When I was in high school one of my part-time jobs was working as a bagboy at the local supermarket. Even though the walls were plastered with signs that said, “Carry-out is a Publix service. No tipping please,” we bagboys stuffed our pockets with the single dollar bills the neighborhood housewives slipped us for wheeling the groceries to their cars.
I learned very quickly that there were two keys to getting good tips – being nice to my customers and making an extra effort to serve them. Besides a big smile and a happy “hello” each time I walked up to a new cash register, insisting on double-bagging, putting chicken into plastic bags to thwart leaks, and making a show of tightening the caps on Clorox bottles were all effective techniques to ensure a bigger gratuity.
This knowledge served me well a few years later when I worked as a waiter. The same two practices – smiling and being extra helpful – helped me earn the biggest tips and get regular customers. That’s why I was so surprised when a particular patron told me how unhappy she was with my service and asked me to “get the manager right away.”
I walked back to the kitchen and told the manager that the woman at table seven wanted to speak with him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I did anything wrong but she’s been unhappy with everything… her food, the service. No matter what I do, she’s angry.”
We walked back to the table together and the manager introduced himself. “How can I help you?” he asked.
She immediately launched into a litany of complaints – her salad wasn’t fresh, her food wasn’t hot, her server was surly, her water glass wasn’t filled quickly enough, and so on. Finally she stopped complaining to take a breath. The manager saw his opportunity.
“I’m sorry you’ve been served so poorly and of course I’ll take care of it right away,” he purred solicitously. “But let me ask you a question. You’re not really that upset about your lunch, are you?” He paused knowingly. “What’s really wrong?”
The woman glared at him with burning malevolence and I held my breath, waiting for her to start screaming. Then all of a sudden her face dropped and her shoulders slumped – it looked like she had been deflated. “My husband left me last week,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what to do.” She burst into tears.
The manager handed over his handkerchief. Without taking his eyes off her he leaned towards me and said, “Bruce, clear off the table and go get us two cappuccinos and a big slice of cheese cake… two forks.” Then he sat down across from the sobbing woman and told her to tell him all about it.
The two of them huddled like co-conspirators through the rest of the lunch service and continued to talk long after we had cleared the restaurant. It wasn’t until we were setting up for dinner that they got up. After bidding the manager goodbye, the woman came up to me and slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand. “This is for you,” she said before she walked out.
I never found out what they talked about that afternoon but I did learn a valuable lesson. Even though the woman came into our restaurant for lunch, that wasn’t what she was buying. What she really wanted was someone to listen to her. The manager was smart and sensitive enough to know that it was his job to give his customers not what they thought they wanted but what they really wanted.
Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A century later Steve Jobs said, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
For us business owners and brand marketers these are very valuable insights. After all, when we continually surprise and delight our customers by fulfilling wants they might not even know they have, we demonstrate how much we care and why they should continue to do business with us.
Oh, and that piece of paper the restaurant customer slipped into my hand? It was a $100 bill.
This email exchange is almost all verbatim. I removed the names and identifiable facts.
Potential Client: “It was a pleasure visiting your website and speaking with you today, Bruce. I have attached our ad agency RFP (Request For Proposal).
We look forward to your proposal. If you have any questions please contact me.”
Agency: “Attached is our response. Because we specialize in your industry we feel confident we can exceed all of your requirements.”
Potential Client: “We can tell you put lots of hard work into this.
We will have a meeting room with projector. Let me know what else you need.
But please sharpen your pencil.
We will be looking for you to drill down on creative, suggested media, social media strategies and spend based on demographics.
Please confirm you are on board and we will proceed.”
Agency: “We are excited by the prospect of helping you build a great creative program and we are eager to undertake the next step.
See you next week. Thanks for the opportunity.”
Potential Client: “Just received note from my bosses. As soon as you have creative they want a preview before confirming presentation. I’m just the messenger here.”
Agency: “Do they want to see existing creative we’ve done for other clients or custom work for you?”
Potential Client: “Creative ideas for us. The other agencies did submit customized creative samples, teasers if you will.”
Agency: “We appreciate that ownership wants to see our ideas before the presentation.
We hope they understand our ideas are our most valuable assets and we take them very seriously.
As you can see by our insightful RFP response we have more knowledge, understanding, and successes in your segment than any agency anywhere.
We are excited to share that knowledge with you to create powerful work. We are not willing to share our ideas before we have planned a strategy with your input nor are we willing to do that for free.”
Potential Client: “I will share your comments and get back to you.”
Did we get the meeting? Have we won the business? What do you think?
When a potential client asks for free ideas, a short turnaround time, AND lower prices before we’ve even met, what’s the chance that it could possibly turn out well? This is a presentation we won’t be making.
After all, to win business we will do everything. But we won’t do anything.
Have you read about Carnival Cruise Line’s latest woes? Of course you saw the bloated corpse of the Costa Concordia floundering like a beached whale off the coast of Italy, you saw the 2,758 stranded cruisers on the Carnival Triumph eating onion sandwiches and using the Lido deck for a latrine, and you saw 4,300 passengers from the Carnival Dream being ferried back to Florida after that ship’s generator failed. But those are the sexy things the news media loves to splash across its pages and screens. Have you seen the numbers?
All of this bad news has eroded the company’s profits. Carnival says it expects to post a 2013 profit of $1.45 to $1.65 per share, down from its previous projection of $1.80 to $2.10.
Last Tuesday USA Today reported that Carnival Corp “…lowered its 2013 earnings forecast yesterday afternoon, acknowledging that bad publicity and reduced ticket prices have taken a toll on its bottom line. Several analysts immediately lowered the company’s stock ratings, and share prices dropped overnight.”
And a recent Harris poll of more than 2,000 U.S. travelers showed a 17% drop in their trust in Carnival Cruise Lines. Worse, the trouble isn’t just limited to Carnival’s core brand. Harris found that trust in rival lines including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival-owned Holland America also dropped.
So what can Carnival do? Needless to say, the first thing is to stop the bleeding. To fix their problems the company has announced a full operational review and says they will spend close to $700 million to upgrade back-up systems across their entire 101-ship fleet. Cruisers, investors, and rival lines can only hope that that expenditure will stop Carnival’s continued problems. If evenly applied, that enormous expenditure only adds up to about seven million dollars per ship, not very much when you consider the cost and complexity of each vessel.
But even if almost three quarters of a billion dollars fixes the ships, Carnival’s still got a boatload of work to do before the ship hits the fan again. Here are just five of a long list of things I believe the worlds largest cruise line should do immediately to get their image — and their profits — on the road to recovery.
1. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part I).
The next time there’s a mishap, Carnival’s president line should immediately take a helicopter out to the stranded ship. He should stand with the captain and announce that he’s there for the duration and will be doing everything he can to see to the cruisers’ safety and comfort. His presence will help show Carnival’s passengers that he’s got skin in the game — his own.
2. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part II).
When the Concordia went down in Italy, Carnival chairman Mickey Arison should have been on the first flight to Civitavecchia and set up Carnival Central Command right there. After all, nothing says you care like being there.
3. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part III).
While the Triumph was floundering, an iPhone picture of Miami Heat owner Arison sitting court side at that evening’s game went viral. Even though we all know there’s nothing Arison could have done to improve the stranded ship’s situation, someone still should have said, “Yo Mick, why don’t you catch the game at home tonight?”
4. Enhance Connectivity.
In today’s hyper-connected world, being disconnected makes people very nervous. Carnival should install 100 Iridium satellite phones on every ship so that stranded guests could at least let their friends and family know they’re okay. A quick, “Yeah, we’re stuck but we’re fine” conversation would relieve a lot of stress and pressure.
5. Finally, Carnival should change their corporate name.
In addition to the Carnival-branded ships Carnival Cruise Lines owns ten different cruise brands, including Seabourn, Holland America, Cunard, and Princess. But each time a Carnival ship is stricken, consumers have no way of knowing whether the bad news is about a Carnival-flagged vessel or one of the other brands the parent company owns. Carnival should separate the brands so they’re not always painted with the same brush.
Sure, the entire industry will still suffer when there’s an accident. But as we’ve seen, other brands didn’t suffer the loss in consumer confidence that the Carnival-owned ships did.
My suggestion for a new corporate name for the holding company, by the way? Change Carnival to Tarison in honor and memory of Carnival’s late visionary founder Ted Arison.
My fifth grade teacher Juliette Polichetti used to say, “If you don’t know what you don’t know then you don’t know.” And while you could argue that that’s another way of explaining that ignorance is bliss, I don’t think that’s what Miss Polichetti had in mind.
When I opened my first advertising agency 30 years ago I had no business actually starting a business. True, I had a design major and a business minor from the University of Florida and I had worked as an art director at a few agencies in New York and Miami, but I still had no idea what I was doing. My father called it “the confidence of ignorance.”
If you don’t know what you don’t know then you don’t know and the confidence of ignorance are just two sides of the same coin, the negative and the positive, the yin and yang. They’re both accurate but if followed they can lead the listener to very different ways of dealing with the same issue.
A few weeks ago I spoke at TEDx Delray Beach. This event was a first-time, first-class, first-rate production put on by entrepreneurial wunderkind Becky Woodbridge. Becky wrangled the City of Delray Beach, 23 speakers, 40 volunteers, and 365 on-site guests into a day long celebration of ideas worth sharing, TED’s worldwide mantra. Plus there was a cadre of traditional and online press, including video and radio interviewers, bloggers and citirazzi (citizen paparazzi) uploading the proceedings to every social media site you can imagine. And it all proceeded fairly seamlessly. Of course there were some snafus – a couple speakers’ PowerPoint presentations didn’t work as well as they expected (imagine that), one speaker might have violated TED’s strict requirements, and a few people went over their allotted time limit. But so what? All in all the event went off like clockwork.
What I found so impressive was that Becky had never done this before – she truly did operate with the confidence of ignorance. Becky didn’t know what she didn’t know so she didn’t know she couldn’t pull it off. She just went ahead and did it and marshaled all those disparate components into a cohesive and very successful whole.
Before too long the video edits of the various speakers’ presentations will be complete and submitted to TED. If some of us are lucky, the parent organization will accept our videos and post them on the master TED site for the world to watch (two of my favorites are Mike Rowe’s and Joe Smith’s BTW). But we’d have to be very lucky (and very good) because so far only 234 TEDx speeches – out of 25,000 submitted – have ever gone on to TED.com. But even if the speeches don’t make it to TED.com, they’ll be uploaded to the TEDx Delray Beach site and people can watch them there.
While the postmortem is being done and the videos are being edited, Becky is hard at work producing new events for TEDx Delray Beach. She’s planning a TEDx Women event and a live simulcast viewing of the TED Global conference on June 13, 2013. The simulcast is an opportunity to watch the program (produced this year in Edinburgh, Scotland) on a giant screen in a beautiful auditorium. Specifically, the simulcast will cover sessions four through seven titled Money Talks, Listening to Nature, World on Its Head, and Regeneration. For a complete schedule listing and speaker bios, visit the Program Page.
Thanks to my participation with TEDx, and your participation with this blog, Becky has made a number of free tickets available to my readers. If you’d like to attend with a guest, please send an email to Becky at email@example.com and let her know that I invited you. But please do it soon, because tickets are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
And if the first TEDx Delray Beach event, structured on the confidence of ignorance, was so successful, just think how great this next event will be. Unless, of course, you prefer the wisdom of W.C. Fields who said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
The Seinfeld TV sitcom was called a show about nothing. When they pitched the pilot to NBC, here’s how they described the concept: “Nothing happens on the show. It’s just like life. You know, you eat, you go shopping, you read.” Nothing actually happens.
But I don’t really think the show was really about nothing. Instead, I think the subject of the show was the show itself – a self-consciously mindful navel-gazing sitcom that could take place in a restaurant, a parking garage or Jerry’s apartment.
Sometimes I think this blog is like that. I write about branding issues and things that I see happening that might be of interest to you – sometimes it’s about how to use proven branding practices for small businesses; sometimes it’s about current events and their branding implications; and sometimes it’s about whatever odd marketing concepts I’m thinking about that I think you might want to think about, too.
But sometimes these posts are more Seinfeld-like and are about the blog itself – a metaphorical version of going to the barbershop and seeing yourself reflected infinite times in the mirrors on opposite walls. I’ve written about why I blog, what the blog has done for our advertising agency business, what technology we use, what the metrics are, and so on. Usually my goal is to let you know how easy it is to do this and the terrific dividends it pays. After all, this blog has probably been the most powerful new business tool we’ve launched. But sometimes it’s just to amuse me – I’m kind of astounded at the way this weekly essay has taken off and by the number of great people who read it, the opportunities it has afforded us, and the (mostly) wonderful comments I get from all of you.
Last week the blog was titled Nobody Writes Notes Anymore. Do You? and was about personal, handwritten letters. As Ryan Giffen from Premiere Speakers Bureau pointed out, “(I) love the irony… (a) blog post about handwritten notes.” In the post I mentioned how rare it is to receive handwritten notes anymore and cited the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey that showed that the average American home received only one personal letter every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987.
As of Tuesday morning, 5/7/13, 28 of you commented directly on the blog. Another 43 of you sent me direct emails. And 16 people retweeted my post. But even better, 35 of you took the time to grab a pen and a piece of paper and actually sent me an old-school analog note. And I’ll bet more will come in the mail today, tomorrow, and throughout the weekend.After seven years of consistent blogging, this post generated more immediate response than any other blog I’ve written except the one about my father, titled How To Sell The Dream and another called I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.
Now I think that’s pretty remarkable. I think it’s almost a movement. And having been a child in the 1960s (as opposed to being a child OF the sixties), I get my knowledge of movements from Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant and his comments on the draft board:
“…And friends, somewhere in Washington enshrined in some little folder, is a study in black and white of my fingerprints. And the only reason I’m singing you this song now is ’cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like that there’s only one thing you can do and that’s to walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in say, ‘Shrink, you can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant.’ And walk out.
You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him (into the army). And if two people do it… they wont take either one of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out? They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out? And friends, they may just think it’s a movement.”
Well, we’ve done it you and I. We’ve started an honest-to-goodness, bona fide Alice’s Restaurant-verified movement. So if you’ve got a stamp lying around, send me a note — or better yet, send it to someone you love whom you haven’t reached out to in a while. And if you happen to find yourself up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts anytime soon and you run into Arlo Guthrie, remind him that you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
When I walked downstairs to grab my mail today Shelly told me that I had “won the mail sweepstakes.” Sure enough, my mail slot held the biggest pile on any of the shelves. “Of course,” Shelly added, “most of it is junk.”
But hidden amongst all the trash were three hand-addressed envelopes. Coincidentally, I had also dropped three hand-addressed envelopes into the outbound mail that morning.
According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average American home received only one personal letter every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. If that’s the case, is it any wonder that a handwritten note gets such attention these days?
One note was from Ron, thanking me for some help I’d offered with a project he’s working on. One was from Brian, complimenting me on a presentation I’d given the week before. And one was from Michelle, introducing herself and letting me know that we would meet in July.
Here’s the best part. I opened those handwritten letters first and actually thought about the people who sent them, even putting the notes aside to make sure that I respond in a similar fashion. Because a recent study quoted in the Harvard Business Review showed that the average corporate email account sent or received more than 100 emails per day, and that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now send or receive nearly 100 texts per day, I took the time to count the number of electronic messages I received. At 7:00 PM, the count was 127 emails (not counting pure spam) and 42 SMS texts.
Included in those 127 emails were three notes from kids who are looking for internships and seven sales pitches from companies looking to do business with us — certainly requests that might have been worth the time it would take to send a handwritten note. Truth be told, when I receive those types of emails I often wonder if the sender could have possibly made less of an effort to get my attention.
Indeed, that investment of time and effort is part of what makes a hand-scribbled note so valuable. The person who wrote it had to dig up some stationery, find a pen, and actually scratch their thoughts onto paper. And without spell checker or the AutoCorrect option, they might have even had to write the note more than once. Then they had to put the note in an envelope, look up and copy down the correct address, affix a stamp, and even lick the flap. What could be more personal – and more intimate – than that?
But there’s another side of letter writing that’s important too – the pleasure the sender gets in indulging in such an anachronistic activity. Maybe it’s because I love to doodle and draw, but I really enjoy pulling out my stationery and my dad’s fountain pen. I notice the texture of the pen and the flow of the ink. I pay attention to the way I craft my letters and I even try to find stamps that make an aesthetic or social statement. And because I’m left-handed, I’m forced to write slowly so my hand doesn’t smear the drying ink.
Dropping the weighty envelopes in the mail feels like I’m actually putting a little bit of myself into every letter I send. And I feel the same sense of personal connection when I open and read someone else’s carefully crafted note.
By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the value of handwritten communication. In January 2012 I wrote a post about the GMCVB’s CEO, Bill Talbert, and his branding tips under $100. Tip number two was titled: No one sends personal notes anymore. Except Bill.
Bill is one of the most tech-savvy CEOs I know. But whenever you spend time with him, you can expect a personal handwritten note to show up in the mail a day or two later. Bill knows that as the world gets more and more high-tech, the way to break through the clutter and make a statement is with high-touch. Not a phone message. Not an email. A handwritten letter. With a signature. And a real stamp on the envelope.
And when the news is really important? Bill takes a tip from Michael Gehrisch, CEO of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), and sends it in a FedEx envelope. After all, what other correspondence gets brought to your desk the minute it enters your office? It’s a heck of a bargain for 15 bucks, I think.
What do you think? Write back and let me know.
Horses of a different color. More than one way to skin a cat. Pushing an elephant through a keyhole.
Why are the metaphors for paradigm shifts all about animals? I don’t know and I don’t really care. What I do care about is implementing and benefiting from this idea of looking at things differently and sharing those ideas with you.
For example: everybody I know complains about travel. They don’t like going through security, they don’t like waiting in lines, and they don’t like feeling rushed.
I travel almost every week and I don’t mind it a bit. True, I don’t enjoy any of those situations either, but I’ve learned how to eliminate most of the aggravation they cause.
When I thought about making travel less stressful, I realized two of the most irritating things I could control. One was the discomfort and delays that come with schlepping heavy baggage. The solution? I simply stopped taking so much stuff. When you stop worrying about carrying everything but the kitchen sink, you also stop worrying about finding overhead luggage space, having TSA inspectors root through your stuff, waiting in interminable lines to pick up your luggage, and having your stuff stolen. (If you’ve read my blog for a while you know I’m a fanatic about travelling light. You can find great tips HERE and HERE.)
The second issue was the stress that came from rushing and worrying about being late.
Let’s say my flight was scheduled for five. I’d figure I needed to be there an hour early (four), and it takes about 40 minutes to get to the airport and park so I’d plan to leave my office at 3:20 or so. Needless to say, I’d only start leaving at 3:20 which meant I wouldn’t actually get into my car until 3:30 or 3:40 and I’d already feel rushed and stressed. Then if anything went wrong — traffic or a family of 18 ahead of me in security — my stress level would boil over and wouldn’t abate until I was on the plane and breathing heavily. No wonder people drink on flights.
One day it dawned on me that if I left for the five o’clock flight at one, I would get to the airport with hours to spare. Then I could go through the TSA line without cursing the people in front of me for dumping their coin collections and silverware service into the X-ray tray.
“But what do you do in the airport two hours early?” I hear you screaming at your computer screen. Simple. I go into the Admirals Club, pull my out my laptop and cellphone and make calls and return emails and write copy, exactly what I’d do if I were in my office. Except I do it calmly because I’m not rushed and I’m not stressed.
I have friends who went through a relatively amicable divorce. Because they have three small children, and because they thought it would be too disruptive for the kids to move back and forth from one parent to the other every week, they came up with a paradigm shifting solution – they gave the house to the kids and the parents move in and out each week. At first they also tried splitting the townhouse that the non-visiting parent would use but they found that that only reminded them of many of the reasons they got divorced in the first place. But by keeping the kids in one house, there was less disruption, fewer school changes, and more comforting surroundings. They also didn’t have to try to sell their home for less money during the financial downturn.
Have you seen the ads for Christian Mingle? It’s the dating website for singles who are looking to meet other singles of the same faith. Do you know who owns Christian Mingle? Spark Media, of Los Angeles, the company that owns JDate, the leading site for Jews who are looking for dates their grandmothers would approve of. Spark used the same technology they created — and the profits they made — matching Jewish singles to create Christian Mingle and 28 other sites, including hookups for Adventists, Catholics, deaf singles, and more. Was their strategy Kosher? It is very profitable and a great example of looking at an existing situation from the opposite point of view.
So the question is, what problems in your business, or your life, could be solved if you just looked at them differently? Or is that a whole different kettle of fish? (Dammit… There go those animal metaphors again.)
What the heck’s going on in the world of brands? If you haven’t been paying attention lately, lots of great companies are suffering significant headaches dealing with the body blows their brand images are taking almost every single week.
Look at Nike, the sportswear company that has built its dominant brand on the broad backs of superstar athletes and their sponsorships. From Michael Jordan to Florence Griffith-Joyner to Tiger Woods, Nike has both created their brand and the brands of their spokespeople athletes through enormous investments and laser-focused marketing.
But suddenly it seems like Nike’s most visible athletes are self-destructing both on the field and off.
Lance Armstrong spent years vociferously denying his regular use of the performance-enhancing substances that helped him dominate competitive cycling. Armstrong was so adamant in his protests that Nike even filmed a commercial showing Armstrong on his bicycle asking, “What am I on? I’m on my bike, six hours a day, busting my ass. What are you on?”
Of course, now we know that Armstrong was on a lot more than his butt. And Nike had to cut ties with their spokesman after they saw his growing unpopularity start to damage their own brand.
While Armstrong was enjoying the Tour de France, Tiger Woods was busy enjoying his Tour de Pants.** But after Elen Nordegren, Woods’ model wife, attacked Tiger’s car with one of his signature golf clubs, Nike again saw their brand start to take some of the lumps intended for their spokesman.
Even more recently, Oscar Pistorius – the Para-Olympian known as the Blade Runner – was arrested in South Africa for fatally shooting his model girlfriend. Unfortunately for Nike, not only was Pistorius one of their spokes-athletes but they had run an ad featuring the Blade Runner with the headline, “I am the bullet in the chamber.” Of course the ad was yanked from Pistorious’ website lickety-split but the damage had already been done. Once again, the sportswear giant has to decide how long to continue to publicly support their spokesperson even before they know if he has a leg to stand on.
Let’s move from the field to the seas. Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line company, suffered an engine fire that stalled their Triumph ship in the Gulf of Mexico. No one was injured and Carnival’s staff was lauded as going way above and beyond the norm to help the stranded travelers. But even though the company refunded their customers’ fees, promised a free replacement cruise, AND paid each cruiser $500, class-action lawsuits have already been filed and Carnival’s brand has become the punching bag of news shows and late-night comedians. Why such an aggressive response? After all, everyone knows ship happens.
So why is all this occurring now? Some people have suggested that the burgeoning 24/7 news cycle is so hungry for stories that they’ll publicize any corporate hiccup just to entice viewers based on the motto that if it bleeds, it leads. Others say that it’s the proliferation of smartphones and mobile technologies that have turned all of us into a new breed of citirazzi – citizen paparazzi who aggressively capture the corporate gaffs that would otherwise go unseen and unrecorded. And still other experts suggest that the corporate world is just a reflection of society in general, and that the scares and scandals affecting brands go hand-in-hand with the degradation of civility and ethical behavior we’re seeing in politics and society in general.
All of those factors contribute to the current situation but don’t thoroughly explain it. Instead, I think that it’s the recent proliferation and expansion of the brands themselves that has caused the problem. As I’ve written many times before, as products become more and more genericized, the brand itself has emerged as the way companies differentiate themselves. And as products and services spend more time in a digital environment where customers can see but can’t touch, the brand personality becomes the way consumers differentiate, decode, and decide what they’re going to buy.
So it stands to reason that the squeaky wheel would get the grease. After all, if good things make a brand stronger, then bad things will also do great harm.
But the major reason why big brands are taking it in the shorts runs even deeper. You see, when branded companies are most successful, their customers use the brands themselves to tell the world who they are. The cars we drive, the athletic shoes we wear, and the vacations we enjoy all become badges that consumers use to create their own personas. We used to say, “Your are what you eat.” Today we say, “You are what you consume.” The result of this is that we are so personally invested in the brands we use that we are hypersensitive to any chinks in our image armor. And so when we notice that the brands we’ve built our own self-images around have the same human frailties that we do, we feel betrayed.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, corporations and organizations are seen as humans and entitled to the same First Amendment rights as you and me. It seems that thanks to the recent ascension of the brand, brands are too. And just like in the political arena, brands have to take the bad with the good.
** This hysterical line was not mine. It was written by my good friend and very funny guy David Glickman.