Category — Brand experience
United Airlines… It Could Have Been Me or You.
When a brand has a problem, and all brands do at some point or another, people process the nature of the flaw differently. If it touches them… they react very personally. Key media platforms, like YouTube, feed this beast and all of a sudden a brand has a real problem.
Brands that have critical “flaws” that don’t directly touch us are not quickly damaged. For example, when VW misled us about their reporting incorrect MPG information, we read it as a corporate flaw. This was viewed as more distant, it remotely touched each of us, and then we moved on. Most people didn’t attach any fundamental connection to the issue, so they tuned out. Sure, the situation has been an on-going nightmare for VW causing management firings and re-alignments, but from an immediacy standpoint, it is perceived to be a somewhat distant issue. So the brand damage has been significantly less than if the issue had touched us directly.
But security personnel dragging a passenger off a United plane in Chicago is different. It touches us because it could have been us. For those of us who fly a lot, on planes that are generally full, the idea of having to give up a seat and take another flight becomes a personal decision. Most business people are on very tight schedules, and don’t have the time or patience to wait. Add to that the motive was United’s business, not the passengers, and we become outraged for good reason. The United brand has been damaged.
What if you were told your seat was not available? That alone would be a problem. But take it to the extreme, what if you were dragged off a flight (not politely asked and escorted)? Now that touches me on a very personal level. We can imagine ourselves in that circumstance.
From a brand management standpoint, these types of flaws must be addressed differently. When an issue touches consumers as individuals, it becomes critical to step up and address the public head-on and immediately. Delays in communicating only signal that the corporation (brand) is not prioritizing us, but focused on protecting itself. Today, consumers are very sensitized to these cues.
Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, lost sight of this. His first instincts ignored the critical relationship the United brand has to its passengers. It took him a day or two to recover. But a lot of damage has been done.
The good news is that he did, relatively quickly, recognize what was at stake. Let’s hope passengers and the media cut him some slack. He finally “embraced” how his consumers felt about his brand. In our opinion, he stemmed what could have been an even worse situation. Now he must build back the positive brand equity that was lost. This requires; fixing the problem, communicating to all of us how will never happen again, and then speaking to us with conviction that he (the United brand) understands us. His tone better be empathetic and not corporate, or we will put United even further down our list of preferred airlines.
April 14, 2017 Comments Off on United Airlines… It Could Have Been Me or You.
Why Authenticity Matters
One universal characteristic of market leaders and powerful brands is that they are authentic. Business leaders should challenge if they have embraced what authenticity means.
Authentic brands do what they say. Their behavior is consistent with their promises. That means that the organization making the brand promise must be congruent: its business processes have to be designed and aligned to ensure behavior that supports and delivers the brand promise. So ‘brand’ goes way beyond communications or image. It is an organizational mandate.
There have been three recent examples of brands that have broken this trust. Volkswagen completely diluted its brand by not only installing software in cars to cheat on emissions standards, but also hiding and denying this behavior for years. They impeded and obstructed regulators and provided misleading information, and thus violated not only customer trust, but also employee affection for the company. It will take years for VW to recapture its market position.
Takata, a leading supplier of air-bags, tried to duck responsibility for airbags that can explode when deployed by implying that it was a data manipulation issue. The truth did come out, and after years of denial, Takata is now paying the price for misleading customers. Their brand has suffered immeasurably. To quote the lead plaintiff, “The only thing they did not know was the names of the individuals who were going to be injured or killed, and the date it was going to happen.” Ouch.
Chipotle did not appear to react fast enough when it learned about a Norovirus outbreak. Apparently, the procedure for “washing down” produce didn’t seem to be effective. They have subsequently apologized, closed some restaurants and put in place new procedures. The question is whether consumers will believe that they will continue to act in a truthful manner. We give them praise for not denying the problem, but time will tell whether consumers believe Chipotle acted fast enough in the best interest of their consumers. For a brand based on credibility, they are dancing very close to the edge.
One of the benefits of being authentic is word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat purchases. In other words… loyalty. Whether B2B or B2C, understanding what authentic means and living it every day is a mandate in today’s complex markets.
February 19, 2016 Comments Off on Why Authenticity Matters
Disney World at $105 a day… How Brands Can Successfully Price Up
The recent announcement about Disney raising admission prices at theme parks to over $100 per day points to an important benefit of very strong brands… they can price higher and maintain upwards momentum.
Brands that provide extraordinary quality and a unique experience have enormous leverage to price higher. Said another way, it is possible to raise prices without much of a consumer push-back.
Here’s the rub. In almost every category, where products are essentially at parity, marketers struggle to hold prices, especially when there is a competitor who is willing to cut price to hold on to or grow a franchise. Thus, particularly in highly competitive categories, marketers become hostage to a pricing spiral, and reluctant to take risks or invest. As someone once said, it’s hard to look outside of the swamp when alligators are nipping at you toes. [Read more →]
March 3, 2015 Comments Off on Disney World at $105 a day… How Brands Can Successfully Price Up
Using a Strong Shared Services Brand to Attract and Motivate the Best Talent
This blog was originally featured on the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network’s website on October 10th, 2013.
One of the great challenges of a shared services division is to attract the best talent and keep them motivated. This is understandable. Because the concept of “shared services” has built into it a negative stereotype from the start, creating and managing a strong internal “brand” can accomplish a number of important things:
- It can signal the true value the shared services team provides and define value in a new way
- It can be a beacon to attract the best talent
- It can keep the team not only motivated, but also excited to continually elevate the value of what the team can deliver.
October 29, 2013 Comments Off on Using a Strong Shared Services Brand to Attract and Motivate the Best Talent
Sustainability and Authenticity Present Huge Opportunities for Brands
Riddle me this: how do you boost sales by almost one third while telling your customers to buy less from you?
Sustainability and authenticity are the twin brand values that can power this exemplary business growth, and Patagonia is the current exemplar.
For some time now, Patagonia has been urging customers to repair and keep their $700 Patagonia parkas rather than buy new ones. The result? Sales increased almost one-third to $543 million last year, which included about nine months of the “Buy Less” marketing campaign.
October 4, 2013 Comments Off on Sustainability and Authenticity Present Huge Opportunities for Brands
Why David Brooks Almost has it Right about Brands
David Brooks, an Op-Ed Columnist at the New York Times writes a very interesting article about the differences between the use of and understanding of brands between the Americans and the Chinese. His premise is that the Chinese are not good at building brands that connect with consumers in the West despite the fact that they have the largest economy in the world. This will hinder their achievement of global economic dominance. He is right.
However, one of his notions is only partly correct and flies in the face of what great brands work hard at every day. Brooks believes that “People who create great brands are usually seeking some inner longing of their own…”. In this he is thinking about romantic notions of founder-led brands like Nike or Ralph Laruen.
What he is missing is that great business leaders spend a great deal of time and energy to understand their customers and their needs, and then address them in a way that builds an enduring relationship that can last a long time. In most cases it is the diligence and hard work requiredto build stronger relationships with consumers than competitors in every category that leads to sustainable market leadership.
Much of what Brooks writes about is very true, and he is astute to recognize as much as he does. Where he misses the mark is realizing that there is a process and method to establishing and building a strong brand that connects with key audiences that works on it’s own and is not necessarily founder led. Just look at a few minor brands like IBM, General Electric, BMW, New York Yankees, Mayo Clinic, etc. Sure each was founded by great thinkers and leaders, but they have evolved into very strong brands generations past founder longing.
Congrats to Brooks for recognizing how brand have become an engine of the Western economic growth. His basic premise is more than correct.
May 31, 2013 Comments Off on Why David Brooks Almost has it Right about Brands
Twinkies is in the Emergency Room…will it live or die?
And if it does survive, will it ever be as strong as it was again? It’s difficult to know for sure but one thing is clear: the marketing leadership at Hostess Brands had failed to nurture a brand that is undeniably an American icon with a value far greater than it’s $68 million year-to-date revenue. After all, how many brands can invoke nostalgia like Twinkies has in recent days? How many brands have such an impact on society that they end up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or a feature on every major news program? Not many when you consider the thousands of brands out there, and yet, the marketing leadership at Hostess Brands has done little over the past few decades to understand, let alone capitalize on the equity.
Twinkies was introduced in 1933 by The Continental Baking Company in Inianapolis to utilize the strawberry shortcake machines that stood idle when strawberries were not in season. They were originally filled with a banana flavored cream but switched to vanilla cream during WWII when bananas were rationed. It was so popular that they never switched back.
November 20, 2012 Comments Off on Twinkies is in the Emergency Room…will it live or die?
Brands can be the Comfort Food for the Soul
For those living through the “Perfect Storm” of October 2012 that hit the East coast of the U.S., we all, collectively, had our senses heightened out of need. Many had no electricity, the coast had severe flooding, wind damage was everywhere and there were all manner of challenges in the days following the storm. What I found interesting is how some well-known “brands” comforted my soul as the winds howled and the storm raged on.
For example, we heated up Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and Tomato soup in the evenings over a propane stove. More than the warmth of the soup, the Campbell’s brand enveloped us with a smile and a comforting feeling that all would be OK. It was like a grandmother’s hug.
November 12, 2012 Comments Off on Brands can be the Comfort Food for the Soul
Sound Can Be a Powerful Brand Cue… Think “Snap, Crackle, and Pop”
Kellogg’s Rice Krispies famous “Snap, Crackle, Pop” was introduced in 1933. According to a radio ad of the time, “Listen to the fairy song of health, the merry chorus sung by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies as they merrily snap, crackle and pop in a bowl of milk. If you’ve never heard food talking, now is your chance”. It’s arguably the most famous of all brand sounds but there are other great examples of brands that have used sound as a differentiating brand communicator. The well-researched thud of BMW’s door closing is a deliberate effort to communicate quality and a premium positioning. Smart marketers are looking at all aspects of a brand to create a memorable brand experience.
Since the 1970’s, most markets are flooded with essentially parity products. The result is a quest for marketers to find ways to drive home differentiation and make their brand more memorable and unique. This is a mandatory in today’s competitive marketplaces. Sound is one key aspect of some brands that can make a significant difference, and it is often over-looked.
October 25, 2012 Comments Off on Sound Can Be a Powerful Brand Cue… Think “Snap, Crackle, and Pop”
Congrats to Heineken for Updating its Bottle in the U.S.
Heineken is introducing a new, taller bottle in the U.S. in order to help it’s flagging sales. It is a smart move on many levels, and it will be successful. But imagine the internal debate about change.
Heineken Lager Beer was established in 1873 in the Netherlands, and still uses the same recipe. It was the first beer imported into the U.S. after prohibition, in 1933, and has been a consistent bell weather brand. But while they once commanded a leading share of imports, Corona, craft beers, and even traditional competitors have introduced newer packaging and flavors, and Heineken has suffered. Today, Corona outsells Heineken almost 2 to 1. So it was out of necessity Heineken considered an alternative to the squat green bottle that has been their structural heritage. Funny how competition pushes a brand to better understand it’s equities.
September 20, 2012 Comments Off on Congrats to Heineken for Updating its Bottle in the U.S.