By Jeff Beals
A brand well managed and lovingly protected is as strong as steel. A brand taken for granted has never been more frail.
I remember a couple years ago when Lululemon Athletica opened its first store in my hometown. Several women I know were absolutely elated. Lululemon had a nearly cult-like following by people who wanted to look great in expensive yoga outfits while working out at their local fitness clubs.
A recent article by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker titled, “Twilight of the Brands,” highlighted Lululemon’s rapid ascent to greatness and then a sudden fall: “But then customers started complaining about pilling fabrics, bleeding dyes, and most memorably, yoga pants so thin that they effectively became transparent when you bent over.”
Those apparent cost cutting moves, or possibly “short-term profit-maximizing moves” (i.e. “greed”), backfired hard and fast. Surowiecki writes that Lululemon’s founder resigned and the company reported a major decline in sales.
In this day and age, you simply can NOT live on your laurels.
Southwest Airlines also comes to mind. The once-great carrier was famous for its super low fares, amazing on-time record and ultra-friendly employees. Nowadays those legendary low prices have gone the way of inflight meals served on china plates with real forks and knives. Last fall, Southwest posted the worst on-time rates in America. Some Southwest passengers have complained lately that the service isn’t what it used to be either.
In his New Yorker article, Surowiecki argues that brands have never been so frail, because the Internet and social media have made consumers extremely knowledgeable about a product’s strengths and weaknesses.
Because of the wealth of product reviews at their fingertips, consumers don’t have to rely on a brand for guidance. In other words, buyers looked for and clung to major brand names in the olden days because it gave them a sense of security in a world void of websites dedicated to exposing bad products and services.
The Internet has democratized the buying process for consumers but has made life tougher on major, old-line brands. You can’t just coast along counting on business flowing through the door simply because of your past glories.
That is why Surowiecki argues that brands are not as valuable except perhaps for certain consumer products like Coca Cola or upscale luxury brands like Prada, Gucci or Louis Vuitton.
But as business brands become more frail and vulnerable, can the same be said for one’s own personal brand?
Sure, but not entirely.
Personal brands are more like luxury items because a person and his or her talent are unique, special. In an economic environment where human talent has become more important than commodities, a personal brand has never been more important. People are the primary variable that separates great companies and organizations from average ones.
Individuals striving to do more business or move up in their careers can derive great power and benefit from their personal brands. Companies and organizations can benefit mightily when their employees build strong personal brands.
But personal brands can also be vulnerable. Like those of products and services, personal brands can become tarnished if one’s behavior and/or performance decline.
Surowiecki ends his article by stating there is a consolation for brands like Lululemon who stray from their original ideals: “Make something really great and your past sins will be forgotten.”
If that’s true, the same thing can be applied to personal brands. But let’s not rely on the consolation. It’s better – and certainly more cost effective – to keep business brands and personal brands strong in the first place.
Jeff Beals is a professional speaker and award-winning author, who helps professionals enjoy greater success through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. He delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 637-9300.
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