Resilience is the quality of bouncing back, the snapback in elastic bands and a baby’s cheek. In people, it’s the ability to survive failure or problems because their self-esteem and reputation have been honestly earned over time by repeatedly rising above challenges and working for their success.
When it comes to a brand, resilience is just as important to survival. Clients often ask us what the difference is between brand and reputation, and the answer is the degree of resilience. The better your brand’s reputation, the stronger your brand, the better it can withstand the pressure of failures, missteps and even brand sabotage.
Volkswagen is a brand resilience drama unfolding right now. This crisis is severe and self-inflicted. On the positive side, Volkswagen as a brand has fallen on its sword, admitted wrongdoing albeit not systemically and is eager to make restitution to its customers and stakeholders. It is an old respected brand with high resilience. Time will tell, but I think they will survive and be the stronger for it.
So what does it take to build a resilient brand in the marketplace, one that has earned its good reputation honestly and can survive a crisis? While these seven suggestions won’t guarantee you a resilient brand, they will go a long way in ensuring that your brand will carry on strong, trusted and believed.
1: Align your brand promise with your brand experience.
A thin brand promise that is no deeper than words on a webpage is flaccid and weak. Brands “happen” when they are delivered to the customer through every touch point and through every interaction. A resilient brand doesn’t just say what it will do, it actually does it. If your brand promises to simplify your customer’s network, then be about simplicity in everything that you do. If your promise is to provide the best customer service, then it must be the best, period. If you keep your promises, then you’ll be trusted and forgiven when something goes wrong
2: If you make a misstep, own up and deal with it.
Like people, brands make mistakes. We could point to Volkswagen’s recent problems or McCain’s crisis several years ago as great examples of brands that acknowledged their mistakes, talked openly to customers and made it right. They had earned their reputation for excellence already, so forgiveness was easier. And by being forthright, they built up even more resilience.
You don’t have to be that big and public though to build brand resilience. It grows from taking the time to respond to an angry customer, to saying sorry, to pulling a poor product, to making something right even if you’re not going to get paid for it.
3: Listen to your customers and talk to them. Really talk to them.
Brands are at greater risk now than ever before because of the Internet’s ability to increase transparency and reach. That means that one person’s experience or opinion can reach everyone and quickly become everyone’s experience and opinion. Build reputation and resilience by monitoring all touch points carefully and responding to emails, tweets, posts, comments, texts, phone calls and even letters with real answers by real people that acknowledge the issue and make an honest attempt to fix the problem or address a complaint. The personal touch is perhaps a brand’s greatest resilience asset
4: You are the company that you keep. Choose brand partners carefully.
When Tiger Woods’ brand crashed as a result of his poor choices, the brands that had supported him bailed as fast as they could. Brands no longer stand alone, but are linked to others through arrangements like co-branding and sponsorships. When one brand stumbles, then all the brands within its halo can stumble too. Build resilience and reputation by choosing your brand partners with care, and be ruthless if a brand partner no longer shines the right light on your brand.
5: Be true to your values and take the high ground.
CVS/pharmacy walked away two years ago from billions of dollars in business by removing all tobacco from their stores because the products did not fit with their promise of helping customers make healthy choices. While decisions like that will have an obvious affect on financial results in the short term, the loud statement it makes about CVS’s values and their commitment to their brand promise will resonate for the long term and build even greater resilience over time.
6: Pay attention to your employees.
There are potential brand saboteurs everywhere and they probably work for you. Unhappy vocal customers can be a problem, but real brand sabotage is usually an inside job. It’s the aggrieved employee who posts a video of himself peeing on the restaurant’s crockery. It’s the passenger who posts video of a flight attendant yelling at a difficult fellow passenger. It’s the tech support guy who tweets on the company page that he’s bored and his company is stupid.
Your employees are the people who have to deliver your brand promise. If they don’t understand how to do that and how their behaviour affects that promise, it’s a problem for your brand. If they are unhappy and you fail to address their concerns properly, that’s a potential problem for your brand. If you don’t monitor their online presence, then you’re risking your brand.
7: Be patient.
Building resilience takes time. It’s the result of consistent messages, consistent delivery, consistent quality delivered over time to build reputation and trust. So be patient.