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Brand on Fire: Congress Less Popular Than Head Lice

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3 Glass Bottles-1b sWhen a national opinion poll shows you’re less popular than root canals and head lice, you know your brand is in trouble.  Public Policy Polling’s just released poll on Congress found just that.

If your own brand is in trouble, what are some emergency measures you can take?

  1. Own it, don’t avoid it. “Yes we made a mistake, yes we’re going to fix it” has been proven time and again to work better than avoidance. Remember the famous Jeffrey Jarvis Dell Sucks fiasco.
  2. Use social media. If a customer calls you out on a mistake through social channels (i.e. comments on your website, Facebook page or Twitter), apologize directly through the same social channel and explain how you will solve the problem. That way, other customers see you take action. Take a page from the best online retailers here (Zappos, for example).
  3. Let authentic positive voices drown out negative ones. If you are being hammered by an outlier unhappy or even vengeful voice, engage your supporters to drown them out, rather than trying to take them on yourself. This can include encouraging (through other channels like email) your supporters to post positive comments, or even upload positive videos about their experiences with your product or organization.

Of course all of these suggestions only apply when the individual/company/organization takes responsibility for the quality of its work. Much as I love my hardworking friends who are staffers on the Hill, this may or may not apply to Congress as a whole.

Employees are the Key to Pre-Empting Brand Threats

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My family and I have come to love Pizza CS (Come Sempre), http://pizzacs.com/  a new Neapolitan-style pizza joint in our neighborhood started by a couple of guys who love great ingredients and honor the art of creating a truly Italian crust.  But what I take away from Pizza CS, besides a great food experience, is that a great brand is always about two things: delivering what you promise, and how your people communicate.  This place has both, and that’s why we keep coming back.

When a “brand promise” is broken, it is often because an employee doesn’t realize that everything they do communicates your brand.  Or doesn’t. When my husband was on a job search last year, I can’t count the number of institutions that created a bad name for themselves because of how the point person on the search conducted him or herself. Everything they said was a poor reflection on the brand. By contrast, several institutions shined through that process, and presented a unified “face” to their brand for prospective employees and customers alike.

So, what’s the best way to pre-empt the potential brand threat that is your own work force?

  1. Listening. The first tool is teaching good listening skills. Any employee who speaks to clients, staff or prospects in either category—from your receptionist to your HR department—should have training in good listening skills. Learning how to repeat back what the concern is (“I hear you saying you did not receive the package your ordered on time”) is the first step to solving the problem and defending your brand. This is more important than ever in a world where any disgruntled person can start a blog about how they have been wronged (the famous Jeff Jarvis “Dell sucks” blog post as case in point).
  2. Crisis Planning. Another key component to workforce training in a 24/7 media world is crisis response.  That doesn’t mean that every employee is part of your crisis response team. However, every employee should know How to Recognize a problem that has reached crisis level, and What to Do Next when that happens. I often see organizations in melt-down when a crisis occurs because the problem was still being dealt with at a low level, with the back and forth spilling onto Facebook and websites, when it should have been pushed way up the management chain immediately for a more unified and brand-focused response.

You need to be engaged with critics (and lovers) of your brand, at all levels of your organization.  Because, in this world of 24 hour news cycles, social networks and the blogosphere, one unhappy person can be a very powerful voice. And so can one very happy customer who dealt with a well-trained employee.

Amy DeLouise offers staff development workshops in branding and social media.

Can Toyota’s Brand Recover?

Take the Short Poll at the End of this Post!

On February 1st Toyota announced its now-famous recall of eight models of 2005-2010 cars and trucks and stopped its production lines due to an accelerator pedal issue .  It had signalled the recall days earlier, in an announcement on January 21st.  By this Friday, February 5th, according to Toyota all dealers will have special parts to solve the issue and will handle free replacements.

Did Toyota react fast enough to save its name?

Some say no. Toyota should have known of the problem earlier, due to reports of acceleration-related accidents recorded by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) as early as 2002.  After four people in a Lexus were killed when their car accelerated into an intersection and hit an SUV last August, Toyota had already received more than 2,000 complaints of similar issues.   Toyota could have “connected the dots”  sooner, and saved lives and perhaps its stake in the auto market for years to come.  On the other hand, their fast response once they did issue the recall, and their ability to reach out to customers and the press through multiple channels–television, press conferences, social media and their own website–has helped the company’s image.  Crisis communications experts always cite the Tylenol poisoning case of 1982, when manufacturer Johnson & Johnson recalled more than 20 million bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol, destroyed them all, and developed new tamper-resistant packaging, and then communicated all of these steps to the public, early and often.

What can other brands learn from Toyota?

  1. Not Listening to Your Customers Can Kill Your Brand.
  2. Not Working with Others Who Serve Your Customer (i.e. NHSTA) Hurts Your Brand.
  3. Developing a Solution-Oriented Response Helps.
  4. Communicate Everything, Early, Often.
  5. If You Don’t Already Have Multiple Channels for Reaching Your Customer and Decision-Influencers (the press, experts), Put Them in Place Now!