Branding lessons from the Susan G. Komen fiasco

February 22, 2012

Great brands and communications are always built on a foundation of who you are and what you stand for in the world. Ask Susan G. Komen For the Cure about what happens when your supporters disagree with your values and, by extension, your politics.

When Komen leadership decided to shift its support toward a more conservative set of values, it caught the attention — and ire — of a previously loyal marketplace. In the new world of relationship building, people want to do business with organizations — and companies — whose values support their own.  When companies make decisions that reflect a new emerging set of values, they need to consider how it will impact their existing relationship with the marketplace and choose wisely.  

The new-found voice of the marketplace will tell you what consumers and supporters think — and they won’t pull any punches when they do. 

Budgets for communications have been plummeting almost as fast as the results they are generating. Consumers have a new power to their voice and they aren’t afraid to use it.

Transparency has changed everything. The marketplace knows when you’re not telling the truth. BP became a perfect example of what happens when your communications and operations are guided by different sets of values.

What you do is only part of the equation — what you stand for is the rest. The marketplace is demanding that companies be truthful and have a conscience.

In which direction do you orient your compass to stay ahead of the fray and back in the business of successfully engaging loyal customers?
●You should be scrambling right now to find a way to redefine your brand. What is authentic about what you’re trying to create and what do you stand for in the world? If you can’t answer these questions quickly and concisely, pull up a whiteboard and figure it out.
●Work diligently — every minute of every day — to align your actions and your words with your authentic brand purpose and what you stand for in the world. Your brand identity, values and personality should be clearly conveyed in all your words and all your actions. Assess every decision by its ability to move you closer to living your aspirational purpose and values.  And, if you choose to change the course of what you stand for — like Komen did with its Planned Parenthood decision — make sure you have considered the impact it will have on both sides of your marketplace relationship.  
●Engage in two-way conversations with your audiences. Find as many ways as possible to hear your customers, engage with them and meet them where they are. Some new tools to help you do that are the sites Pinterest, Reddit and Quora.  If you don’t know what’s happening there get hopping!

The revolution in communications will wait for no one.

Susan Waldman is co-founder and vice president of strategic services for ZilYen, a marketing firm based in D.C.

 

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