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September 13, 2011
Branding and the Beast
New brands are created each day. Many will make it, many will not. And many will face unexpected challenges that result in brand breakdowns. With the right knowledge, tools, and preparation, you can better equip yourself to recover from that evil, intimidating beast — the unforeseen shakeup. Then turn your brand around and get back to business.
Whether commercial, individual, cause/nonprofit, or destination, well-regarded brands reap benefits including customer loyalty, trust, backing by eager ambassadors, a protective shield, and countless opportunities. Still, sometimes this just isn't enough to prevent your brand from crumbling when catastrophe arises.
The key point here is that no brand is immune to a breakdown. No matter how strong or popular your brand, always be prepared for the worst. It can happen without warning, and have catastrophic results.
Like any type of beast, a brand shakeup rears its ugly head in many forms. They could be the result of accidents, product recalls, scandals, dramatic market shifts, poor judgment, bad behavior, or bad luck, among other things.
Despite the trigger or severity of the shakeup, some brands come out fighting —a nd make complete turnarounds, sometimes even becoming stronger than they ever were.
The first step in combating a shakeup is to be prepared. Brands undergoing hard times move through five phases:
  1. Brand-shaking Event — market shift created by internal or external circumstances.
  2. Market Reaction and the Brand's Reply — public suddenly has negative view of your brand and you lose ambassadors; press management and a spokesperson are crucial here.
  3. By-products and Other Hazards That May Follow a Troubled Brand — public media and negative sentiment can grow and brand equity could be lost.
  4. Road to Recovery — starting to heal when another, more damaging event enters the news cycle or when your good planning results in execution of recovery strategies and tactics.
  5. Return to Glory — maintain progress and respond to new challenges.
Familiarize yourself with this cycle and create a plan for how you will deal with each step. Simultaneously, make an effort to rebuild connections and relationships with core markets. Beyond this, know your brand essence — solidify your purpose, distinction, promise, and personality.
With a strong brand essence, you will be more confident in dealing with a shakeup.
  • Be ready to answer the "who, what, where, when, why and how" questions.
  • Do a thorough inventory of all assets at your exposure and assemble a team of ambassadors.
  • Build a narrative to explain the situation and defend your brand.
  • Remember to never say, "No Comment," and to respond in a timely manner to all major media contacts. 
Once you've done this, it's imperative to instill proper crisis media management, utilize social media tools, practice leadership, stay relevant, and be distinct throughout the ordeal. Think carefully before every move, and know when to play offense, defense, or throw in the towel.
All the while, you should understand the importance of change, and make an effort not to resist it. Oftentimes, people and companies as a whole imprison themselves by staying with what is familiar to them. Though this may seem comfortable and like the right thing to do, it can actually be counterproductive. The business world, global marketplace, people, social landscape, and other brands are forever changing. Therefore, be adaptable.
Break free from the chains that will hold your brand hostage by:
  • Avoiding ego-driven decisions.
  • Taking responsibility.
  • Not relying on shortcuts.
  • Not just going with what you know, as opposed to seeking out new solutions.
  • Not denying consequences.
  • Not being afraid to lead and take charge.
Though breaking free from old chains may require higher costs, risk and pain, you will find that being open to change can result in your brand overcoming challenges and even becoming stronger in the long run. Remember that even if your brand isn't guilty of anything, simple changes could be necessary.
Prepare yourself for unforeseen shakeups — both large and small — and consider these key points that can help you immensely when you find yourself scrambling to turn your brand around from a set back.
This article is an excerpt from Karen Post’s latest book Brand Turnaround (McGraw-Hill 2011).

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Karen Post, aka The Branding Diva®, is an international branding expert, consultant, and speaker. She has been featured in a broad range of media outlets, including Bloomberg TV and radio, CBS's "The Early Show," The New York Times, The New York Post, NPR, Fast Company, and The Boston Globe. She is also the author of Brand Turnaround (McGraw-Hill) and Brain Tattoos: Creating Unique Brands That Stick in Your Customers' Minds (AMACOM).

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