When Your Brand Sneezes, Your Company Catches a Cold

A brand strategist has to be part journalist and part therapist.

Why? A journalist is trained to ask questions — good questions, asked at the right time. A therapist is trained to understand the real reasons why things are happening. Both of them need to get to the bottom of things. And when it comes to rejuvenating a struggling company, both of these skills are needed to help diagnose and treat the patient, er, company.

What is your brand?

When you think of the word brand, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably think of logos, slogans and color palettes. But while those things are important, they can obscure the real issues.

Rather, your brand is the story of what your company is all about — its history, core purpose, values and differentiators. And it’s where you want to go next.

When you pick apart this definition, you can see a few areas where your brand can get into trouble: Does it have solid differentiators? Does it know where it wants to go — or should go — next? And have its target customers or key competitors changed?

Help isn’t always seen as helpful 

I’ve often wondered why businesses need to face a crisis before they reach out for help. Wouldn’t it be much easier for a business to be proactive, putting processes in place to head off difficult problems at the first sign of trouble?

Sometimes problems develop quickly and there’s nothing to do but react, but those cases tend to be rarer than we imagine. In many cases, the writing was on the wall for weeks, months or even years before anything was done — if anything was done — and often it was too little, too late.

Truth is, there are really only two emotions powerful enough to prevent normally rational people from seeing what’s often obvious to everyone else. They are pride and fear.

Pride comes before the fall

Pride is a nasty thing when it goes wrong. It’s pride that tells a business owner or senior executive team that the problem really isn’t so bad, and that if there is a problem, only those within their four walls are equipped to handle it. Sometimes that’s true, but often it’s anything but.

Fear is never having to say you’re sorry

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the other reason why struggling companies don’t seek help is that they’re afraid to face reality. They know deep down what needs to be done, yet they can’t work up the courage to do it. Maybe they fear having to lay people off, close locations or branches, or even declare bankruptcy. But as with a toothache, the longer a business leader ignores a problem, the worse it tends to get.

Triggering events and internal advocates

But if it’s true that prideful and fearful people and teams don’t seek outside help, then aren’t we at an impasse where inertia sets in and the situation goes from bad to worse?

Not always. In my experience, the situation at these companies or organizations tends to change when there’s an internal advocate for change who’s senior enough to command attention, or when the company leaders have their backs up against the wall and have no choice but to act.

I call these triggering events, and they’re the reason that brand strategists can do their work.

What does the brand strategist do first?

They don’t start with logos and color schemes. Instead, they start with what former CNN reporter Frank Sesno calls diagnostic questions. These are questions designed to get at the root of the problem so the issues can be rectified and the company can begin to heal.

One the urgent problems have been addressed, more strategic discussions can take place. As my wife, who works with the homeless, points out to me, “When someone doesn’t have a roof over their head, they’re not going to be too interested in taking care of their health and finding a job.” In other words, the brand strategist needs to take care of the most serious problems first.

Nothing to see here?

Maybe you’re a senior executive or business owner reading this post and experiencing a bit of agita. You know that your business is sailing into some headwinds and needs to course correct. Maybe you’ve already tried and failed to do so. You have the telltale signs of a brand problem.

All hope is not lost. Admitting you have a brand problem is the first step to positive change. What you need next is a brand strategist who can help you think through the situation and course correct. A brand strategist can not only help you get your business back on track, but they can help you put it in the best position for sustained success.

Your brand is everything in business. When your brand sneezes, your company catches a cold.

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