Responding to the growing number of Americans who are demanding more restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, Walmart and Kroger are asking shoppers to not open carry unless they are members of law enforcement.
Big box businesses like Walmart and Kroger understand the responsibility—and see the opportunity—in this positioning. In an open letter to Walmart employees, Chief Executive Doug McMillon said the company would stop selling ammunition used for handguns and military-style weapons, completely end the sale of handguns and discourage anyone from carrying weapons in any Walmart location including in “open carry” states.
These corporate decisions, while not popular among all Americans, are important for regulating their brand image among their consumers. For Walmart, this positioning lends also toward improving their brand among those who, out of principle and for many reasons, have chosen NOT to shop in their stores. With every corporate decision comes backlash, and it’s become clear already that many open carry advocates are beginning to boycott Walmart in favor of stores that either do not take a position on this issue or simply have not made it known.
Issues related to gun rights and ownership have an impact on just about everyone, so it’s no surprise these issues are now a matter of corporate social responsibility. Its no longer just about companies being green or being an inclusive workplace or finding other ways to give back to communities. The issues are becoming more politically charged and citizens are demanding from them more socio-political positioning. Corporations are now figuring out what stands are safe and good for them from a public relations perspective, which ones come with risks and weighing the costs.
Corporate social responsibility as a form of reputation management is an area of marketing applicable to every size of business and organization. As part of a marketing strategy, it’s a way for businesses to get in front of their customers by getting in front of issues with a specific message. Many companies want to make a difference in their communities, regions or world, but the reality is that they want to be seen while making that difference. Whether it’s an act of generosity with some type of community benefit or a new company policy with social impact, there is nothing morally repugnant about putting out the press release or doing the photo op because it can motivate other businesses to similar actions. No company stock is going to plummet and there is no expectation for franchise-wide boycotts to occur for doing the right thing unless it’s just not the right time or they’ve misread public sentiment. And therein lies the challenge for businesses when choosing to respond to social issues and hot political topics—it is not without its risks.
It’s said by so many people, including me, that knowledge is power. So if you have an idea about how your customers and acquaintances think about you, then you have a starting point for knowing what to fix and why (or to know what isn’t broken!). Your brand is the experience others have with your business, product, service, or relationship. As Jeff Bezos is widely quoted as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Your personal brand can and should be both passive and active. It’s how people know you and what you know about yourself and want to refine. A recent article at Fast Company made some interesting claims about the concept of brand.
Brands shape themselves to what others want to hear. A brand is a politician in a cheap suit with over-whitened teeth that calculates relationships in ROI. A personal brand lives in constant fear of discovery, that others will see them for who they aren’t or what they don’t know.
Whatever the answer is to the question, “How do you want to be known?”, the answer is a goal which may or may not be actually achievable. That I might want to be known as a recording artist with at least one top 40 hit is totally not achievable….it’s an unrealistic fantasy. But that I want to be known as a marketing and leadership coach is not outside the bounds of my skills and experience. Brands can always start off as a lie, but brands that attempt to perpetuate that lie have a high mortality rate.
Where a ‘brand is artificial and phony, ethos is an authentic expression of your values and identity as a leader. Ethos includes your accomplishments, mastery, reputation, knowledge, and credibility. A professional ethos is an incomplete expression of your entire self.
Though I love the fact that a leader in the marketing arena is espousing the teachings of Aristotle in their work, I think the logical fallacy here is that brand and ethos must be contradictory terms. I would suggest that a “brand” is incredibly difficult to fake because you can’t alter a person’s experience with your product or service. You can’t lie to consumers and suggest that they can “have it your way” and not let them have it their way. The market doesn’t allow for false advertising for very long or with brands that don’t deliver the experience they’re attempting to convey through their marketing strategy. Of course, ethos is a great way to understand the depths of an individual or business culture, but a brand is simply reminiscent of the experience a customer has with your product or service—and your logo and entire brand identity serves as a reminder of that experience.
U2 stated the problem but never really offered us a solution. Your potential customers may be climbing the highest mountains and scaling city walls looking for you. But if in the spirit of creativity or so-called “trends” you’ve obscured your brand in such a way that you’ll never be found in searches on Google, Yahoo or Bing, you’ve created a problem that needs to be fixed.
While involved in a recent networking conversation, a question was posed about whether a personal coach should continue to use “coach” in her title or should she get with the times and adopt the language of “consultant.” The answer to the question is ultimately another question: what are potential customers searching for?
It’s true that titles and terms get overused or stigmatized. In the world of “coaching” there is concern it is being overrun with unskilled and untrained people lacking certifications and tarnishing the reputation of the industry. Here’s a newsflash for you coaches, this is true in every industry – but changing your name from “coach” to “consultant” may just create confusion.
If at some point all restaurant chefs wanted to change their title from “chef” to “meal constructor” and began promoting their services with this new title because a chef somewhere brought shame on the entire industry due to some rookie mistakes, potential employers would be very confused. They aren’t searching Indeed or LinkedIn for “meal constructors.” Restaurants look for chefs.
People who look for coaches are familiar with the word coach – don’t miss the opportunity to expand your business by obscuring yourself among your competition. But don’t take my word for it. Do the research and see what your most successful competition is up to. Where are they located? How much business are they known to be generating? Are they a coach or a consultant? Whatever you’re doing to promote your brand, unless you have unlimited financial resources, breaking new ground by repositioning the entire industry within a new framework because of a trend you heard about is not what’s going to lead you down a path of success. You need to market yourself so that when potential clients are visiting Google, Yahoo and Bing, they can find exactly what they are looking for and you are included in those search results.
Whether a business or a non-profit entity, a sole-proprietorship or a large corporation, your brand is at the foundation of successful marketing efforts. But your brand doesn’t start with your logo because it is much more than that. You have to know your business identity before you can select fonts or logo elements. Your brand is what people know and feel about your business. Reputation is as much a part of your brand as the quality of the products and services you promote. Reflecting on these 5 areas of brand development, take another look at your current strategy and see what needs to change in more completely establishing your brand.
The Emotions. What you sell isn’t your brand. When customers purchase your products, they are left with feelings of satisfaction, contentment…and sometimes buyers’ remorse. If what goes home with your customers doesn’t leave them with a positive feeling in the long run, they probably won’t be back to repeat the purchase. Consumers are usually driven by emotion when making purchases.
The Experience. Closely related to the emotional side of buying, the experience of buying is significant in establishing your brand. While your brand isn’t your product, the experience of making a purchase is an aspect of your brand. The music playing in a store, the lighting, the merchandising, and the greeting are all integral to the experience of your customers. They will remember if the shelves were messy, if the music was too loud or if they were ignored. The point is, we remember great shopping experiences, and we remember those not so great. We remember if the store environment makes us feel old, if the store was busy due to mismanagement or if it didn’t meet our expectations. Do all you can to ensure customers have an enjoyable, memorable shopping journey.
The Truth. People are not usually taken in by shallow marketing efforts. When they learn they have been taken, they react by taking their business elsewhere. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the unethical business and marketing tactics we’ve seen over the years from popular national brands. While its easy to want to overstate the quality of our product or service, the bottom line is that the best approach to marketing is an honest approach.
The Visual. Your logo and your tagline aren’t your entire brand, but obviously they play a crucial role in becoming established in the minds of your customers. You know your favorite brands because their logos vividly come to mind when you think about the experience with their products. You’re drawn in by the quality and your experience with it. As people have an experience with your business, make sure your logo represents what you do in style and quality. Keep it where it can be seen to help people to remember who you are. And while a lot more can and should go into your brand scheme, your logo is the gateway to your brand because it opens doors to more opportunity.
The Difference. Positioning is the key element of branding. What makes your product or service different from the competition? When traveling, I prefer to stop at gas stations like Kwik Trip or Casey’s because of what makes them so different from their competition: clean bathrooms and the availability of affordable food options. The consistency is apparently in each of their locations, a part of their marketing strategy that can’t be ignored. Clearly communicating your brand’s personality – what makes it unique – is key to growing your business.
Branding your business doesn’t need to be an overly complicated process, but these 5 areas of branding will help you to better define who you are and stand out in an among the businesses around you.