"Don't be like the rest of them darling" – Coco Chanel
How many of us experience anguish when we learn we’ve consumed something contrary to our personal values? When we purchase something from a company who has exaggerated or made false promises to us? As advertising men often quote, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’
We live in a world of virtuous promises which, more often than not, go unchecked. Yet people’s expectations about the goods they purchase these days are about more than just price tag. Government regulators don't adequately police the ethical promises companies make, leaving consumers to hold these companies accountable themselves. The courts do not as yet recognize brand harm as grounds for legal action. People rarely bring a case against a company for a failed promise. The ground however, is rapidly shifting under brands, and reputation is becoming a 24/ 7 exercise for companies, given the speed at which information is now broadcast.
Mismanagement of a product or service crisis can have devastating effects on brand preference. Cruise liners on-board mismanagement are now being accused of incubating illness as opposed to safely quarantining their passengers during the Coronavirus epidemic, leading to a muddle of messages. Whilst we try to figure where the buck stops there will possibly be no bucks by way of cruise bookings in the immediate future. Better to wear the buck than to dodge it, I’d say.
If you're going to disrupt a city in the best interest of change, communicating the big picture needs to be a constant backdrop. Any downstream of disruption will be felt by citizens and commuters. Most of us are comfortable with the principle of ‘no pain no gain’ when it comes to making our cities more liveable. Sydney had its upcoming Olympics to ease their tensions and disruptions of inner-city development. Singapore had it's Marina Bay reclamation foreshore story. Auckland’s has no story other than our very own ‘Cone Virus’ currently driving most of us crazy, since there’s no vision of what liveability looks like. We have such a beautiful city to look forward to, yet city hall is devoid of storytellers as they busily tweet apologies for the disruption. The ‘Great Lane Robbery ‘continues and taking out full page ads with letters of apology only deepens the frustration.
A great example in recent weeks of insensitivity towards brand equity was the announcement of the legendary Holden car brand being discontinued. It read like a death notice, as opposed to celebrating the end of a golden era of family motoring and the great outdoors. With promises of new EV brands from the mighty General Motors, they failed to see the power of leveraging Holden’s demise for better things to come. The silver lining in this dark cloud announcement was missed completely by Holden’s management. A dead duck can still look pretty, stuffed on the garage wall.
In times of corporate peace, these challenges are never usually discussed. Aligning and integrating the culture of a company with its brand creates a powerful engine of competitive advantage. Every person matters in defending the priceless asset of reputation. Without a central ethos and story acting as a communications rudder, divisions of a company often stray from the hymn sheet, inadvertently causing great harm. Negative reviews these days leave a permanent digital footprint, and when one peels the onion on a crisis, one often finds there is a misalignment between internal values and behaviours. Reputation risk may also stem from outside your company, including unethical partners, agents, suppliers, contractors and many other third parties you deal with.
Recognising the unignorable moments and turning them into opportunities to have unprecedented influence can change the course of an organisation, determining its own legacy. The responses depend on the individual characteristics of the crisis, but denial of responsibility is the worst option. Many boards are risk-averse and unable to grapple with the challenges of public opinions. This topic usually comes up under ‘General’ at the end of the meeting as everyone’s racing for planes.