In uneasy times, the most powerful thing a brand can do is to define its place, value and opinions in the world. That way, everyone knows where they stand.
I’m a great believer in brands being responsive but not necessarily reactive. Customers want to know that they have been heard and heeded; that a brand has acted on feedback or criticism, and done what it can to rectify a situation. Brands also need to recognise changes in market dynamics and competitor behaviour and respond accordingly. But brands can also overdo it. They can take so many cues from their customers, the media, influencers on social media, everyone else and the markets that they end up meaning nothing to anybody.
With that in mind, some thoughts on how you can be a brand with backbone today:
Lead change – powerful brands push for changes that consumers want to see realised. That’s not about being trendy or trite. It’s about picking up the baton for change. Driving new thinking into a sector isn’t just about innovation. It can be about calling a halt to ways of doing things that others have not got around to questioning. What opportunities do you have as a brand to address what John Michel describes as VUCA: volatility; uncertainty; complexity; and ambiguity?
Stay true – if there are things you have undertaken to do or that you have always stood for, continue to do them and to stand for them. Don’t get distracted, don’t doubt yourselves, don’t let others set the agenda, don’t try and time the markets, the political environment or anything else for that matter. Have control of your commitments. Because if you don’t, someone else is deciding how your brand should be run, and your customers could start to doubt whether they can trust you to stay true to what they bought into.
Be clear – have strong policies on when you will respond and when you won’t, how you will respond, who will respond on your behalf and the channels you will use. When Donald Trump criticised Vanity Fair, the publication responded with defiance. Boeing responded in quite a different way to concerns about what the new Air Force One would cost. Both responses worked, because they fitted how consumers expected the brands to answer criticism. In general, brands seem to be expecting to operate in a more judgmental environment.
Apologise if you need to – no-one’s perfect and humility is a powerful sentiment. If you do do something wrong as a firm, act quickly to recognise and rectify. The tension for every brand today is around timing. Companies want time to consider their responses and make measured statements. Consumers and the media want to see answers quickly. That’s why knowing where you stand, and what you will make a stand about, are so important.
Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title Brands Must Increase Certainty in Uncertain Times.