Think about where the word ‘brand’ came from. It was ‘branding’ cattle to mark a farmer’s ownership of them.
In time, people came to prefer some beef over others, and were then happy to pay a higher price for that perceived quality. If the taste remained good, or improved, that brand remained strong. There was an emotional connection and people were prepared to forgive one poor taste experience if it was followed by a great taste experience. But two or more bad experiences would soon see a cattle brand fall by the wayside. No amount of excuses could save it.
Apple, Vodafone, the Essendon Football Club and the ALP have all had falls from grace after long periods of goodwill, and some have come out the other side better than others. Each has key lessons on how marketers should manage their brands, particularly after big hits to their image.
In 2010, Apple had product issues around the iPhone 4. It was big but it was a one-off, and Apple enthusiasts quickly forgave them.
Vodafone then had problems with call dropouts – it was another one-off but it took time to sort out and overcome. Chief executive Bill Morrow rebuilt the network in a very transparent manner. No spin, just the facts, more ‘do’ than ‘say’. As a result, the brand is now poised to raise its head above the precipice to compete strongly once more.
Essendon Football Club has just endured a big hit to its brand. It would be well advised to look to its rugby league neighbours, Melbourne Storm, in how to ensure it remains a one-off so the brand can be forgiven and move on. Not only was there incredible leadership shown at the Melbourne Storm by the incoming chief executive, Ron Gauci, and the coach and captain in Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith, but there was also an innate understanding of how to resurrect their brand.
According to marketing guru David Aaker, brands are built on four dimensions. First, how different the brand is. For example, Vegemite is very different from other food brands. Second, how relevant a brand is to people. Louis Vuitton is relevant to only a small group of people, whereas Woolworths and Australia Post are relevant to everybody. Third is the perceived quality and popularity of a brand. Even if you’ve never driven a Holden, you have an opinion on how
good their cars are. Finally, how much people know and understand a brand. Most Australians know that Qantas has a white kangaroo on the tail and has a great safety record.
Melbourne Storm focused on the latter two dimensions – improving the quality of its brand and what people understood about the brand. The keynotes were transparency, honesty, leadership, a strong sense of community, and hard work both on and off the field. The team walked before they talked. They made sure the salary cap issue was a one-off. In turn the brand was restored in three years.
Six weeks after the federal election, the ALP brand has the burden of overcoming multiple poor experiences among the Australian population, such as the toxic relationship between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and the poor execution of many of their policies. The party also needs to define why its brand is different and why it is relevant to the Australian people. It needs to earn its stripes again. It’s time – time to stop ‘saying’ and start ‘doing’.
Marketers would do well to heed the key principles of brands, in both good times and tough times. The cattle farmers of yesteryear had many things right. Their simple philosophy was to do the right thing by their brand and the rest would look after itself. They ‘walked the walk’ before they ‘talked the talk’. Even in today’s more complex world, marketers shouldn’t overthink how they manage their brands. Sticking to the core principles will serve them well.