Beware the two edges of the brand sword

This post is about the power and dangers associated with a brand; but in order to make the point, we first have to talk about something else. So bear with me.

Do you know this name: Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi? He is a 57 year-old Libyan who is the only person to be convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which resulted in the murder of 270 people, including 11 Scots on the ground. En route from London to New York, most of the flight’s passengers were American.

In 2001, al-Megrahi was convicted in Scotland and sentenced to life in prison, where in 2008 this terrorist was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. Consequently, and defying international outrage, Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny Macaskill, released al-Megrahi on “humanitarian grounds” to allow him to go home to die.

This is where a potential branding nightmare occurred.

Upon boarding the flight for Libya at the Glasgow airport, video and still cameras captured al-Megrahi’s countenance as he attempted to cover his face. Unfortunately for Nike, he did not cover the black logo on the snow-white baseball cap he was wearing, which very prominently bore this international sports-marketer’s iconic “swoosh.”

Okay, clearly Nike had nothing to do with anything this man did or with the circumstances of the day. But in a universe where the impression factor of a logo seen live by millions and then by gazillions in all the re-distributions is marketing nirvana (re: Tiger Woods’ chip-in, 16th hole, 2005 Masters), the al-Megrahi episode for the Nike swoosh is the other edge of the brand sword, a marketing nightmare.

Could Nike have avoided this? Not likely. Could it have been some kind of competitive sabotage? Nah! What should Nike do? Probably nothing – just let it go. Is there a lesson in this for small business? Absolutely!

Think this couldn’t happen to you? Think again. What if a person is arrested of some unspeakable crime in your local market and takes his “perp walk” in a tee shirt with your company’s name emblazoned on it? Never underestimate the power of your brand to do good or to do harm.

So what’s the answer? Respect the power of your brand. Value it. Defend it. Leverage the good edge of the brand sword so much that if an al-Megrahi moment should befall your brand, the goodwill it has already fostered in the marketplace will overcome any sucker-punch photo-op, competitive sabotage or disgruntled customer’s blog post.

The question you should ask yourself is not whether your small business has a brand - it does! The question is how is your brand being defined in the marketplace and who is doing it: your competition, the media, an unhappy customer no one can please - or you?

Be aware of both edges of the branding sword.

3 Responses to “Beware the two edges of the brand sword”

  1. 3
    Allisa May Says:

    Hey - nice blog, just looking around some websites, seems a really nice platform you are using. I’m currently using Wordpress for a few of my blogs but looking to change one of them over to a platform similar to yours as a trial run. Anything in particular you would recommend about it? London,UK

  2. 2
    Steve Yakoban Says:

    Good points, but as you said not much is in your control in these incidents. I like Dave’s comment “if you sharpen the good side of the sword you dull the other side”.

  3. 1
    Dave Says:

    Good points. The brand owner does not have absolute control over what a brand stands for. Your market, your audience and your customers control that because it is defined by what is in their hearts and minds when they hear about or think about your brand.

    The upside is that if you sharpen the good side of the sword you dull the other side. In other words, the stronger your brand and your branding then the more clearly it will be “held” and defined in the psyche of your market. When something bad happens (and it will at some point!), strong brands recover quickly because people understand what is out of character for the brand. They will understand that sometimes bad things happen to good brands and that they are out of the brand owners control. They will be very forgiving.

    I blogged about a similar situation a few years back.

    Thanks for the timely analysis!

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