But That's What You Asked For?

3rd September 2015

Andy Erskine

A series of recent events in industry has started me thinking about how there exists the potential for organisations to unwittingly destroy expensive, carefully constructed and well maintained brand images, failing to recognise that there are a whole new group of stakeholders that need to be considered as having the ability to influence organisational behaviour.


Failure to recognise and engage these new stakeholders invites them to become Brand Assassins, actively engaged in the assassination of your brand.


These Brand Assassins hide themselves carefully, posing as innocent customers, members of staff, the public and indeed suppliers, constantly feeding their experience into every communication network possible.  Sometimes, they are so well hid, they themselves don't realise that they are Brand Assassins.


A few examples:


  •     Credit reference agencies are actively ranking companies against their supplier payment history
  •     A carefully crafted Tweet has the ability to highlight a failing to a global audience including your competitors and clients
  •     Unions reporting poor behaviours to the press, clients, competitors and your staff
  •     A disgruntled customer providing feedback on your performance to a potential new supplier or client forum
  •     A disgruntled member of staff (or indeed ex member of staff) telling your clients how they have been treated
  •     A mass distributed email telling an often blind list an individuals experiences
  •     Yammer & other internal collaboration tools, giving internal press to an individual
  •     A malicious attack by a competitor


Given enough time and space you could create an almost endless list of opportunities for your brand to be very quickly destroyed and an organisation left in a position where it is explaining a seemingly negative brand to existing or worse new clients.


Indeed, a poorly made comment by a senior executive can turn them into an accidental Brand Assassin.  Does anyone remember Gerald Ratner’s comments about the quality of products sold by his very successful discount jewellery chain?


"How can you sell this for such a low price?", I say, "because it's total crap."


This statement effectively wiped £500m off the value of Gerald Ratners businesses resulting in the rapid sale of what were otherwise great businesses that were loved by the general public.


Equally, if your sales team have sold or your operations teams are telling your customers that you are providing them with a prestige level service whilst delivering a lower, value engineered service level you can expect the market and your competitors to hear about it very quickly with the explicit details of your failings embellished in every telling of the story.


The travel industry is very aware of the damage caused by poor feedback on websites such as Trip Advisor reporting on the experiences of customers.


Organisation need to consider a much wider stakeholder group than ever before, with individual entities with seemingly no direct relationship with either the client or your organisation taking a very direct interest in how you stack up against your brand image, telling the world when you breach your own carefully constructed values.


Indeed, even when you are providing a service that is in keeping with your brand values, external stakeholders have the ability to influence organisational behaviour.  An obvious example of this is the recent hacking of the Ashley Madison website and the publication of personal details of its members when the owners refused to change their behaviours.


How then do you protect your brand, whilst also allowing commentators the ability to talk freely about their experiences with your organisation?


The reality is that a new way of thinking is required for the vast majority of organisations, ensuring that actions are actually reflective of the brand messages that they are are trying to convince the market is real.  Cultures need to be considered carefully and where necessary, changed internally to ensure that every member of the team is aligned to the same cultural objectives, acting as internal “whistle-blowers” when any member of the team breaches those cultures and values, regardless of the level or position that they hold within the organisation.


In service industries, the service delivery team develop direct relationships with clients often acting as part of the client’s business and therefore representing their own brand.  If they are talking poorly of the organisation or your brand, they are almost certainly expressing this dissatisfaction directly to the client in a way that is almost impossible to control without actually acting in a way that confirms what they are saying about you as an employer.  Employers must engage with every member of the team and ensure that they are fully engaged in the brand and its messages.


Organisational policies and procedures need to be reviewed to ensure that they reflect the external brand image as it is not acceptable to outwardly tell the outside world that people are your greatest asset if the internal policies and processes are designed to punish, impede growth or limit and control the activities of those assets.


The service delivery team need to feel that they are fully part of the brand, becoming brand champions and actively working to protect it.  This cannot happen unless they are engaged and understand the part that they play in the success of the business itself.


To protect themselves from Brand Assassins, organisations need to look closely at the gap that exists between internal and external values to ensure that the gaps are closed before the gaps are publicly exposed and real damage is caused to the business.


Whilst there are protective steps that can be taken to address a malicious criticism, the nature of the communication systems that exist make it almost impossible to take back or hide a criticism once it is out there.


Failure to consider the external influences on your brand should be considers as “doing a Ratner”




Sentinel House

Ancells Business Park

Harvest Crescent

Fleet, Hampshire

GU51 2UZ

Company No: 06950191

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