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.

4 Questions to Consider Before Launching Your Personal Brand

Deciding to launch a personal brand into the marketplace can be an exciting moment and one that also comes with some anxiety and apprehension.

The urge to stay in the safe phase of researching (or conducting due diligence among your peers) is powerful and many never move out of the research phase to actually launching their personal brand.

Here are four questions to help you assess whether you are ready for your brand reveal:

What will your audience gain from interacting with your brand? What is your audience most concerned with day in and day out – fulfilling their own needs. Think of your day today and how many times what you wanted was the priority – from choosing your morning coffee to deciding what music to listen to as you walked, biked or drove to work. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Talk to your potential audience and follow influencers in your field to develop an understanding of what is and is not appealing to them.

How is your brand unique from what is already out in the market? You know you are on the right track when you sense a market need that no one else is filling in a way that is unique. And it’s rare when that happens. It can either be how you approach an issue or challenge, your expertise and knowledge or who you are as a person.

Why you and why now? Life does not exist in a vacuum. Trends develop in industries constantly and public sentiment is along for the ride – watch the news in your field, speak to experts and your potential audience. This will give you an indication of when entering into a market would be most timely with the most long-term benefits for your brand.

Are you relatable? Probably one of the more difficult questions to answer and one that will involve external assessment whether from a public relations professional or an informal focus group. What is being measured is your likeability factor, which directly correlates to expertise. If you are able to back up an approachable brand image with a deep knowledge of your industry and the issues within your industry, you will have a winning formula.

Harnessing the Power of Social Media

Last month, as a keynote speaker at CSC’s 2015 Conference, I spoke to an audience of teachers on how to harness the power of social media to build their own personal brand. Although their students are active on social, they had yet to really maximize their own potential to expand and share their knowledge. With Facebook now reaching 1.4 billion users worldwide, Twitter 288 million and LinkedIn 347 million the possibilities are endless no matter your age or profession. Below are a few tips to help you harness the power of social media:

Start by defining your area of expertise. Many find this one difficult. Start with your profession and work from there. You may have many interests. The goal is to try to narrow it down to one thing first and expand from there.

Choose what social platforms you will focus your energies on. Determine who your audience is. Is it fellow teachers or professors or maybe researchers? Discover where your potential audience spends their time on social and establish your presence there. Do not try to be on every social platform. It will dilute your efforts and leave you stressed out trying to manage all your profiles. Start with one or two.

Create new profiles or update your existing profiles. Reinvention is the name of the game here. If you already have profiles, re-engineer them to focus on your expertise. You can do that by updating your profile or by sharing content. If you are just starting out, explore the social landscape within your industry first. Follow influencers to learn how they interact, how often they share and what types of content they share.

Start by sharing content. Share content in your industry that you find interesting. If you find it interesting, others will as well. Get into the habit of doing so daily or every other day until you feel comfortable with it.

Spot trends and start trends. Look for interesting conversations, challenges or solutions that you can share on social from your everyday experiences related to your area of focus. That’s trend spotting. Overtime, this will create buzz. Eventually, you will want to also share your own points of views and experiences either through blogging, publishing on LinkedIn, Medium or in industry publications.

The Branding Battle That’s Heating Up

In 2010, Philip Morris International sued the country of Uruguay for USD $25 million over the branding of cigarettes stating that Uruguay’s attempt to curb smoking by requiring standardized packaging is in treaty violation. The Swiss-based company claims the new packaging does not allow for trademark and is in violation of intellectual property rights.

There’s been very little international coverage of the battle in branding publications worldwide. Why should consumers and brands pay attention?

Branding is often held, hand-in-hand, with trademark for international brands. Sometimes, a re-brand is required to secure trademarks in a myriad of countries. The repercussions for brands that are required to remove their trademarks and/or their brand identity from their products could be significant.

The larger question remains, by changing and/or limiting branding, will that solve the issue at hand or is it curbing the ability of brands to market? What does that do to market competition and consumer choice?

Recently, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg joined the battle by launching a USD $4 million fund through their respective foundations to support countries like Uruguay. Australia passed legislation requiring standardized packaging in 2012 followed most recently by Ireland and the UK.

Ultimately, the question remains: who controls branding? Is it the brand itself, the consumer or the courts? Where the outcome of the case will be decided with worldwide implications.

Read more on the case.

Source: BBC Worldwide, Forbes.

Being Don Draper is not easy

Over the past year, I’ve been hard at work developing a 2-year public awareness campaign. Next week, the first ad spots for this campaign will air on national broadcast and cable channels here in the US as a second phase of the campaign. The first phase was a soft launch on social media in December. Many lessons were learned from creating the campaign plan to selling the idea to leadership and to members of the Board of Directors across the country. Many modifications were made along the way, but the vision remained the same. Here are my five lessons learned:

Stick with your vision. Establish the desired end scenario from the beginning. You can adjust how you get there, what tools you use and what audiences you reach but stay true to that initial vision.

Adjust smartly. With anything related to the field of communications, most people believe they are experts as they engage with the medium in their daily lives – from social media to advertising. However, exposure does not necessarily translate to expertise. Many will freely offer their advice – and it will differ widely – listen intently but be decisive and smart in choosing what advice to take onboard.

Never fear visibility. Creating any type of public facing campaign for an organization will raise the stakes for them both internally and externally. Such increased visibility will result in a lot of interest and a lot of conversation. What naturally follows on from that is criticism. The more public you are, the more critics you will face. Don’t fear the conversation and encourage direct engagement with those critics.

Even airtight launches falter. No matter how well you plan a launch, something will ultimately go wrong; in our case, an erroneous tweet. How did we recover? We jumped into the conversation created by the tweet and continued to reach out to those offended online and offline. And we kept the launch going. End result – we had new champions emerge and new potential partnerships (as well as more engagement with the campaign than planned – see number three above).

Stand strong. It’s your campaign. If you do not believe in it through thick and thin, no one else will. That goes for the communications and marketing team, leadership and the organization as a whole. Believe in the product and communicate about it with one unified voice.