What is the Real Character of Your Brand?

Written by Hilton Barbour

The flames can be seen from outer space.

80,000 people have been displaced and over 1,600 homes and businesses totally destroyed.
The Canadian city of Fort McMurray is currently facing a fire of such savagery and intensity that the Province of Alberta has declared a state of emergency as residents evacuate the area en masse.

Government and Red Cross assistance has been swift and there is no doubt the skill of those organizations will help immensely.

But help has also come as swiftly from several brands.

Albertan-based airline WestJet has committed numerous airplanes to assist in the evacuation of Albertans trapped by the flames. Social media accounts speak of WestJet planes lined up to assist in the evacuation and returning filled with relief supplies for the beleaguered city.

Accommodation provider AirBnB has activated their Albertan network to help those fleeing the fire. Not surprisingly hosts and the AirBnB organization are stepping up to assist. The company has waived their standard booking fees and many hosts are offering their homes for free.

National brewer Labatts immediately repurposed their beer production lines to can water that was then shipped to the devastated area to assist firefighters and fleeing residents. This marks the fourth time their Albertan operations have canned water to assist in Disaster Relief in the Prairie provinces.

Of course many other organizations are electing to send money straight to the Canadian Red Cross. Not surprisingly, they deem the Red Cross to be the organization best equipped, and with the most experience, to put these funds to good use.

Cynics might argue that the actions of WestJet, Labatts and AirBnB aren’t all that surprising. That those organizations weren’t doing anything particularly novel or far removed from their day-to-day activity. After all how hard is it to waive booking fees, repurpose automated production lines or fill planes already going to a destination?

Here’s where I disagree with the cynics.

All acted with little or no fanfare. No newsflash. No corporate chest beating or soapboxing. No massive social media campaign.

They saw a situation where they could make a difference and they went ahead and did it.

Quietly. With character. And with class.

Sadly that type of character isn’t practiced by all brands in times of adversity.

The recent death of music legend Prince highlighted just how many brands see opportunity in tragedy. Or are so anxious for the social media cocaine of Likes and Retweets that they’ll jump on every opportunity to be part of a Trending situation on Facebook and Twitter.

And while I’m taking shots at organizations who seem to have lost their character compass entirely, dare I mention the current slew of automotive brands mired in regulatory and legal battles over their corporate actions?

Mitsubishi Motors recently admitted to fudging the fuel economy ratings of their cars. Okay so that’s illegal in almost every country on the planet. More egregious though is they admitted they’ve been lying about their fuel economy since 2002.

German manufacturer VW has also been through the ringer for their tampering with emissions on their diesel vehicles. Tampering that has lead them to accrue about $8 billion dollars to pay the inevitable fine that US lawmakers will slap them with.

That’s bad enough but, what stupefies me more is the recent decision at VW HQ to honor annual bonuses to the executive board that were at the helm when the emission scandal broke. In fairness, VW executives agreed to take a 30% cut in their bonuses after the scandal. Why that cut wasn’t 100% suggests that the organization is either tone deaf or has its head buried in the sand.

Here’s the thing…

As a marketing and brand consultant I’ve sat in numerous boardrooms and focus group settings agonizing over what words and phrases define a particular business or brand. I’ve suffered countless paper cuts leafing through dictionaries and Thesaurus’ trying to eloquently find a word that exists somewhere between “Empower” and “Enlighten”. I’ve written creative briefs that have tried portray brands as “affable, approachable and fun…but not frivolous”

It is all bull.

The true character of any (wo)man, and certainly any brand, is how you act.

Not what you say.

As my friend and fellow Strategist Jay Chaney quips “Do, then Say”

My simple ask?

Next time you’re playing word associations at a brand management off-site, forget the Thesaurus and ask your colleagues and executives instead, how your brand would act in a time of intense pressure or real adversity.

That, my friends, will be the more authentic articulation of your brand character.

The real question then, is what do you intend to do about it?

Originally posted on HiltonBarbour.com

We are an innovation and design consultancy that builds brands, products and experiences.

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