Decades ago, brand management was a much simpler pursuit. Limited access points to brands for consumers allowed brands to better craft their messaging and control how customers perceived them. The access points to brands were limited mainly to traditional advertising and storefront operations. If you kept your advertising on point, and your brick and mortar operations running smooth, that was managing the brand.
The advent of the digital age, especially in regards to the rise of social media, has made brand management a much more complex operation.
The Internet has opened a seemingly endless number of ways for consumers to connect to brands. Information is widely available, and can be shared instantly with thousands — if not millions — of others. This makes a once manageable mistake, such as a distasteful ad that wouldn’t go beyond the circulation of the magazine in which it was printed, a very, very public scandal. Take, for instance, Kenneth Cole's tweet announcing a new spring line of clothing using a pun and hashtag related to the riots in Egypt.
“This time, however, Cole isn't simply forcing his ‘Aw, Dad!’ jokies via billboards,” wrote MSNBC Technolog’s Helen A.S. Popkin. “Thanks to Twitter, perhaps Cole is now getting the feedback on his ad work he inexplicably never got before — well, at least in such volume, anyway.”
In addition to the amplification effect, consumers also have access to information that can shine sunlight on previously “protected” secrets. A little research can expose unscrupulous manufacturing processes that may conflict with brand messages. Viral videos — such as that featuring two Domino’s employees bathing in a sink as a prank — can lead to major public relations disasters in a matter of hours.
Even more than just gaffes, secrets, and scandals, brands are constantly being judged by the online community for things such as customer service or response times to issues. “Amazon.com apologized for a ‘ham-fisted’ error after Twitter members complained that the sales rankings for gay and lesbian books seemed to have disappeared,” writes the New York Times, “and, since Amazon took more than a day to respond, the social-media world criticized it for being uncommunicative.”
Brands operating in today’s world of lightning-fast communication — where brand reputations can be “blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” as Domino’s spokesman Tim McIntyre stated in response to the sink prank — must take precious care to ensure every facet of the brand is in line with the overall brand strategy. For example, if your company promotes a culture of environmentalism and “green” responsibility, it will not be long before your company’s energy usage or manufacturing processes come into question if they don’t also align with the environmentalism brand message.
Be it a major corporation or a small business, brands can greatly benefit from a “brand alignment analysis.” Think about everything — from customer service, to marketing messages, to your front-end operations — and make sure they all serve to not only bolster your brand strategy, but also fulfill all your promises. If you take time to improve areas that aren’t serving to support your brand, you’ll strengthen your brand and protect it against an online “black eye.” You may also see a boost in positive online chatter about your brand.