Brand, Reputation, and Delusion

July 3, 2011

If you are working on growing your business, you can expect to hear talk about the importance of building a brand.  There are branding companies, branding consultants, branding experts, branding strategists, and so on and so on.  All of them want to help you grow your business by creating a brand presence in the mind of your current and future customers.

'I'm sorry, my reputation usually precedes me.' - An Andertoons Cartoon
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The ICK Factor

October 22, 2009

ICK - Incongruent Customer KnowledgeMillions of articles and blogs have been written on the topic of branding.  Google the word  ‘branding’ and you will get over 33 million hits! 

Unfortunately too often, businesses spend lots of money creating and protecting their marketing message and not enough time protecting the value of their brand. 

Too often we forget that there is a  difference between our marketing message and our brand.  Put simply, our marketing message is what we say about our company, product or services; but, the true measure of our brand is what OTHERS think about us when they hear our name.  So in a real sense, our true brand value is our company’s image as reflected by Customer Knowledge.    Customers form impressions of what our company truly is based on what we say – our marketing message – and what we do – our actions. When they do not match up you get ICK – Incongruent Customer Knowledge.

When what you do and what you say are congruent, customers believe in what you say  and you.  This adds to your company’s value.  At other times the message and actions are not congruent and no matter how much time and money you spend touting your product or service, your ICK factor is a BIG negative thus detracting from your company’s value.

Making Promises to employees, partners, customers, and investors.

Promises can take many forms.  They may reflect what the company does directly, or they may be the promises shared in the marketing message, the Annual Report, or  employee communications.  But however the message is delivered,  when you promise a specific result, people expect to get it.

+ Keeping the promise = a strong POSITIVE brand reaction.

– Breaking the promise = a weakened brand perspective – just ICK!

Did you know that Your Marketing Message itself can create a negative feeling of ICK and deplete your brand?

Here are a few examples of mistakes I see too often when I log on to Twitter:

  • Messages or Mentions offering to “Grow my Twitter” following from ‘experts’ who have less followers than I do.  (If the whole point of a quality following is to understand who you are talking to, you’d think they’d look.)
  • Branded corporate sites that only talk about their products and never share or engage with the community to add value.
  • People who send ‘conversational’ welcome messages via a DM but are not following you.  If you take the time to respond back – only to find that they are not following you – the message is highly incongruent.  Not only are you not really welcome – they can not even hear you!  Major ICK!

But incongruence and ICK are not unique to social media.

Very often we share statements of our company’s values on websites, in our annual report, or even in our advertising.  But do our actions reflect those values? 

Here is an example of a corporate statement by Halliburton Corporation.  Did you read it?  Sounds great!  Now read this article from ABC news: Victim: Gang-Rape Cover-Up by U.S., Halliburton/KBR (KBR Told Victim She Could Lose Her Job If She Sought Help After Being Raped, She Says.)  Do the actions of Halliburton/KBR match their words? 

Customer Service: The Hall of Shame

But it is not just Halliburton (the company everyone seems to love to hate these days) that falls into the ICK.  Check the marketing message of almost any company and you will find statements talking about how important their customers are and how well they serve them.  Yet, as you can see in the image at right, some well respected national brands have made the Customer Service Hall of Shame as reflected in this article from MSN Money.  Whether it’s due to internal processes, lack of resources, declining quality, or just a general lack of customer sensitivity, these are firms that need to really pay close attention to their ICK factor.

So how do you avoid ICK?

Avoiding ICK, should be the goal of any company that places any level of value on its brand.  Here are some basic common sense guides to follow:

  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. EVER.
  • Establish Corporate Values that are shared across your company and base your processes, decisions, and actions on keeping true to those values.
  • When you make a mistake – or something unexpected happens – and it will sooner or later- don’t place blame – just own up to it and FIX it.  Taking responsibility and working to fix the problem is a great way to minimize the ICK Factor when the unavoidable happens.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

ICK Factor, Incongruent Customer Knowledge (TM)  2009 – CorePurpose, Inc.

Copyright – Joan Koerber-Walker/CorePurpose, Inc. 2009


It’s the real thing…How will you deliver your message?

April 25, 2009

A TV commercial came out when I was in elementary school that I remember to this day. We lived in a different time.  The 1960’s had ended and we were at the start of a new decade.  It was 1971.  People were protesting the war (in Vietnam this time).  Richard Nixon was President, Chairman Mao had declared the Cultural Revolution was ended (1969) and the door to China was slowly opening to the West. New technologies in semiconductor science and computing were evolving and a new environmental movement via Greenpeace was born.

A commercial came out in the fall of 1971 that captured the people’s mood and helped embed a brand – Coca-Cola – in the hearts and minds of a generation. (See video from YouTube above.)   The story of the how the now famous “Hilltop” ad came to be is a good one and a legend in the ad industry.  Two top 20 Hits came out after the commercial, one by The Hillside Singers and the other later by the New Seekers.  You can hear and see their version here.

At the Great Wall copyright Joan Koerber-Walker 2001Fast forward 30 years – and my husband Chris and I were in China seeing the sights.  It was just weeks after 9-11 and the world was still reeling in shock.  It was not a time of global love and trust.  One sunny morning, we made a visit to the Great Wall of China.  As we made our way up the wall, I watched a man helping a little girl climb step by step.  We stopped, as they did, along the way to take a break.  I took a Coke out of my backpack and caught the Dad’s eye and pointed at his little girl.  After he nodded yes, I turned to offer it to her.  She did not speak English, but her eyes lit up as she giggled and sang out “Coca-Cola!”  Perhaps they did teach the world to sing after all.

How will you build your brand?

Most of us can not afford the $250K Coca-Cola spent just to create the famous ad in 1971. (That’s $1.3M+ in 2009 dollars and without airtime!)  But, that’s OK.  You see, they learned the most important secret of business growth and branding. 

It’s not what you say about your company that matters.  What matters is what others say about you.  Especially in times like these – times of challenge and change -actions speak louder than words. 

It does not matter how big or small your company is.  Your decisions can make or break your brand.   The next time you have a business decision to make – ask yourself, “How will others see this – and what will THEY remember?” 

People have long memories, and you never know who might be writing about YOU thirty days or thirty years from now.

Stay Tuned…

-Joan Koerber-Walker