From horsemeat in the lasagne to Libor fixing in the blood, not to mention industrial scale tax avoidance, brands have to put up with a hell of a lot at the moment. By which I mean that brand reputations, painstakingly pieced together over years, suddenly seem on the line in a way they have never been before. Brand reputations used to chunter along quite nicely, growing and shrinking at reassuringly glacial rates but now they have an alarming habit of crashing about as the latest pile of shit hits the fan.
Now, I’m not entirely sure whether this is because the levels of borderline corporate criminality have hit record highs, whether this always been an issue but the wonders of the internet have made us more aware of what is really going on or whether in the past no one really cared what businesses where up to in their name, especially in Bangladesh of all places. Whatever the reason, brand reputations seem to be under increasing pressure right now.
People like you and I dedicate entire careers and sums of money that dwarf the national debt of southern European nations bolstering the performance of brands and their contribution to the balance sheet. But all too often we find, along with the rest of the populous, that some cretin in another part of the organisation is doing their very best to hole the whole endeavour below the water line with their behaviour. Imagine being the Marketing Director of Findus the morning you find out that one of your co-workers has been dumping equine protein in the ready meals and have to witness all your hard work go up in social media flames.
According to a survey by Which? Barclays is the least trusted brand in Britain and you don’t have to have the cerebal capabilities of anything more than a sea urchin to realise that it might have something to do with the repeated assaults made on a perfectly good brand’s reputation by scandal after scandal. But here is a thing, in repeated barometers of brand trust Apple, Amazon and Google, they of the tax avoidance school of business success, all continue to fare extremely well. Now of course it may be that we care less about our public services being starved of tax income at a time of extreme austerity than being sold beef burgers with an identity crisis, but how do they do it?
The answer might possibly be that, while desire and price are conventional ways to measure a brand’s strength, these days we should add resilience to corporate misdemeanors and scandal. Because the truth is that no organisation can eradicate the possibility of someone, somewhere doing something undesirable in the business, any more than a parent can ensure a child never falls over or hits its head on the coffee table. That’s just life and shit like that happens all the time. What you can do is build a brand so robust and yes, loved that it is capable of taking direct hits to reputation and coming off reasonably unscathed.
So as brand marketers we should not bemoan the fact that Apple, Amazon and Google have been using every loophole known to Deloittes to avoid supporting our schools and hospitals in contravention of fibre of the brand mythologies we hold so dear. Rather we should applaud them from the rafters for building brands so strong that not one laptop, one DVD box set or one sponsored search result fewer will be sold.
Image courtesy of mikenusbaum.