In the purest term, brand building is simply aligning your product or service to feeling(s) that connect with potential consumers. Companies like Apple or McDonald’s are masters at managing their brand.
However, to be effective, the brand must project authenticity as consumers are fickle and quick to call “B.S.” on brands making claims they can’t, or choose not to, live up too. When this occurs, even the most recognizable brands can be tarnished, and sometimes, irreparably.
For instance, compare apparel company Patagonia against vehicle manufacturer Volkswagen (VW).
Patagonia markets and sells outdoor clothing that adheres closely to its brand, specifically designed for outdoor adventure seekers. The company’s brand is 100% focused on selling the outdoor experience. More importantly, Patagonia puts financial support behind environmental improvement initiatives around the world. So, not only is their brand selling the user a “connection” with nature, but it actively works to preserve that nature. A theme Patagonia’s customers appreciate and support.
Prior to 2015, VW had a somewhat similar brand message, promoting vehicles as offering drivers the experience of the open road with destinations to the great outdoors. In 2015, it was revealed that VW had purposely violated the U.S. EPA’s Clean Air Act by equipping nearly 600,000 diesel motor vehicles with computer software designed to cheat on federal emissions tests.
The revelation caused a huge revolt as customers felt betrayed. By spring of 2016, VW’s profits were down 20%. The fallout continued for years with Fortune Magazine reporting in 2020 that the manufacturer “laid off 30,000 employees worldwide as it overhauled operations in the wake of the scandal.”
The harsh reality is consumers are smart, savvier than ever and despise being deceived. When customers feel deception, they are quick to turn to social media to raise awareness and rally others to turn on a brand.
VW is an extreme example of brand deception and one the company willfully did. However, it doesn’t always take purposeful intent. Sometimes, a misstep in messaging is all it takes.
To avoid miscommunication or missteps, it’s up to each company to closely guard against casual or insincere claims that create distrust or resentment toward their brand. To prevent this, evaluate each and every message carefully to ensure it aligns and stays authentic to your brand message.