Why your Brand’s Life Depends on its Humanity

June 5th, 2015 § 0 comments

Screen-Shot-2014-01-12-at-4.46.42-PMIn Roman times convicts knew their death would be spectacle in the gladiatorial arena. Today, our lives are spectacle online.

It’s not necessary to commit a crime to enter the online arena though a confession or gritty confrontation will ramp up the entertainment factor. But be warned. The crowd is hungry and baiting for blood.

It’s okay to use your secrets and fears as currency but make sure they’re the right kind of fears and make sure they’re confessed in the right way or you’ll be torn limb from limb and left to die in the unforgiving heat of public disapproval.

According to Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, we’re living in a world where we compete to be as bland as possible.

Why? Fear of shame.

Ronson gives examples to show how much shaming an online gaffe can cause. There’s Justine Sacco whose life was ruined after she tweeted a joke about Africa and Jonah Lehrer, the New Yorker journalist, who was labelled a ‘sociopath’ when it was discovered he’d made up copy for his book, Imagine.

Now that people have become brands and brands have personalities, all the rules that apply to people apply to brands too.

Last year a number of well-known brands were subjected to the Twitter equivalent of a public flogging after they royally mucked up. Walmart hit the shame fan when the company’s Halloween promotional page included ‘Fat Girl Costumes.’

When the board of grocery chain Market Basket made the decision to oust CEO Arthur T. Demoulas they were forced to change their minds and reinstate him after a backlash of disapproval from employees and customers.

One of the most beleaguered brands of 2014 has to be Malaysia Airlines, which tragically lost not one, but two planes full of passengers.

When the company subsequently launched a ‘bucket list’ campaign asking people what they’d like to do before they die, everyone agreed that the last thing they’d be doing is flying with Malaysia Airlines.

This is the challenge any brand faces when it gets dressed in the morning and prepares to enter the world. Make no mistake, it’s a battleground. Get it wrong and lives will be lost before brunch.

In the cases of the above examples swift action was taken to stem the damage. Walmart removed the offending page. Demoulas was brought back into the fold. Malaysia Airlines pulled its campaign.

But were those actions enough to rebuild the trust that was broken?

In today’s marketing environment, a world where brands have personalities and are held accountable the same way individuals are, the concept of trust is the backbone of any formidable brand.

Let’s look at the definition of trust for a moment. In psychology, trust is believing that the person who is trusted will do what is expected.

In Barbara Misztal’s book, Trust in Modern Societies, she points out that trust makes social life predictable, creates a sense of community and makes it easier for people to work together.

Isn’t that exactly what consumers want from brands? To know that product and services are predictable, that they’ll do what they promise and that by choosing a given brand it will enhance and improve social connections.

This may seem like a tall order but only if you continue to think of a brand as an arbitrary logo that encapsulates a product’s delivery to market.

That way of thinking belongs in the 1950s selling washing machines. It doesn’t cut the mustard today.

Why? Because today we have personal relationships with brands. Brands don’t represent companies to us anymore; they represent emotions.

In a recent TED Talk, prof. Jacob Ostberg, describes how when people see a Nike logo, they don’t think about sportswear, they think about what they can achieve if they follow the Nike ethos of ‘just do it.’ Likewise if they use a L’Oreal product, they feel ‘worth it.’

So the question today is, what emotions do you want your brand to represent?

Take a look at the Twitter feed for Malaysia Airlines. In the last six months their tweets have adopted a spiritual edge. ‘Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye,’ they say while using the hashtag #flyinghigh.

Are they using their very visible connection to death as a way to suggest their brand is built on a deeper philosophy, that they care about our spiritual wellbeing?

In an interview with Joe Lazauskas on Contently.com, Seth Godin described trust as follows: ‘it’s human, it’s personal, it’s relevant, it isn’t greedy, and it doesn’t trick people.’

Is that what Malaysia Airlines are doing? The messages may be human and even relevant but they possess an element of trickery, and in light of their recent misfortunes, that’s unforgivable. It begs the question: have they no shame?

Just as people with no sense of shame are likely to be punished at best and exiled at worst, 21st century brands are subject to the same fate.

Never before has the humanity of your brand been so important. Forget that and the hungry crowd will quickly remind you that entering the arena comes with a price. This is no time for mistakes. Your brand’s life depends on it.






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