Five steps to reduce brand hypocrisy
The best communicators build trust by aligning all communications with their core values. In other words, whether you’re an individual or organization, you must talk the talk and walk the walk.
I always laugh when people say that PR guys are only there to make you look good or clean up a mess. It’s true, we do help people put their best foot forward. We also help organizations work through issues, often of their own making, that adversely affect their customers or communities. But, there’s only so much PR lipstick you can put on a pig. Hypocrisy as a communications strategy just doesn’t work in the long run, no matter how slick your PR representation.
That doesn’t stop people from trying. Some get away with it for a long time, too. Bill Cosby was one of America’s most beloved entertainment personalities. He banked on the clean, fatherly image best exemplified by Cliff Huxtable, the character he played on his hit TV series, “The Cosby Show.” But, his conviction for sexual abuse directly betrays the image he portrayed. Considering the nature and the length of his deception, I would dare say there’s no amount of PR that can resurrect his image.
In the case of organizations, their alienating behavior is often unintentional, and they may be unaware of it. Even so, when an organization’s behaviors are contrary to its core values, the resulting message is conflicted and weakens trust.
In my experience, this is a trap many small businesses fall into. What they don’t realize is that everything they do or don’t do communicates their brand to those around them. It isn’t just something you put in an ad. It should guide everything you do as an organization. For instance, what would the following behaviors say about your brand?
- A dirty public bathroom in a retail environment.
- The invoice your customer receives isn’t branded and has multiple mistakes.
- A customer-facing employee who doesn’t make eye contact or say please and thank you.
- Making the customer chase you for answers about their account or service.
- You only deliver product on days that are convenient for your organization, not your customers.
- Your organization fails to take advantage of recycling opportunities for plastic, paper, metal, etc.
These issues are likely out of alignment with your core organizational values. Conflicts cast a shadow of doubt over your brand. Over time, your customers experiencing these incidents grow quietly dissatisfied with your brand and service. Such customers are just one enticing offer away from jumping ship to one of your competitors.
Smart business owners and managers will find conflicts between brand communications and behavior and fix them immediately. One tool you can use to find these conflicts is a brand audit. Take a careful and systematic look at your brand’s appearance, communications and behaviors and rate its performance. Create and execute a plan to fix the problems and then conduct another audit after enough time has elapsed. This kind of exercise is best executed by an outside marketing expert. Here are the areas I recommend for the audit:
- Customer Communications – observe how you and your employees talk to customers whether in person, on the phone, via e-mail or via text/chat. Are they courteous and polite? Are they focused on transactions or listening to the customer and helping them solve problems? To measure yourself in this area, in-person observation and customer surveys are essential.
- Marketing & Sales Materials – are the look, feel and messaging in your marketing & sale materials strictly consistent with your defined brand image and attributes? Are they all about a deal or a price or do you dedicate space to your brand promise? What about the materials, colors and distribution methods – are they aligned with your brand? Who is authorized to approve usage of your logo and brand imagery?
- Website & Social Media – your website and social media pages are the virtual embodiment of your brand, so they must be done well. The images, colors, fonts and layout should be consistent with your brand attributes. Is it easy to navigate? Responses must be honest, sincere and timely. What is the main impression customers take away as they leave the site or page? Search engine optimization and e-commerce are topics in and of themselves that we won’t address here.
- Retail Center Appearance – what is the look and feel of your place of business? Does it match the brand image and attributes you communicate via marketing efforts? Are the finish materials, color and maintenance of the place up to snuff? Is it clean and well lighted? Is it a place where your customers feel welcome and enjoy spending time?
- Employee Appearance and Behavior – does the look of your employees properly represent your brand? It’s more than clean uniforms with your color and logo on them. Have you trained them how to demonstrate and speak to your brand image and attributes? Do they smile? Are they friendly and helpful or do they hide behind policies and excuses? Distracting jewelry, hair or grooming? Offensive language? Are they focused on personal issues or the customer? Regularly rate their performance based on defined brand attributes and expected behaviors. Make sure compensation such as bonuses and raises are directly tied to the behavior your customers prefer.
The better you align these behaviors and customer experiences with your organization’s communications, the stronger your brand will be and the stronger customer relationships you’ll enjoy. Consequently, you’ll see more sales per customer, more positive customer reviews that will reinforce your sales team’s efforts, and more success with prospects who already know and like your brand. Finally, if some unexpected reputational crisis hits, the good will you’ve created with consistent communications and brand behaviors will allow you to recover more quickly.
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