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Was Lance Armstrong being completely honest during his “no holds barred” interview with Oprah last night (January 17, 2013)? This uncertain feeling is familiar to many who visit a brand’s website and read the blogs only to feel a slight hesitation about whether the content offered is truly honest or weighted in favor of the brand being represented. If brands beat their chests and say they are the best, claim to never screw up (or won the Tour de France a record 7 times without doping!) and consistently deny customer complaints, consumers will grow to distrust your brand. It is inevitable. Don’t let your brand fall pray to the pitfalls of victory and success. Here are three things you should avoid if you want to be more likeable than Lance Armstrong
1. Live in Fear of the Truth
About thirty minutes into the interview, Oprah bravely said that fame often exaggerates a character, and she shares two examples: the humanitarian and the jerk. Armstrong quickly noted that he was both but now is definitely viewed as more of a jerk. While this moment took awhile to get to, there is no question that Armstrong started off and continued throughout the interview with his guard up. In this sense, he was not very real.
Whether a startup or an established company, as a brand grows, so does its fame. This makes the brand subject to the same exaggeration of character that Oprah referenced in the Armstrong interview. If one wishes to be viewed in a more positive light, it should be shared with every employee every day and reinforced in the company culture.
Trader Joe’s presents a good example. Since their start in Pasadena, CA, in 1967, they have been all about delighting customers with the best and most interesting foods while making the mundane task of grocery shopping fun. When a company is committed to being warm and friendly (and wearing Hawaiian shirts!), how can customers not feel this and want to be a part of this open, real and down-to-earth company?
On the other hand, if a company’s CEO is a jerk and shares his tyranny with the employees through his day-to-day interactions, how can the brand not be portrayed to the outside world as a jerk as well, once the shiny marketing-laden veneer come off?
So if you want to change consumer sentiment toward your brand (on or offline), you’d better stop being a jerk, hire a more endearing leader and let your true colors shine. Social media can be a great way to showcase your brand’s willingness to communicate with your customers and be transparent with your business. If brands are willing to share their reality and it is a likeable personality, than customers will buy more often and tell their friends to buy too.
2. Destroy Trust By Hiding your Flaws
“I am flawed. I am deeply flawed,” said Armstrong. Well, we all are – we are only human. And the truth is that behind every brand (yes, Lance Armstrong is indeed a brand) are the humans who make it all happen. This is perhaps where Armstrong missed opportunities over the years. If he had come clean and raced clean, sure we would’ve been disappointed at first. But his transparency in this moment of weakness would have humanized him and bringing us in on his flaws may have made us cheer for him even more in the long run. Especially when he did (supposedly) race clean in the later years.
The successes and the failures of any brand are all driven by the humans behind them. So why do companies continue to believe that consumers expect perfection? We do not. In fact, companies like Southwest Airlines and Zappos.com continue to show us that the more you own up to and share your small missteps with consumers, the more real you become, and the more you will be trusted. In turn, a trusted company often becomes one to which consumers devote a great deal of loyalty which translates quickly to an increase in sales. If used correctly, Twitter is one of the best tools available to build customer engagement.
3. Minimize Your Core Strengths
How this already infamous interview will affect the long-term Lance Armstrong brand is anyone’s guess. But you can be sure that it helped Oprah a great deal! As always, she was warm and welcoming in her interview approach and the atmosphere invited us into what appears to be her, or someone’s living room. If I had to guess, I would say that the OWN network has not been as successful as Oprah may have hoped for when she shuttered The Oprah Winfrey Show. But this exclusive confessional interview with Armstrong garnered more publicity for the network and more viewers (4.3 million) than it has ever seen. Oprah is undoubtedly hoping this return to her core strengths will serve as an open invitation for other big stars to use her coveted brand platform of honesty to tell their story and grow their brands.
Identify your core strength as a company and a brand, then showcase this strength in every way. Personify it through your communications on your website, in traditional media (tv ads, radio, etc.) and most importantly, social media so that the character of your brand can really shine though. This focused message of your greatest strength, if differentiating from your competition, will help you stand out when customers are trying to make the right choice in a crowded, competitive decision-making climate.
Brands That Keep It Real & Honest Will Win the Race
The key takeaway for introspective brands in this day and age is to be honest – with your customers but also with yourself – about who you are and who you want to be. Then, don’t be afraid to share your true character. In today’s instant information age, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will and they will tell the whole truth in real time. So why not take your guard down, be transparent and open the doors to sharing the real brand you truly are. If you do, your customers will support you in winning the race to success rather than leaving you in the dust. And here’s hoping that LiveStrong pulls ahead, regardless of where these confessions leave Mr. Armstrong.
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