Branding guru, CEO, marketing director, head honcho, boss, manager, entrepreneur—whatever your title, one day you may be faced with an unexpected challenge. Lead with courage, you’ll likely turn it around. Manage with mediocrity, and your brand’s life may be very short.
Leading a brand turnaround is no easy role. If it were, there’d be fewer brand casualties.
It takes a special kind of person—one who can lead and battle through brand bumps, uncertainty and the stress that comes with unfortunate situations like product recalls, scandal and controversy.
Having spent close to 30 years sitting in on committee planning meetings and inside boardrooms, and observing brands from around the world, I’ve paid close attention to how leaders act and react during catastrophic storms. Some gasp for air and drown while others take charge and employ strategic change that accelerates their recovery.
Those who pull through display a high degree of focus, resiliency and a sense of urgency throughout the entire ordeal. They are also willing to try new and unproven methods to meet their goals. This style of leadership and set of traits are pivotal in turning around a brand in trouble.
In my new book Brand Turnaround, I studied over 75 brands that were in serious trouble. I looked at their paths back to recovery and the leadership characteristics that helped propel the charge forward. Common behaviors included being:
- Courageous – They don’t fear uncertainty.
- Resilient and tough – They fight while under fire.
- Candid – They are honest, no matter what.
- Charismatic – They empower, inspire and excite.
- Humble – They are innately modest and value others’ worth.
- Gracious – They appreciate all stakeholders.
- Creative – They use imagination to solve problems.
- Generous – They share the rewards.
To explain these attributes in context, let’s say you own a vegan restaurant whose brand is suddenly under scrutiny because it was discovered that one of your signature dishes does in fact contain an animal ingredient. Being a good leader, how would you deal with this?
1. Detach yourself without losing sight of lessons learned. Momentarily abandon your emotional connection to your brand, and look at the entire situation as an outsider might.
2. Focus on making things better while avoiding blame. Maybe it’s the vendor’s fault. You were told that the ingredients contained no animal products. Suddenly the vendor drops a bomb saying that their manufacturer realized there in fact was an animal ingredient in the food. Even if this is the case, don’t spend time pointing fingers. It will waste energy and make you look like you’re focusing more on blame than addressing the actual problem and committing to a solution.
3. Have a clear vision of the future that addresses the triple bottom line: finance, society and the environment. Your recovery plan can’t simply be to fix your menu. How will you do this? What can you do to cut costs through the process? How can you make a sincere attempt at not displeasing too many people involved? Will your solution harm the environment in any way?
4. Leverage your own strengths as well as those of your team. Maybe your Marketing Director is a calm, pleasant speaker, able to keep her cool under stress. If this is the case, you might want to have her be the brand spokesperson. If your General Manager is a customer-service specialist, consider assigning him the task of personally talking to patrons about the issue. Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean the entire road to recovery has to be paved by you. You just need to be the one who leads the way.
5. Embrace new leadership tools including social media and digital communications. Whether or not you have a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channel or blog, you may want to start one during the shake-up. Have a designated team member manage the platforms and interact directly with consumers to show that your brand cares. Create a video on YouTube to personally express your concern and apology.
6. Be willing to take risks and accept failing forward. If something doesn’t work, try a different route. The main thing is to persist no matter what, because you are the one in the driver’s seat.
7. Be willing to “launch and learn.” Trust your respect for research and confidence in what you think is right. Don’t second-guess yourself too much during this time. If your first thought is to create an apology video via YouTube and then offer all Facebook fans a coupon, go for it. Maybe your video gets negative reviews and the masses bash your sincerity or feel a coupon isn’t enough of a fix. Try something else.
8. Love the game and play to win. Leaders are passionate people. No matter how much stress the customers and media may cause you, stay true to yourself and remember why you took the leader role in the first place.
9. Be willing to mix, mingle and listen to all stakeholders. Have an open mind because you never know who might come up with a good solution. Maybe someone knows of a more trusting vendor or a better way to boost morale. Don’t close yourself off to anyone, even if they belittle you or threaten to cut ties with you. You may even end up seeing some relationships crumble during this tough time. Be accepting and respectful then move forward.
The road to recovery starts with you, so tap into all these leadership traits you possess. This article is based on content from Karen Post’s latest book Brand Turnaround (McGraw-Hill 2011).
About the author
Known by many as the Brand Diva®, Karen Post is an international branding/marketing expert, professional speaker and author. She helps individuals; businesses and nonprofits around world succeed with powerful, distinct brands.
Karen has written two books: Brand Turnaround: How Brands Gone Bad Returned to Glory… and the 7 Game Changers that Made the Difference (available late 2011) and Brain Tattoos: Creating Unique Brands That Stick in Your Customers’ Minds. For more info on Karen and branding matters, visit the Branding Diva thank you page.
Juggling. I don’t remember ever taking a class on this in high school or college. Yet, as an entrepreneur and small business owner, you must master the skill like a professional circus star. Here are two methods that work well for me that I’ve just figured out through experience.
1) The 90-day strict focus juggling act.
This week and for the next couple months, I’m in serious lock down mode. This means other than sleeping, eating, an hour or so of daily tennis or some cardio and cranking out quality work and I’m not doing anything else. PERIOD. I don’t recommend this approach often, it’s intense and most of your friends will think you are very weird and may even refer to you as a cave person, but sometimes, this style of juggling is just plain required.
This is a choice I’ve made because the current list of balls in the air that are directly tied to my big life goals. I am very intentional and know clearly what I want based on my core values.
My #1 life goal is: to ensure freedom and independence which are derived from financial, creative and high happy factor success.
My current list of responsibilities: my consulting work, my new book, Brand Turnaround: How Brands Gone Bad Return to Glory, McGraw-Hill (complete manuscript due by May 1st), my Oddpodz blogging, my speech and trip Saudi Arabia all require big time, deep problem solving and creative thinking. For me, this is what I call the highly-focused juggle act. You keep your eyes and thoughts on specific projects and nothing else. You say no to social stuff, volunteer duties and anything that needs brain cells or attention, unless it’s part of your focused juggling act or really an emergency. Fortunately, I have the luxury of being single and having no dependents, so I can pull this off, this may not be so easy for everyone.
From here, I map out a very clear working plan.
This includes: daily objectives and needed tasks, support team and a detailed time line to accomplish all. From here, I schedule daily blocks of time (the night before) to work on each of the four balls, (sometimes I even use a food timer to limit how much I spend on any given ball) stay very discipline so I don’t break my train of focus with non emergency distractions – like taking non urgent calls, checking email etc. – and I make sure I give clear instructions and expectations to any team members who is supporting me. Plus, when I do this highly-focused juggle I also do my rituals, read my affirmation as I eat right, don’t drink too much and visit my master goal list daily, so I’m so clear on where I’m headed.
When time is not such a critical factor, I use this more balanced juggling act formula, which produces great results.
2) The 365-day juggling act.
Be happy you have balls to juggle. It’s much better than the alternative. Don’t view the balls that you are juggling as scary time bombs, but as great opportunities. Try to limit the number you juggle to 7 to 10 max or you are headed for the loony house soon.
Mix up your work load with non work stuff. Enjoy life, since it’s not a dress rehearsal.
Work from plan.
Write out daily objectives and needed tasks, identify who you need to support you and a develop a detailed time line to accomplish all.
Celebrate your achievements and be grateful.
Hourly, daily and often.
Have fun, juggling is not a root canal.
Don’t forget to check out: Torn between two lovers, no different than business priorities.
While building your personal brand, take it out on a few test runs by engaging in some networking events and see what kind of results, feedback, new business contacts you can gather. Networking is not a one-shot deal. Certain statistics cite 6 to 8 times as the number of interactions you need to have with people to be remembered, and build the foundation for a business relationship. Here are some tips for effective networking from Stephanie Speisman of Strategies for Change.
Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.
1. Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others.
2. If you own your own business, ask yourself what your goals are in participating in networking meetings so that you will pick groups that will help you get what you are looking for. Some meetings are based more on learning, making contacts, and/or volunteering rather than on strictly making business connections.
3. Visit as many groups as possible that spark your interest. Notice the tone and attitude of the group. Do the people sound supportive of one another? Does the leadership appear competent? Many groups will allow you to visit two times before joining.
4. Hold volunteer positions in organizations. This is a great way to stay visible and give back to groups that have helped you.
5. Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them.
6. Become known as a powerful resource for others. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them.
7. Have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes your doing it special or different from others doing the same thing. To get referrals, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others.
8. Be able to articulate what you are looking for and how others may help you. Too often people in conversations ask, “How may I help you?” and no immediate answer comes to mind.
9. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.
10. Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do and vice versa. Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you could get together and share ideas.