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Brands have nowhere to hide

Brands have nowhere to hide

There would have been a time not that long ago when brands achieved success, sometimes even internationally, without consumers knowing much about them beyond image or price or where to buy.

The online reality has empowered consumers with knowledge, but also a desire to interrogate brands to the point where there is simply nowhere to hide.

The interrogation may start with the product or service brand. Consumers have become savvy on ingredients, functionality and not to mention the credibility of the so-called promise or proposition.

However, this desire to “peel the onion” quickly extends to the brand owner. The company behind the brand is no longer able to hide poor labour or employment practices, or any other corporate vulnerabilities for that matter. It is the total of product and brand and owner that is now under merciless scrutiny.

I am not sure that brand owners have truly come to grip with this reality. Brand image and reputation is often still the domain of the marketing department and their advisors. Yet their customers or prospective customers are increasingly very well informed on corporate reputation based on information available in the public domain.

Recent examples of where brand image has been tarnished include the use of child labour in third world or developing countries, companies with poor safety records, or others who drive a low price strategy through taking advantage of smaller, vulnerable suppliers.

In the latter examples, we have seen suppliers resort to online offer of their product in an attempt to achieve a reasonable profit margin or smaller farmers embracing community markets as an outlet for their produce without being “manhandled” by the big retail groups.

The ultimate winner is the consumer with wider choice and greater confidence in the integrity of the brand or product.

Another interesting challenge for a brand owner lies in the phenomenal growth of social media as an avenue for brand promotion. Here it is not so much the challenge of consumer interrogation, but unlike traditional advertising, it’s no longer one-way communication with the brand owner totally in control.

By way of example, sponsored posts are potentially a very powerful brand message, yet you need to be prepared for a lively response and no guarantee of a universally positive outcome for the brand. I think it is hugely exciting, as long as you as a brand marketer don’t have a “skeleton in the cupboard”.

For some companies this new responsibility of total transparency and honesty seem far too daunting with directors and management never at ease. Yet this is an opportunity with your house in order to build trust and loyalty in your brand way beyond what was previously possible.

It all reminds of a line accredited to the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly who suggests “you should always tell the truth, that way there is less to remember”.

More reading: 

Using brand to breathe life into the machine
Brand loyalty: Are marketers facing a sad reality?
Brand positioning: More sameness = less potential
Employer brand and consumer brand. Why should there be a difference?
Brand equity: Are CEOs neglecting a valuable asset?
What is so special about your brand?
Are brands still judged by the company they keep?
The dawn of the ‘contsumer’: Are you prepared?
Brand revitalisation requires more than a facelift

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