When Brands Disappoint
By now, we know that a good brand offers benefits over a poor brand. One of those benefits is providing a “cushion” when things goes awry.
Your BMW is leaking oil? Their service people picked up my car and dropped off a loaner. Fly in the soup at Le Bernadin? Taken off your bill. And please enjoy a complementary dessert. Alma mater guilty of covering up child abuse? Well, it wasn’t the coach. He tried telling the administration…
Brands protect our companies. Once our brand is firmly entrenched in our consumers’ limbic systems, it makes our products and services preferred–if not demanded–over competitors. And brands are the indemnity that encourage our customers to forgive us if we offend them. While offended consumers of lesser brands simply go elsewhere.
Think of it as insurance for an inferior product, poor design, curt customer service, or any one of myriad mistakes that threaten to drive consumers to your competitors.
But what happens when brands disappoint? When the insult exceeds the insurance. Don’t we feel abandoned? Betrayed?
Back in the 1990s, when everyone–and I mean everyone–was predicting the demise of Apple, I wouldn’t believe it. How could a company making such a clearly superior product go under? How were we going to live in a world run by the evil Microsoft empire?
I continued my Apple proselytizing while purchasing Macs for my staff. As a show of solidarity, a badge of faith, even signed up for a free “@mac” email address.
So, when things started to improve at Apple–and the company demanded a $50 annual fee for the privilege of using its email server, I demured. After all: Hadn’t I single-handedly rescued the company by buying all those computers whilst being the butt of my colleagues’ ridicule?
Not cool, Apple. Though I still love you, that was a kick in the teeth of your faithful.
I’ve made no secret of the respect I have for The Beatles and, in particular, Sir Paul. He’s crafted some of the most beautiful lyrics and melodies of the 20th century.
His instrument of choice–a 1963 Hofner 500/1 left-handed, violin shaped bass–is the most iconic instrument in rock music history. More so than Chuck Berry’s Gibson ES-335. Than BB King’s Lucille…Ted Nugent’s Birdland…Tony Iomme’s SG…Clapton’s Stratocaster…Hendrix’s Stratocaster…Les Paul’s LES PAUL!
There is no also-ran. In fact, because of my adoration for Macca and interest in the bass, my wife encouraged me to get a (small) tattoo of the famous guitar.
(This being the very same individual who, some time earlier when she saw a photo of that bass, said, “Wow! That’s really cool. It looks like a violin.” Having no idea who played it. Later, my son confessed, “I’m surprised you didn’t divorce her on the spot.”)
I dig Macca. Don’t always approve of his matrimonial choices but, hey. It’s not like I’m paying the alimony.
So, it came as a surprise when–as I tried registering to be a “friend” of Sir Paul on his website (selectively invited, I was certain, through his Facebook page), learned said “friendship” required purchasing apparel, music, video, or some other chotchkie from his gift shop. Which I don’t want/need.
“Brands are the indemnity that encourage our
customers to forgive us if we offend them.”
Really? I have to buy something to demonstrate my fondness for you and your music? Do you really need my $35 (U.S.)?
No thanks. I’ll spend my dollars on promising, emerging groups. Ones that don’t employ teams of tax accounts to keep up with their earnings. Or their divorce payouts.
Sir McCartney: It’s even worth risking our friendship.
The Detroit Red Wings
Speaking of tattoos…
A tattoo may be the ultimate symbol of an indelible brand. People don’t suffer the process for people and things they’re lukewarm about. Consider: An eagle…Harley Davidson…mother.
Years ago, when anyone mentioned their actual, or considered, ink, I offered that the Detroit Red Wings logo was the only image I’d contemplate having painfully prodded into my dermis.
To me, hockey remains the least-adulterated professional sport in North America. And Detroit’s winged wheel symbolizes the old school work ethic reminiscent of better times: When hard work and grit meant something. When the U.S. was hands-down leader of the Free World.
So, when in 2004 the NHL season was cancelled due to ownership/player disputes, I quietly offered thanks to the Almighty for not having to wear, ad infinitum, a symbol of self-serving interests.
And here we are, eight years later–again facing a lost season.
Now, do I own Red Wings merchandise? Yes. Because it was purchased for me.
But, do I wear it as proudly?
The Catholic Church
This may offend some. But, faiths, my friends, are brands. Consider the Star of David. The Christian cross. Islam’s star and crescent.
Do faiths disappoint? They most certainly do.
And, yes, I know: Not all priests are bad. (My uncle is one. And he’s the closest person to genuine “holiness” I know.) And no religion is perfect.
But there’s something especially threatening when your belief system can be rocked by so egregious a crime and equally egregious cover up. Can the brand survive?
When both of my alma maters changed their team names, I was incredulous. That incredulity led to disdain and then something else: the decision to no longer support the institutions financially. (I wasn’t alone.) Similarly, when the football team of my brother’s alma mater’s hired a stupid clod as coach, he stopped wearing his school ring. And he let everyone know about it.
When have you been disappointed in a brand? What did you do about it?