Running a business in 2021 is risky. In addition to the effects of the pandemic and government lockdowns, you have the new, unforgiving pitfalls of branding. Those pitfalls include:
- The vulnerability of living with online haters and trolls who have low barriers to entry to hurt your company’s brand.
- The challenge to express the “right” values the “right” way even as values rapidly change.
- The risk of incurring the wrath of customers and other stakeholders if you express values even the “right” values the “wrong” way.
A single mistake can be costly. As our founder highlighted today, Starbucks lost over $10 million in 2018 after a store manager’s decision led to accusations of widespread company racism. Burger King’s UK division was lambasted across the Atlantic when it turned a sexist trope on its head to promote its female chef scholarship. And just this week, an Asian-owned media firm received terrible press after the Asian spa shooting when its solidarity attempt led to accusations of stereotyping and improperly using a Black Lives Matter symbol.
Rules of the road
The good news is that the new rules have old solutions. The first, and best protection, against the new rules of business branding is to be the best at what you do. We recently urged small business owners to put customer value — what you do and how you treat people — over customer values. The reason: even the most ardent liberal won’t go to Starbucks for a car, and conservatives won’t get accounting advice at Chick-fil-A.
In other words: don’t divert scarce resources. Invest those resources to create your company’s most powerful branding strategy.
The second step to protect your brand is to make it part and parcel of your firm’s overall infrastructure growth. Our founder recently laid out a four-part communications and branding strategy that lives up to the adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”:
Have a good law firm on retainer that knows your company, industry and target markets. Those looking to malign your company will often back off once real consequences flash in front of their eyes.
Don’t scrimp on marketing, branding or earned media. Building great relationships with the public, community leaders and media gatekeepers now makes it more likely that they’ll listen to you in an emergency.
Build a great internal team. The best opportunity to build loyalty is when times are good. Loyal staff breed loyal customers who will stick with you in tough times.
Create streamlined, efficient operations so that your gross and net profits are high, and prioritize company savings. Money can’t solve all of your problems, but it sure can help when an emergency arises – everything from engaging in legal action to hiring crisis communications experts or temporarily increasing your marketing budget until the crisis is over.
The third step to great business branding is deciding how and if to respond to criticism. Not all trolls, haters, and critics are created equal. If your target markets don’t care, you shouldn’t either. If criticism is impacting your brand, consider whether fighting back is appropriate. And if you’re actually wrong — apologize quickly and clearly.
Succeed through courage and preparation
Burger King, Starbucks, and other major multi-national corporations are big dogs in their industries. They are household names. To see them run like puppies from online criticism can make any small business owner queasy. But by focusing on building a great brand, you’ll be prepared for your own haters. Success breeds critics — but it also builds great business branding.