Skip to main content

Total Branding: All or Nothing

We live in an era of total transparency, an environment in which we are judged not by what we say but by what we do. Our thoughts and actions are publicized or shared via social networks. But sometimes, the image that social media portrays is not always the truest representation of a person, brand or corporation. For instance, most brands feel, think and act differently than their social media presence. As a result, there’s a lot of distrust for brands and confusion as to what they really stand for. In order to thrive within a culturally transparent society, we need total branding, a method that perfectly aligns feelings, thoughts, and actions. It’s all or nothing.  
Most brands suffer from cognitive dissonance, which is existing in a state of inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes. This is problematic for brands since society is already skeptical of them and their motives. The numbers attest to consumer cynicism:
The crux of the problem is that most companies still work in silos.  In other words, companies have internally segmented themselves and, more often than not, these segmentations do not work together: marketing the “heart", finance the “brain” and day-to-day operations the “muscle.”  And what’s more troubling is that branding is often treated as a communications exercise instead of a company’s operating and investing bible. This segmentation has not served companies well—there’s a total and complete disconnect.  And in today’s digital economy, this is unacceptable because consumers now have a total view of organizations, which has created both an empowering and ruthless consumer. Consequently, the sentiment “all marketers are liars” (to quote Seth Godin) is a widespread feeling. 
Let’s pick on United Airlines, for instance, who has been in the news recently for a flight scandal. We’ll break the company down by segment in order to see where and how the brand lost its united front:
  • The heart: UA’s marketing promised friendlier skies, which means better customer service.
  • The brain: UA’s finance department spent (and still continues to spend) large portions of its profits on dividends and stock buybacks instead of raising employee wages and R&D.
  • The muscle: UA’s operations has a chronic problem with frequent delays, flight cancellations and lost luggage.
Passengers surveyed by Skytrax, an airline quality rating agency, gave United Airline a 3 out of 10 (the same rating that was ascribed to Spirit Airlines, a low-cost carrier).  To compare this to other airlines: American earned a 4, Delta got a 5 and top-rated carriers like Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Qatar Airways received 7s. So what the “heart” promised, the “brain” didn’t invest in and the “muscle” didn’t support either effort because it couldn’t deliver on a good customer experience, which ultimately influenced investors’ and consumers' opinion of the airline. 
United Airline is not alone in this problem, most big corporations (e.g., Bank of America, British Petroleum, Amazon) face a similar challenge. But the brands that do get it right, make major sacrifices, which are often times downright painful. For example, CVS Caremark stopped selling tobacco products because it conflicted with its roles as a health company. The company also launched the quick smoking campaign #OneGoodReason and rebranded its corporate entity as CVS Health.  Last year, Guinness pulled out of NY’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade because the LGBT community was excluded from participating. And the UK supermarket, Tesco, removed candy from the checkout area.   
In an era of total transparency, branding can no longer be considered as a communications exercise. Branding needs to be invested in, all or nothing.  It’s a worthwhile gamble. In order to gain trust, a company’s thoughts and actions need to perfectly align with the brand that they promote in advertising.


Popular posts from this blog

The Irrational Power of Nudge Brands

Nudge brands are brands built on interactions, not attitudes. They are mostly defined by experiences, not TV campaigns. They are designed around people's inconsistencies and errors, not for machines. They are simple, not complex. They like to break things into small chunks that are less daunting than big tasks. They focus on changing behavior, not generating awareness and interest. The Paris metro system card is a nudge brand. It is designed against human errors. You can use the card in any direction. IKEA is a nudge brand. It uses the power of personal investment. The more involved people are in creating something, the better they feel about the end product. Ryanair is a nudge brand. It chunks the whole purchase process. They lock you in with a low 'seat price' first to get a mental commitment. Then, they start to add the extra charges in bite-sized 'chunks.' Hare Krishna is a nudge brand. It is built on the reciprocity rule by giving away daisies. People should …

The Curse of Advertising Resources

With more platforms, more products and more content who are trying to reach a disengaged audience, it is becoming harder and harder for brands to stand out. Conventional practices are no longer working. People don't watch TV as much as they used to, so they don't see commercials.  They don't click on banner ads. They don't pay attention to billboards ads. And they don't trust brands' messages. Part of the problem is that we are too dependent on traditional ad resources, which limits the realm of our creativity. To thrive in this new environment, we, ironically, need the freedom of a tight brief: what can you do with no budget for mass media?  Or limited marketing communications dollars?  To make a comparison, traditional advertising is a lot like countries and economies that rely on oil. This reliance handicaps innovation. Countries with a vast amount of natural resources tend to have (1) less economic growth and (2) worse development rates than other countrie…

The Engineering of Digital Consent

Today, we build brands through social interactions. People opinions online shape our decisions on what brands should we buy or endorse. 90% of customers said that online reviews influence their buying decisions. Our challenge is that consumers don't pay attention and trust the message coming from brands. So, how do we affect the opinion of others in this environment? In marketing, we spend a lot of time and money creating advertising with the hope that it goes viral. However, most of the campaigns have little influence in today's consumers. Many campaigns have even the oppositive effect, with consumers sharing negative opinions or blocking advertising altogether. Changing behavior is hard. I don't think we have a silver bullet to influence people online, but we can learn best practices from behavioral science to increase our chances. Getting a little better in predicting behavior can make a big difference. Here are four behavioral principles that we should consider when c…