On top of everything else you have on your plate, you must now add a daily commitment to keep your brand mindful. Many seasoned entrepreneurs resist this new responsibility. However, the steep costs of failing to do so are showing up in the headlines again and again.
Long-standing brand names have been picked off one by one for various reasons, some of which to most may have seemed innocuous at the time. Investors have grown increasingly skittish about putting their capital behind anything that seems even remotely edgy.
More than one intrepid entrepreneur has been scared off following through on their ideas by the rise of cancel culture online. What’s a rising brand name to do? What steps can be taken to ward off the possibility of being attacked…even when no offense is offered or intended?
Your first commitment, above all else, is to keep yourself aware of what’s happening at all levels. If you hope to stay relevant amid all the turmoil, you have to maintain awareness at the local, state, national, and international levels. More than one brand has been toppled by posting an ad to social media that gave it the appearance of being tone-deaf. Given that you want to keep your brand mindful, here are seven steps you can take to undergird that primary objective.
1. Establish your core values early on.
If somehow your company achieved success without putting together a Core Values document, that’s all fine and well, but it’s time to plug that leak now, before the dam breaks. Knowing who you are and what your company stands for will be absolutely essential if (or rather, when) a social media grenade comes over the wall.
As a matter of fact, you will be well-served to construct both a Core Values document for yourself as an individual and another one for your brand. Anytime a decision needs to be made, you will find yourself referring to these precepts again and again. Who are you? What is your company all about? Write it down. Modify if needed, but you must start somewhere.
2. Mark out the hills you’re willing to die on.
Once you have your Core Values down pat, you are in a much more authoritative and relaxed position to decide when to engage and (perhaps more importantly) when not to engage. In the heat of a scathing review posted to Amazon or a Tweet that accurately points out a serious flaw with your brand, it’s dangerously simple to pull out the smartphone. We can respond with more emotion than thought and then watch helplessly as your official brand’s response gets ratioed into outer space.
“You should respond promptly, but you don’t need to respond right this second.” How many careers might have been salvaged had this simple piece of advice been top of mind? Similarly, there is wisdom in knowing when not to respond at all. If you know in advance which hills your brand is willing to die on, you are in a much better position to pick and choose your battles.
3. Set benchmarks for rebranding ahead of time.
Merely as a precaution, practice being canceled. Think of it as a Mindful Brand Fire Drill. Assume that someone in your company has made an innocent mistake that has been misconstrued or twisted. A growing number of customers are calling for your head. It’s unpleasant to think about, yes. However, being prepared in the face of a firestorm will help you keep your cool. You’ll be better able to gauge just how bad things have gotten.
Many companies have been forced to rebrand to stay relevant. At some point, their losses outweighed the costs associated with rebranding. Your losses may be financial, relational, or both. Only you can determine in advance at what point you’ll need to rebrand. Keep an estimate of how many dollars it will take to rebrand in mind at all times. Weigh it against the storm brewing out in the digital realm. Memorize the lyrics to “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers.
4. Develop a track record of doing good.
The very best publicity is the kind that other people generate on your behalf. Maybe your company didn’t start out by setting aside some margin for doing good in the local community. Well, make that adjustment on your spreadsheets before the New Year. You can’t make everyone in your city like you, of course. However, you can treat your employees well, pay them a living wage, and give back.
Whenever a company is attacked, it’s expected that a press release is forthcoming. These are necessary and can help reverse a tide of negativity. However, the better response tends to come from others willing to defend you. In particular, those who have greatly benefited from your products, services, and commitment to making a positive difference. Let others speak up on your behalf. The payoff is two-fold. You and your employees feel better about doing good things and others will defend your reputation.
5. Handle humor like it’s nitroglycerin.
For years now, the folks at Wendy’s have mastered the art of using their official Twitter account to hawk their hamburgers and good-naturedly poke fun at the competition. When you read through their messages, it can look deceptively simple to successfully do this. It isn’t.
The late actor Jack Lemmon is credited with popularizing the axiom, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
Brands that are seriously considering using humor in their social media campaigns, take note! YOu would do well to print that on a large banner and post it in a prominent location. Jokes posted to the digital realm are not faring all that well these days. It takes a lot of talent and skill to use humor well. It’s hard to do it in a manner that cannot be misconstrued or restated in an offensive way.
One of the best ways to make sure your messages aren’t hitting a sour note is to engage in social listening. There’s any number of software platforms available these days to help you make that a reality. The point is to listen well and listen often. Even if you are listening to voices that almost certainly will never become customers, you can learn a lot by listening to people who are not at all like you, your employees, or your intended audience.
Of course, a commitment to appealing to a diverse audience assumes that you have already committed to diversity in your workplace. If your hiring practices or office environment don’t match up with the friendly, collegial tone you’ve chosen for your brand’s voice, people will be astonishingly quick to sniff out the hypocrisy.
7. Stay the course.
Maintaining the reputation of your mindful brand in the digital realm is not for the timid. As your success increases, you can count on the number of your detractors going up as well. Assuming you are confident as to who you are and what you stand for, many negative remarks can be ameliorated by reaching out and seeking to make things better. Not everyone is going to be satisfied, of course, and you need to be prepared to have some haters as your brand takes off.
Establish your personal and professional Core Values, what you might think of as your “non-negotiables.” Decide in advance, without emotion, which battles you must enter, and why. While cooler heads are available, mark out what the benchmarks are for considering a rebrand. Help out where you can. Do so in a way that the people in your community would be deeply saddened to see your mindful brand fold up shop. Be extra careful with humor, especially written forms that do not benefit from inflection or body language. Listen to a lot of different voices and be sure to hire people who don’t look or think like you. Don’t sweat the occasional wave of bad publicity, but seek to be on good terms with all, if possible.