1.Failure to be culturally relevant
The infamous Pepsi and Kendall Jenner fiasco and their failed attempt to sell product via an important social movement springs to mind, but many others have failed dismally on this front.
Dove, renowned for their ‘real beauty’ approach, recently posted an image on Facebook of a black woman taking off a shirt similar to her skin tone, to reveal that she had turned into a white woman wearing a shirt similar to her skin tone.
Nivea, another racial offender, launched a campaign with the headline ‘White is Purity’ to a multicultural audience.
L’Oreal, a brand that “works with women and men with all skin types and celebrates beauty in all its diversity”, recently booked a beauty blogger, then refused to work with her as they “can’t be involved with people with skin issues (acne)”. It flies in the face of what the beauty brand claims to stand for.
Each of these brands’ campaigns was immediately removed and apologies were issued, yet the damage had been done and the evidence still remains online.
2. Failing to understand reputational risks
Managing a brand’s reputation requires alignment of three things – how others see the brand, internal culture and what the brand says about itself.
Culture includes the behaviour of anyone working for the brand – conversations, word-of-mouth, social media and what others are saying or writing. Brand values should be part of any orientation and included in the code of conduct.
Here’s an infamous example. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick resigned in response to a series of harassment allegations and an unnecessarily aggressive leadership approach. Viral videos and scandals not only derailed his professional reputation, but caused serious and permanent brand damage. Uber is only just starting to recoup market share, loyalty and trust a year later.
It’s not enough to have a product people love. An individual or toxic culture can cause a company’s entire reputation to come crashing down and very quickly.
3. Failure to own up
When a brand makes a mistake, there’s nowhere to hide. Incidents occurring in one country now travel to every corner of the globe, and it can quickly escalate if the brand is not honest, transparent and solution-focused in its approach.
McDonalds ran a TV advertisement sharing the story of a boy’s grief and pain from losing his father, with the sole intention of selling more units of Filet-O-Fish.
Backlash ensured, the fast food chain pulled the ad, issued an immediate apology and claimed the error came from its own advertising department. It’s astonishing to even think how this made it to market, past the many brand and creative professionals involved in the process. Then by placing blame on their advertising team, McDonalds in fact publicly blamed their own people.
And whilst it’s important to own up to mistakes (without blame) and take action, it’s also important not to overreact.
In another gaffe from McDonalds, the chain recently tweeted from its corporate Twitter account:
Whether it was a mistake made by the marketing department or an intentional stunt, McDonalds chose to keep the tweet up and made the best of the situation.
The brand didn’t overreact, showed their vulnerability and rode the Twitter wave in a much more representative way of the fun-loving brand, than the thoughtless TV disaster.
4. Failure to be authentic
Saying one thing and doing another erodes consistency, trust and loyalty and is extremely difficult to come back from.
Don’t say your brand is ethical and sustainable, unless you can spell the ‘how’ out.
H&M, a brand that is very open and vocal about it’s sustainable practices, was recently linked to chemical pollutants and had its name dragged through the mud.
In an appropriate and intelligent response, H&M addressed the concern from it’s ‘conscious customers’, shared their sustainability targets (“help to lead our industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals” by 2020), and publicly committed to improving their current practices.
5. Failure to focus on your people
People are the single differentiator in business. It’s impossible to be successful without great people. Innovation, product, marketing, customer experiences – all are the result of relationships. Your teams are your brand ambassadors – the happier they are, the better each customer experience will be.
When not managed properly, it can kill businesses.
Shocking customer service has plagued Delta Airlines. Two recent examples include viral videos of flight attendants kicking a young family off a flight and a pilot smacking a passenger at the Atlanta airport. They suffered a dip in sales, drop in customer sentiment and went into crisis control.
Although Delta operates in a category driven by price-conscious customers and are safer than most brands, it’s a very risky foundation to bank future success on.
6. Failure to focus on product
Another predominant reason why brands fail is poor products, particularly when they don’t stack up against customer expectations.
Product is not the single driver as to why customers buy into your brand, but it’s the reason they keep coming back. Products must have an inherent value for branding to work. As entrepreneur Warren Buffett says: “It takes years to build a good reputation, and seconds to destroy it.”
Increasing the number of approvals and having a crisis plan in place is not the answer to mitigate brand damage.
Relevance and values must be continually and consistently incorporated into every single decision you make.
Products no longer lead marketing. Brand does. Build your story, stick to your brand values, own up when you need to, and focus on being relevant to the right audience, with the right content, at the right time.
And remember – online never forgets.
Emma Sharley is an award-winning brand and marketing consultant, co-founder of fashion tech start-up, Shop You, lecturer at General Assembly and Advisory Board Member for IFAB: emmasharley.com