you’re not very wise and very careful, that idiot gets promoted because people tire of fighting with idiots, who also tend to be loud, ambitious, and politically savvy. And then he or she builds a whole team of idiots. Other idiots start popping up elsewhere in the organization.
Letting off-brand people continue to operate unchecked is a quick path to a brand with a multiple personality disorder. It is not only confusing to your brand community, but also can cause lots of internal disagreement and conflict and generally just isn’t they way ad-free brands like to operate.
How do you deal with those who don’t live the brand? Some organizations have a no-tolerance rule and seek to quickly eliminate those who do not live the brand. Some instead just focus on the positive, rewarding those who live the brand while passing over those who do not, even if they are getting results.
No matter which way you go, do not leave anti-brand behavior unchecked. It could make all of your other efforts a waste of time.
Last weekend we stopped into Quail Ridge Books, a wonderful independent book store just down the street from where we live in Raleigh, NC. After browsing for a while and finding a few things, we went up to the cash register to buy them.
I have to admit, I always experience a little ounce of dread when I walk up to the counter at a bookstore. Most of this comes from my experiences at Barnes & Noble, where each time I approach the counter I’m alerted that I could save from 10-40% on my purchase just by joining their membership program and whatever else is in their rehearsed speech that has probably been tested to ensure each word helps optimize their chances of getting you to sign up so they can “capture” you.
I’m sure Barnes & Noble keeps detailed monthly metrics at their corporate office highlighting how many people sign up at each location due to this point-of-sale promotional technique. I’m also confident that there are incentives (either carrot or stick-based) that 100% guarantee that I’m going to not only have to listen to that speech each time I approach the counter, but also turn them down when they ask me to join. (By the way, I don’t have anything against these sort of programs, I just don’t need to join one for every single store I shop in.)
So I’m standing there at Quail Ridge Books, and I see the cashier reach for a yellow bookmark that I’m positive is going to be the entry point to Quail Ridge’s version of the membership club speech. Instead, the cashier simply says, “We have a membership program called the Reader’s Club. I’m going to put this bookmark in your book and if you like, you can look at the benefits there.”
Whoa. No speech, no sales pressure forcing me to say no. It was like a breath of fresh air.
I’m sure if the folks at the Barnes & Noble corporate office had seen this performance at one of their stores, they would have hit the ceiling. Multiply that approach all across the country at every Barnes & Noble and their point of sale membership spreadsheet would look atrocious. People would get fired.
The problem is, Barnes & Noble is only tracking the data they can see. They have no way of tracking the dark matter–the impact their membership strategy has on the experience of people like me, who now go out of their way to avoid shopping there.
I don’t expect I am the only person out there who is annoyed–not just at Barnes & Noble, mind you–but at every store that forces me to say no to a point-of-sale sales pitch… to give a dollar to this cause, or to join this program, or whatever.
Because the spreadsheets only track the revenue impact that come from these promotions and not the negative brand impact, they probably look stunning on paper. What’s the downside, right?
Well, the downside is people like me not wanting to ever set foot in a Barnes & Noble store.
Stores like Quail Ridge Books that don’t sacrifice the health of their brand community for the sake of hard numbers on a spreadsheet understand the importance of the customer experience in establishing brand reputation, loyalty, and even recommendation.
So next time, before you implement a strategy that is guaranteed to make the numbers look good, make sure you are also studying the dark matter impact to your brand experience and reputation at the same time.
Just because these impacts are harder to measure doesn’t make them any less powerful.
For 60+ days, I’ve avoided writing a post about BP. I’ve been devastated, as I’m sure many of you have, by what has been happening in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve all been inundated with news and stories, most of them depressing, about real lives—people, animal, plant—altered forever by the Deepwater Horizon accident.
Why think about brand damage when there is so much catastrophic real damage still happening as I write this post? But after having several people ask me about it over the last few weeks, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts as well as some of the articles I’ve been reading about BP’s brand positioning debacle. It may prove to be one of the most important, albeit sad, brand positioning lessons ever.
Dig deep into your European history memory. Not the Roman Empire with all the togas, nice buildings, gods, and gladiators. I’m talking about the really crappy one that emerged in the Middle Ages and which Voltaire famously described as “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”
If the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, BP has certainly proven itself to not be Beyond Petroleum.
So how did this happen?
In 2000, British Petroleum hired one of the top advertising & PR agencies in the world, Ogilvy & Mather, to help them attempt a global brand transformation following the acquisition of Amoco and a few other small organizations. Their goal was to reposition BP “as transcending the oil sector, delivering top-line growth while remaining innovative, progressive, environmentally responsible and performance-driven.”
Why did I put this goal in quotes?
Because I took it directly from the BP “success story” which is still up on Ogilvy & Mather’s website (someone might want to get that down…update: 9-27-10: it looks like now they have!). The story goes on to say that the launch of the new brand position “far exceeded expectations” and resulted in high brand credibility and favorability scores and two (!) PR Week Campaign of the Year awards.
A job well done.
Except BP’s new brand promise wasn’t even in the same ballpark as its brand experience. Rather than dive into a full analysis here, I’ll point you to some great posts I found already highlighting the brand promise/brand experience gaps:
One nice thing about this new gig blogging over at opensource.com is it gives me some room to go back to my brand and culture roots here at Dark Matter Matters. So today we return again to my favorite subject: brand positioning.
Specifically, I want to cover one of the scariest brand positioning mistakes a company can make– abandoning the position that got them where they are before they’ve established a credible new position.
You’ve seen it before. You walk into a meeting with a new advertising agency or an overzealous marketing executive, and, with great dramatic effect, they say something akin to this: “We are not in the toilet paper business! We are in the cleansing and renewal business!” Then they pause and look around, waiting for the cheers and high fives to start as people salute genius.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe strongly in establishing a higher purpose for your brand. And I think it is fantastic when brands are aspirational. The mistake is not in extending your brand position– in fact, we’ve covered some good tips on how to do it responsibly in this post and this one.
The mistake is abandoning the position you already own in the customer’s mind before clearly establishing the new position– in their mind, not in yours.
I’ve shown this chart inspired by Kevin Keller (one of my brand positioning mentors) before, but it is directly relevant here.
Imagine this: You walk into a pet store, looking for a canary, because, i don’t know, maybe your coal mine is having dirty air issues or something. The salesman, eager to please, walks you over to a cage with a duck sitting in it.
He says, “Do I have just the thing for you, check out this canary. He is a new, better breed of canary. He has webbed feet, can swim, quacks rather than sings, he’s bigger. We call this the web-footed hydro ultracanary. You’ll love him.”
So you buy the “canary” and take him into your coal mine, where he quacks incessantly. In fact, he is still waddling around quacking about ten minutes after you and all of the other miners are lying dead from breathing poisonous air.
In this case, the brand promise (a canary) and the brand experience (a duck with strong lungs) did not match. If you had been looking for a duck, this little guy would have probably been perfect. But as a canary… not so much.
One of my favorite brand rules is to call your ducks ducks. What do I mean? Make things simple for your customers. Don’t make them learn your language or analyze your intent in order to understand your message. Be straight with them.
Oh no! An audit? That can’t be good, right?
Actually, if you are a brand manager, a brand audit is an incredibly useful tool (I’m sure the IRS feels the same way about their audits).
What is a brand audit?
There are plenty of people out there who’d be happy to tell you about brand audits (here are a few interesting links). But as you found out in previous brand positioning tips, I’ve learned a lot about brand positioning from Dr. Kevin Keller, author of Strategic Brand Management and professor at Dartmouth (plug: buy the book, great section on brand audits). When we did our most recent brand audit at Red Hat, we used Dr. Keller’s approach.
A brand audit is a deep introspective look at your brand from inside and out. Done the Kevin Keller way, the audit is made up of two pieces: 1) the brand inventory and 2) the brand exploratory.
I think of them this way:
A good friend told me a few weeks ago that I should write more about music here, since music is such an important part of my life. So I thought I’d give it a go.
I play bass in a band called The Swingin’ Johnsons. Yes, that’s right.
Occasionally, we call ourselves a Lyndon Johnson tribute band, when we need to water down the story, and most of our show posters have pictures of Lyndon Johnson on them. I don’t know exactly how we are paying “tribute” to Lyndon Johnson by what we do, but there it is.