The Rise of Brand Narcissism

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

Pepsi – and now United – are the latest example of brands exhibiting evidence of spending too much time admiring their reflection in the mirror while the societal and political climate is changing rapidly outside their doors.

‘Tone deaf’ and ‘out-of-touch’ – two terms that are now synonymous with both brands with United quickly becoming a global textbook case.

United and Pepsi are not alone – Uber, Google, YouTube – powerhouse brands that have been forced to take the blinders off and face the new reality of growing business and consumer impatience and purchasing power action.

Most of it directly correlates to company culture – when leaders and employees together perceive their brand from 1.) their vision of the organization, 2.) negate alternative realities to that vision, 3.) ignore public/consumer feedback and 4.) remain out-of-touch with rapidly changing scenarios within markets.

Communications and public relations teams can help put a stop to brand narcissism by taking the lead on bringing the public and alternative views into sharp focus internally.

Benchmark, continually. Benchmark perception on a regular basis, every quarter or twice a year. Hire an independent research firm to conduct the benchmark analysis and to present findings to yourself and your leadership team. Try to avoid a defensive reaction to the feedback and take time to assess the findings before reacting.

Pay attention to digital. Keep an eye on your sentiment analysis data and read what is being shared and said about your brand on a regular basis. Share those reports with your leadership team in your meetings (don’t just email the report, present it and explain it).

Don’t forget media. Deep dive on your brand in the media daily both on social and on the web. Who is covering you on a regular basis? Who is citing you as a source or your data/research as a source? Read article comments over time. Provide staff with weekly updates on media coverage, encourage them to read and interact with the comments.

Educate leadership. Often times, brand narcissism starts from the top and is a reflection of leadership style. Invite specialists to come and speak to your company/team about changes in your industry, changes in customer behavior, innovation in the workplace. HR can be a trusted partner in helping to provide online courses and information on a regular basis to prevent ‘group think’ from taking hold.

Last, but not least, conduct scenario analysis. Stay informed of what is happening in the news, what is trending in society, politics and culture and how overall public sentiment is evolving. “If you see something, say something”, applies here.

Employee Engagement vs. Culture

How engaged with your brand and your products are your employees?

Most CEOs would answer very engaged; however, the reality may be much different from the desired level of engagement and that may be a direct result of your work culture.

I recently led a webinar on global employee engagement. The majority of the questions focused on whether company culture impacts brand perception. And the answer is: absolutely. A positive culture equates to engaged and passionate employees who are respected, trusted and encouraged to share ideas. A negative culture is the polar opposite – a culture of fear, suspicion and degradation of ideas.

Here are several tips for changing your work culture to help inspire your employees to be engaged with your brand and to become ambassadors for it.

  • Recognize employees for their accomplishments, publicly and individually in person.
  • Align expectations between employees and management. This is very important. Employees must know that the projects they are working on and their objectives align with management’s expectations and goals.
  • Proactively address and develop solutions or incentives for overwork.
  • Eliminate cliques and favoritism by encouraging social interactions with others and ranking inclusiveness in performance reviews.

Next, ensure your company is clear on its purpose, values and behaviors.

  1. Define your company’s purpose. Why do you exist? What do you hope to solve?
  2. Survey your staff and customers on the values they identify with your purpose. You will often see the end result of this defined in a tagline (“Fly the Friendly Skies”, “Think Different”, “We Try Harder”).
  3. Describe the behaviors which reflect those values in action. How can you live the purpose of your brand?
  4. Establish an employee engagement pilot program to help you define purpose, values and behaviors and to embody those characteristics in their daily interactions at work, internal and external.
  5. Hire for culture first, skills second. Ensure your new hires demonstrate and believe in your values through group interviews and problem solving exercises.


Is Technology Cramping Your Communication Style?

When was the last time you picked up your phone to speak with a colleague? Or used video chat to connect with a colleague in another country? Or walked over to your colleague in the cube or office nearby for a face-to-face conversation?

I have spoken to several organizations on technology and interpersonal communication in the workplace. Nine times out of ten, an over reliance on email and texting to communicate is leading to tense interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.

In many ways, it’s an endemic that has been building since the 90s – when email began to take hold within corporations as a channel for communication – and started to replace interpersonal communication as the primary source of communication.

What impact does that have on employees, teams and work culture when we are hard-wired as a species for face-to-face communication? For us, 50% of communication is verbal and 50% non-verbal. We’ve been operating at 50% capacity for a long time.

Here are a few tips to help you work the other 50% back into your work life:

Log-off email for at least one-hour per day. Email takes you away from your actual work. It’s meant to be one channel of communication, not the primary channel occupying 100% of your focus throughout your day. Try logging off for one hour per day and turning your mobile off to focus on your projects.

Switch from an email exchange to an in-person communication at least once a day. Do you find yourself emailing a colleague you sit next to or texting someone nearby? Start making in-person communication a priority. Try it at least once a day to begin with and build up from there. The bonus – it will increase trust and respect among your colleagues.

Pick up the phone. If you receive an email or text that is ambiguous or requires clarification, pick up the phone and call the sender. The same holds true if a string of emails is growing exponentially on one topic.

Use short, clear messages. If you cannot extricate yourself from email, make your messages short and to the point without being abrupt. Bullet points are your friend. Use the subject line to alert the recipient as to the type of email they are receiving. Next to the subject line add: “requires action/response”, “FYI only”, or “requesting input” to help the recipient manage the communication their end.

Reviving Internal Communications

London Cropped
London Staff Retreat, 2007. Sandra Coyle (l), Proserpina Dhlamini-Fisher (r). Photo courtesy of Anthony Tait.

Do the words ‘internal” and “communications” make you want to cringe on the inside and roll your eyes when no one is looking?

I once felt the same way but quickly saw an opportunity, a blank canvas that calls for great creativity with potential to increase brand awareness among staff.

Over the years, I’ve developed four sets of internal communications tools, that when combined, can dramatically increase staff brand awareness and inject some excitement into the reality of the day job.

This is particularly important in global organizations with offices located worldwide and with few staff having the ability to meet in person. These tools will close the geographic and interpersonal gap while educating staff on the brand and the organization’s activities and goals.

Friday Weekly Digest: A compilation of aggregated news on your organization and your industry. Software like make the publishing process seamless. Send via your e-marketing system to all staff or straight to an all staff email address. Consider offering this to the wider public via Twitter, Facebook, Google+ once the process is perfected.

Monthly Staff eNewsletter: Use stakeholder-generated content from staff and external stakeholders to expand knowledge of your organization’s work and of each other. Use videos as much as possible and encourage staff to share their own videos, especially if they work remotely. Encourage them to interview each other. You can get very creative here – hold contests, include a Proust questionnaire, interview different divisions, include videos of events, speeches and panel presentations and highlights from social media. Use e-marketing software to produce, publish and measure readership preferences.

Monthly Forums: First Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, whichever you like, one day a month that is reserved to share expert knowledge on issue areas or new projects. This can be done via Skype or BlueJeans network if you are working globally. It should be led by different staff members and outside experts. This can be used in a “brown bag” lunch style for your offices worldwide to invite partners and other external stakeholders. The key is that attendance is optional and it is for professional development.

Intranet as Social Media: The designer who worked on my site was the brainchild for a Facebook-like intranet at the international organization we worked at. We had profiles, follows and most active lists. It was a great way to engage staff in ways that they were already familiar with. The most active list became hotly competitive offline as well – a race to the top and a great way to encourage engagement. Just be sure you have a single sign-on or another easy way for staff to access the intranet and be aware of your stakeholders. If most staff is under 45, it’s a great approach but if your staff is older, you will need to survey them to see how they want to interact with the intranet and include their feedback in your plans.

And there you have it. You may want to introduce one or two tools over a three-month period and then build up to all four within six months to a year. Your e-marketing measurement will help you determine which article topics are most popular so that you can adjust your editorial calendar moving forward.

Staff surveys on internal communications should be done about twice a year anonymously to gauge whether the content, format, frequency and variety is meeting their expectations.

Quick Tips:

Internal communication channels can build brand awareness among your staff and bridge geographic distance within a global organization.

Use three to four tools that can you adjust as you go based on survey feedback.

Survey no more than once a quarter. Preferably two times per year to ensure you are meeting the needs of your audience.

Be creative and involve all staff. Not only will they learn new skills it will help them learn more about the organization and will create word-of-mouth about the communication team’s work worldwide.