It’s a funny thing, branding. For decades, potentially for a whole century, businesses have sold to the public on the basis of a created persona – a feeling, if you like, which the customer is supposed to identify with. The brand develops itself as funky, or trendy, or reliable, or established and sophisticated – and the target market flocks under its banner accordingly.
So here’s the rub. In the social media age, if that branding is a lie then there’s nowhere to hide. The customer who buys into the branding, only to find that the proposition he or she thought was true is just advertising hoo-hah, is the customer who brings a world of bad publicity down on the head of the brand in question.
How a company responds to this unveiling can dictate the future success or failure of its brand. Apple, often wheeled out as an exemplar of great branding, is a case in point – on both sides of the coin.
Around six months ago, Apple started selling a new version of its iPad in the UK. This iPad was branded as “4G”. Which it was – if you lived in a country that had access to the 4G network – which the UK doesn’t. The branding was revealed to be misleading – and Apple, initially kicking, finally capitulated and offered a full refund to all customers in the UK who’d bought the product.
Expensive mistake or invaluable social media PR exercise? The truth is that instances like this are both – but well managed, they can buy PR capable of rescuing the brand from the flames. Over time, the value of such PR outstrips the financial outlay required to refund hundreds of customers the price of an iPad.
This is an archetype of something approaching good practice in the social media world. What it isn’t, yet, is ideal practice – which of course would be to brand truthfully and so not have to weather these PR storms. Bear in mind that Apple kicked and moaned for a few weeks before it adopted the hands-up stance. While its eventual capitulation earned it plaudits in the PR stakes, you have to suspect that over time attitudes like this aren’t going to be enough.
The truth of the matter is that the connectivity of our daily world leaves consumers with power at their fingertips. As yet it is a power they do not fully understand how to wield. But they will: and when they do, the brand whose proposition errs even slightly from its own reality is going to wish it hadn’t.
We are living in an age of real change. Marketing, which has always sought to positively spin mediocrity, or to make something that really ought to be taken for granted sound like a key selling point, is coming up against a glass wall, through which its every move can be seen and its every claim examined. Over time, the brand that really tells the truth will be the brand that rules the world.
Marketer and engineer specialising in IT, tech and engineering companies. I bring new ideas, innovation, passion and clear strategy development with defined ROI, underpinned by 30 + years of experience.
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