Tag Archives: reputation

Know Your Audience

7 Nov

Knowing your audience is a fine art. This is my favorite quote from Ron Alsop’s book The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation, one that concisely sums up the spirit of being keenly aware of your audience, and their influencers:

“The stakeholder pyramid isn’t a static structure.”

What this means is that we’ve got to be constantly on top of the groups that are interpreting our image in the public space. They may or may not be customers. A good example Alsop provides is the Calvin Klein ads, noteworthy for those of us who first wore designer jeans in the 1980s. Although I looked nothing like Brooke Shields, I did love my Calvins. For the record, I had ONE pair. Lots of others loved their Calvins. They sent a message of youthful je ne sais quoi and corset-like zipped-upness.

imagesThe Calvin Klein ad campaign grew and developed into involvement of younger and younger models, which raised eyebrows for some. In the 90s, Klein’s underwear campaign became infamous for the heroin chic look of models like Kate Moss, known by her gaunt face and bag-of-bones body. At this point, the fashion popularity of Klein was very high, but his reputation began to suffer because of what older people—not his demographic—thought of the ad campaign.

For a long time, it was okay to push the envelope, with ads that were more and more risque, but that only has so much staying power. People pay attention, and they don’t put up having their intelligence be insulted.

The same type of phenomenon happened to Victoria’s Secret. When the company began, their brand promise went something like this: We make lingerie for real women, who are somewhat modest and have zero interest in tacky feather-laden teddies from Frederick’s of Hollywood. We will properly fit you for a brassiere that is uniquely for you, and will last for five years. But a couple of years ago, VS was selling Fredericks-esque teddies and trying to convince me that I needed to throw away perfectly good a year-old class of bras to buy Tyra Banks’ or Heidi Klum’s favorite because it was “just better bra technology.” Yeah, my foot.

What happened? How did they stray so far from their brand promise? VS did have very good success with its Pink line, for younger women, but they may have lost the market that has more money to spend: Women who are “of a certain age.”

Women who have daughters that are old enough to wear nice underwear…and want their daughters to buy nice underwear from a reputable, above-board shop. Yes, To Know Better is in that category, too. VS ended up with a tricky consumer with my demographic. I’m buying bras and panties from them, and my daughter is on the cusp of it. As a result, I am a proponent of VS keeping it clean. It’s only been recently that I have given VS another look, and it’s because they have started to get back to their brand promise. And I’ve wanted my daughter to have a better first bra-buying experience than my own, which involved my grandmother’s sudden bright idea of strapping on a training bra over top of my clothes in the middle of the Hart’s Department Store. For a 12-year-old girl, this was not a welcome experience.

So this is a good case in point for how much public perception matters. Even if Calvin Klein was not a proponent of heroin chic, or underage sex or people having to lay down on their beds to zip up their jeans, SOME people—influential people—in the investment community did believe so. And for Victoria’s Secret, their bread and butter consumer (yes, To Know Better and her friends) was not to be messed with.

Women with buying power are a force not to be manipulated. We stop spending when we get peeved. And even if a stakeholder group is not spending—like the investors that influenced Klein to get back on track with the basics—it is wise to monitor reputation with all key image-perceivers.

Brands and Creating Emotional Appeal

6 Jan

Brands that elicit emotion attract devotion—and loyal followers.

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Image from U.S. National Library of Medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sophisticated measurements—even MRI’s as described by Martin Lindstrom in Buyology—can track individual emotional reactions and the brain’s response to the appeals of marketing. Neuromarketing is all the rage now thanks to self-described brand futurist Lindstrom, and the revelations from his $7 million study are fascinating on the surface. It sounds as if many of our decisions that were thought to be driven by, well, thought, for such a long time, are in fact driven by instinct, deeply embedded and hard-wired into our nervous systems. I am looking forward to reading more about it and learning how I can shut off that part of my brain that likes Boden so much. Something resident in my reptilian brain no doubt.

Ethnographic studies follow or record consumer interaction with brands. I remember one study that monitored women’s processes of getting ready (“faire sa toilette” in French…sounds more glamorous) in the morning. They discovered that many women actually climb on top of their sinks so they can best see their faces for tweezing activity and makeup application. Imagine how this changed expectations around makeup packaging and accessories.

But describing and quantifying emotional connection to brands is different than feeling the connection. What’s the sensory experience of holding the sleek, rounded casing of the iPhone and flicking between album covers to choose a new playlist? The “ahhhhh” relaxation of sinking one’s head into a Tempurpedic pillow (or mattress, for the lucky few) at the end of the day? The feeling of unwrapping a Lindor dark chocolate truffle and eating it whole before it melts. Or hearing the crushed paper in metal wastebasket, slam-dunk sound of an old document being moved from the desktop to the trashcan on your Mac? (SFX: Resolute crrrrrrunch.)

Lovemarks, coined by Saatchi and Saatchi, describe the beyond-brand nirvana of sensory connection to products. Lovemarks are in the upper-right corner of the quadrants formed by the love and respect continuums, squarely defined by high love/high respect. I like the concept of lovemarks because it incorporates appreciation for the sensory experience of brands—and the feelings brought about by brand interaction.

One brand that’s leveraging the lovemark and Alsop’s seventh law is Ohio: The State of Perfect Balance. This is Ohio’s brand, now on driver’s licenses and being implemented across all areas of state government. From the economic development perspective the concept behind this brand is that business leaders can build their business AND love their life—something that’s clearly not possible on the coasts and in areas that require large commitments of time for commute. Place branding has the power to draw more people to Ohio through emotional connections.

Take a minute to think about the brands that evoke reactions for you that don’t involve thoughtful analysis. Comfort. Inspiration. Hope. Love. Protection. Relaxation.

What gut-level reactions do you associate with different brands? When you consider how persuasive emotion can be, I wouldn’t be surprised if you came up with a unique list.

Managing Crises with Finesse

4 Jan
A crisis may feel like this, but remember that everything has a beginning, a middle and an ending.

A crisis may feel like this, but remember that everything has a beginning, a middle and an ending.

The words “crisis” and “finesse” do not belong together, but reputation-master Ronald Alsop combines them anyway. A crisis can be a defining moment for a company: Successful crisis management can separate a company from the pack—in a good or a not so good way.

You cannot prevent crisis, but you can keep it from spinning out of control. No plan is bullet-proof, but get as close as you can. Here are some important components that Alsop and others identify for bullet-resistant crisis management:

  1. Create a crisis team comprised of a balanced set of expertise. It should include representation from PR, legal and IT, in addition to line function representation. Everyone on the team should be quick-thinking and accurate to a fault. The leader should be the President or CEO, and the spokesperson should be a cool-headed and seasoned (not too much seasoning) member of the PR team.
  2. Define possible crisis scenarios. These can be grouped into various categories, such as natural disasters, human error (e.g., employee misconduct, corporate ethics issues) and product or service flaws. In order to best define these, work with your line managers. Ask them what they worry the most about—what keeps them up at night. Also make sure to list any crises that have been faced by your competitors, because it is likely that you could face the same issues at some point in time.
  3. Prioritize crisis management based upon probability of occurrence and level of risk to the company’s reputation  if the crisis should come to pass. You can set up a grid and work through each scenario based upon the combination of these two factors.
  4. Map out a plan of response for each scenario. High probability/high reputation damage risk  scenarios should be explored first because a crisis management approach is most crucial in these cases.
  5. Set up a crisis command center. The command center should be a “war room” where the team can convene and extend its tentacles as needed to take action.
  6. Create a crisis reference book. This should include all relevant contact information, protocols given various scenarios, templated releases for categories of crisis (natural disaster, human error such as corporate misconduct and product issues), and flow charts stepping through key steps in the reaction process.
  7. Put your staff through their paces with crisis simulations. The crisis team, and other staff, should routinely be exposed to mock crisis scenarios to test response time and accuracy. These can be announced or unannounced by management. Fire drills are a good test of your company’s crisis smarts.

Sugarloaf Mountain and Its Crisis Communications Win

31 Dec

NOTE: This is my perspective on the Sugarloaf chair lift accident on December 28, 2010. Although I did not eyewitness the accident itself, I did see the rescue efforts and PR response in person.

While the MOST important point of the day was the successful treatment of injuries and rescue of those stranded on the lift, I wanted to commend the stellar efforts of the resort staff from a communications perspective. Safety comes first — and I’m grateful for the fact that everyone injured seems to be healing — but there’s an important “oh by the way” here to congratulate Sugarloaf’s marcom team. Because I do this work with clients every day, seeing it successfully unfold in person — by a staff that does not handle crisis every day — was a unique experience. I hope that this case study is helpful to others.

The rescue process at Sugarloaf on 12/28/10. Image courtesy of nephew Nathan Roehrer

What’s every skier’s worst nightmare? Not being stuck on a Black Diamond or falling and breaking a leg.

It’s a chair lift accident. You can get pretty high-up in those things, and if you think about it too much the situation can seem slightly precarious. Every time I look up at the cable that my chair moves along via that smallish hook, I get a little bit nervous. All of us do, on some level.

My family of four, along with 10 in-laws, was at Sugarloaf Mountain on December 28, 2010, when the chair lift accident happened at about 10:30 am. People on five chairs between two towers where the cable derailed fell 20-30 feet to the ground — fortunately onto two feet of newly fallen snow. Eight of those who fell were taken to the hospital, none with life-threatening injuries. This news report includes video from one of those in the section that fell.

Our group had just exited the chair lift from our condo when the accident happened. It was a beautifully clear day, albeit windy. The temperature was about nine degrees, well below zero with wind chill, so everyone was in face masks and goggles. We came up from the condo late because we knew that many of the lifts were closed due to the wind.

I didn’t know there was a problem until about 10:35, when the chair lifts in the area of the accident were all closed to let rescue crews and medics up the mountain. A chair lift operator  informed me and my daughter that there’d been an accident on another lift and that other lift personnel were mobilized to help out. The info provided by that employee was calmly and succinctly delivered, and I remember that no one around us was panicking or worrying. We saw the Snowcats and snowmobiles zooming up the hill past us. They were all moving quickly, and everyone got out of their way.

View from a lift at Sugarloaf on 12/28/10. Image courtesy of nephew Nathan Roehrer.

Soon afterwards, I’d say within 30-45 minutes, the other lifts started back up again. My daughter and I rode Whiffletree up the hill and came down by the Spillway East lift — the one where the accident occurred. We saw the rescue staff unloading people with a pulley system. The usual crowds were at the resort, and everyone seemed to be going about their business and not worrying about the situation.

In the mid-afternoon, around 3 pm, my daughter and I stopped at the base lodge, where a news crew from a French-Canadian station was interviewing a resort employee who spoke French. Everything was handled very professionally.

Some key points for how Sugarloaf staff did it right:

  1. Messaging was provided in a timely fashion, without speculation or inconsistency. This included video provided by the resort of rescue drills. There was a CNN employee on-site the day of the accident, providing live updates as things occurred. Being under the news microscope is tough, and the Loaf’s staff were up to the challenge.
  2. Information was put on the resort’s homepage with regular updates on the incident. I’m not sure whether there was a dark site already prepared with messaging to handle any chair lift accident. Whether it was written on the fly or in advance, it was done well.
  3. Consistent reports were also provided on the Facebook page, as well as on Twitter and in forums, in a more informal tone that was appropriate for the medium.
  4. There have been a fair number of snarky comments on news sites, and even a few on the Sugarloaf Facebook page. Most of the comments seem to be critical of Boyne, the resort owners, or random comments about how attorneys will take advantage of the situation. I can’t find any evidence of Sugarloaf staff responding back in kind. All of the communications have been on-point and informational, without backlash or inappropriate response by employees. Big brands like Nestle (remember their less than sweet 2010 Facebook incident?) could learn a thing or two.
  5. This is a great case for how brand loyalty can carry an organization through crisis. There has been so much support shared online for the resort and its staff, as well as through “victim” testimonials in interviews by news media. Every video I saw of someone on the lift said that they will be coming back.

Some thoughts on how the Loaf could have improved upon their already very good effort:

  1. I would like to see a video statement from Sugarloaf leadership. This would have made their message more genuine and less “one step removed” than written statements. There’s a well-populated YouTube channel for the resort that would be well-complemented by a statement from leadership expressing concern for those injured and articulating a safety and go-forward strategy. The video would also be helpful on the resort’s website — in particular on the homepage. Even if it’s rough — as in the Domino’s example from 2009 — it demonstrates attention and caring.
  2. The special page dedicated to the incident only includes the latest press release. No false advertising here….it says so on the homepage. Having all of them in one place would be more helpful for people who want to see everything. I like the way it’s organized on the media page.

Clearly, Sugarloaf is well-loved by its devotees. This was my first visit, and I have to say that the professionalism of the staff and the beauty of the site and quality of the skiing will all bring me back.

Social Media Policies: Guidelines or Rules?

17 Sep

Here’s an increasingly common question from clients:

I want to implement social media, but I’m afraid that my staff will take advantage of the freedom. What social media policies can we institute to shape use by our employees?

It’s a good question. Businesses are catching on to the practical necessity of social media for customer interaction and reputation-building. But it’s unwise to jump into the fray before preparing in advance.

Having a clear communications plan in place is the first step. Warning: If your plan involves only social media, do NOT activate. Social media is only one channel for communication. Comparisons with walkie talkies and telephones are apt. Just knowing how to use a walkie talkie or telephone doesn’t mean that you know how to WISELY communicate with it. It all depends on what you say, not whether you know how to pick it up and talk through it. Take Gap’s new Born to Fit campaign. They are leveraging social media—heavily—but only as one among many tactics within the media mix, that includes billboards and other examples of “old-school” ads. No television, though. Interesting.

Now back to the policies. The situation reminds me of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Elizabeth Swann is trying to outsmart the Captain, and he reminds her of the flexibility around the pirate’s code:

Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann pretending to be Elizabeth Turner): … wait, you have to take me to shore, according to the code of the Order of the Brethren …
Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa): … first, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so it must do nothing, and secondly you must be a pirate for the Pirate’s Code to apply and you’re not, and thirdly the code is more of what you call guidelines than actual rules, welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner …

The same will be true of social media policies. The landscape is so dynamic that you cannot account for everything that could possibly happen. And not everyone will follow them, but without them you are rudderless.

Now back to the policies. Here are some common themes drawn from various social media guidelines:

  1. Use good judgment. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say in person.
  2. Be yourself. Never be anonymous.
  3. Preserve confidentiality and intellectual property. Don’t disclose client or proprietary information.
  4. Own your own content. Take responsibility for what you post.
  5. Disclose your blogging to your supervisor. And put a disclaimer on your blog clarifying where you work and that the opinions and views you express are not necessarily those of your employer.
  6. Link back to your corporate culture guidelines. These should shape your social media practices.
  7. Use social media at work, because the process of communicating through social media is so often now a part of our work. But don’t let social media use keep you from getting other parts of your job done. Stay productive.
  8. Follow the ethics code of your given profession. Respect copyright and fair use. Do not risk defamation.
  9. Be a courteous social media community member. Pay heed to mutuality, authenticity and timeliness. These concepts have special meaning in the social mediasphere.
  10. Clarify the place of social media within your overall business goals and communication plan. It should not stand alone.

Now go forth and post!

Snake Oil in the Social Mediasphere

13 Jul

imagesSo many self-proclaimed social media gurus are full of it. They confuse quantity with quality, and juvenile behavior with “authenticity.” Use of social media does not equal expertise in leveraging the medium for business purposes.

These days, there’s a fair dose of snake oil being peddled by people seeking to make a profit. Business advisors encouraging companies to hire a  “social media expert” lead to further confusion, setting aside real strategic decision-making for reactive jumping-on-the-bandwagon.

Just because someone’s using social media doesn’t make them a go-to for solving business problems. This is like saying that because a person can dial the telephone and talk with every friend in an afternoon that they are an expert in sales. It just doesn’t work that way.

Here are four recommendations for identifying a purveyor of social media snake oil:

  1. Take a look at their design aesthetic. Is the color palette of their blog reminiscent of the choices you would have made as a teenager? Just because you can make your blog header bright pink doesn’t mean that you should. Appearances do matter, and this is a signal that they are not playing to a business demographic. Taste is not something we’re all born with. Most of us develop it over time, through trial and error.
  2. Read their blog. Does it include self-promotional and narcissistic photos and a minimum of useful content, primarily focused on their drinking exploits? Is there a preponderance of lol, omg and cul8r? This is self-absorption that they’ll mature out of, but you probably don’t have time to observe the process of growing up. Let them interact with the newbies in the industry and pay their dues before they get credit for being a “guru.” Experience counts. Come back in 5-10 years.
  3. How much content do their tweets deliver? If they are mainly flirting with people or trash-talking with friends, this is another reason to filter them out. Sharing information is key on social media, but being mindful of what’s worth sharing is the “twetiquette” to live by. Some do not switch gears to DMs when a one-on-one conversation is started on Twitter, and that’s a shame. Knowing when to go off-line or on a private line is a judgment easy to make and honestly appreciated by the Twitterverse. A high frequency of  tweets does not get one access to the ranks of the Twitterati.
  4. Is their point of view “authentic” in a style that can be converted to play in a business setting? The beauty of social media is each individual’s ability to establish a uniquely authentic voice. Just as all voices are not welcome at the board table, not all social media voices are worth tuning into for business purposes. Being authentic in the business world probably does not include over-use of emoticons, IM abbreviations or stream-of-consciousness chatter. High-quality tweets consolidate big ideas, embedded in tiny urls and spartanly precise word choice. They are mini-headlines that when mined open new worlds for the reader.

Remember, there’s a “me” in social media, but it comes after the “social”–meaning that awareness of social standards is still good sense and good business.

Blogamucil (aka, I do not care about SEO)

3 Jun

Growing up, my favorite grandmother (Grandma Anna) taught me about regularity. My brother and I spent summers with her, and it was a blast. She had a daily routine that started off with Tang, a cigarette, Metamucil (orange-flavored) and her favorite coffee cake made by hand from a recipe from her father’s German family. My brother and I played hide-and-seek in the big cabinets in her kitchen, a renovated stable. We ran around the big grounds of the family for whom she did light chores (the Hafts, in Reynoldsburg), climbing pine trees as high up as we could go and getting sap all over our hands. There was a huge tree that had a hollowed out trunk we loved to climb into. You could hide there for hours (well, it seemed like hours).

When we returned to her house in the evening after a long day of play, she made us meatloaf and mashed potatoes. She watched us while we ate, and she drank half a beer (Blatz, the other half of which would be finished the next night), smoked a cigarette and had some more Metamucil. Sometimes she tried to cut our bangs, which always got her into trouble with my mother. She would let us watch T.V. shows about aliens (which scared me) but would not let us watch Gunsmoke or any other program with guns. I slept in the same bed with Grandma (who snored), and my brother slept beside us in a cot.

The next day: Wake up and repeat. That was a great summer.

Blogging is like this. Get up and do your routine. Hopefully making a meaningful contribution to the blog will be part of it.

The only problem is that for me routine is not always easy to latch onto. I operate best in spurts of activity. Sometimes I am in need of Blogamucil. Now is one of those times. I write so much for work that the act of not writing is cleansing and good for me. Other times writing for non-work purposes is cathartic.

Honestly, I think I’ve spent myself on Alsop’s The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation. It wasn’t you—it was me, Ron. You inspired me, but I ran out of steam. Rest assured, I am finishing the book but not writing more about it.

Next up: Some musings on Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology. And some info from my readings to prepare for my APR.