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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.

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