Leadership in brandingDo you have the skills, mindset and traits to save a sinking brand, no matter how rough the seas get?

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.