Digital Forces Brand Authenticity
I’ve begun reading BrandDigital: Simple ways top brands succeed in the digital world by Allen P. Adamson, and found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with Adamson on the need for brand authenticity. In College Branding: Rooted in Reality, I noted that phony branding messages might have worked for tobacco firms in the 1950s, but higher education branding can’t be contradicted by reality. Adamson points out that the speed of information dispersion by today’s digital media mandate branding messages that match the company’s deliverables:
Perhaps the most important truth about building a great brand is that in order to succeed you must deliver what you promise. Digital is a two-way street. Just as we can see consumers with more clarity, consumers can see brands with equal clarity. Corporate behavior has been made highly visible… and the ability to see whether a company’s products and services meet consumer expectations has been magnified… In the digital world you are who you are, not what you say you are. There is no place to run and hide… Brand organizations must make good on their brand promises like never before. They must deliver the goods and services with nary a slip.
[Emphasis added. From BrandDigital: Simple ways top brands succeed in the digital world by Allen P. Adamson.}
The airlines are a great example of this. They tend to spend a fair amount of money on advertising, much of it brand messaging. Think of all the United Airlines commercials you have seen… strains of Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background while a weary business traveler is delivered safely to home and family. That’s a heartwarming scenario, but it’s completely undone for the millions of flyers who viewed the video United Breaks Guitars portray the airline giant as both inept and uncaring. Now, if an airline imprisons passengers on the tarmac for too long, the bad experience of a few will be shared with thousands more on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
The simple message is that today it makes no sense to waste money on polishing a brand that has underlying product problems. The mismatch between the brand message and the real consumer experience will surface sooner rather than later, and that dissonance may actually make things worse. Fix the product first, THEN worry about branding.
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