Dealing with Brand Disasters
Click here to read this story in the November issue of Business Review USA!
Written by Suzanne Bates
What do Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart and Tony Hayward all have in common? Each of their brands were marred by brand disasters – missteps that mushroomed intoreputational nightmares. One handled the crisis well; the others paid a steep price for doing things wrong.
Living through a crisis isn’t the easiest or optimal way to build your brand. So think first about how to avoid them. My golden rule is: First, do no harm to your reputation. Second, understand (and plan) how to react should a crisis occur. Whether a self-inflicted wound or an unexpected storm, be ready to react... effectively.
The three brand disasters depicted below were all extremely high profile. As you’ll see in these stories, most people don’t intend to get tangled up, but they sometimes do, at which point it’s all about what happens next.
Brand Disaster #1: Arrogance is the biggest brand-killer of all.
One day, when they write the case studies, authors won’t be able to ignore the classic “secondary crisis” brought on by BP’s incredibly inept handling of the Gulf spill. CEO Tony Hayward was a walking disaster, predicting early on that the environmental impact was likely to be “very, very modest.” Later he quipped that he would “like (my) life back.” Then he took off to go yacht-racing with his son while Gulf Coast fishermen were left wondering whether they’d ever be able to support their families again. As millions of gallons of oil tarred miles of beaches, it grew difficult to view Hayward as anything but detached, clueless, out of touch and unrepentant about the incident.
People are willing to forgive almost anything except arrogance. That’s what made Tony Hayward’s demise inevitable. His behavior cast a long shadow over BP. The millions the company spent on advertising to shore up its image was a total waste. Commercials depicting BP’s commitment were dismissed out of hand. No amount of money can spin a positive story when arrogance is center stage.
Brand Disaster #2: Take your lumps and move on.
Martha Stewart is perhaps the most prominent businesswoman of our time. When she was indicted for lying to investigators about a stock sale, she was a successful magazine publisher, best-selling author, and daytime television personality. Her empire encompassed thousands of products, sold through partnerships with companies including Sears and Macy’s.
In 2004, when she walked into a West Virginia federal prison camp to serve her sentence, there was rampant speculation about the future of her company. Upon her release in 2005, she hit the talk-show circuit. She shared good-humored stories of prison and championed the rights of other inmates. She urged sentencing guideline reforms for non-violent, first-time offenders. She thanked fans for their support on her website.
Martha Steward Living Omnimedia (MSLO) returned to profitability the year after Stewart’s release. She expanded her offerings at K-Mart and announced new multi-year agreements with new partners. Her interior paint line became available at Sears. She published more books, and became a contributor on the Today Show on NBC. Her talk show was nominated for six Daytime Emmy Awards.
How did Martha Stewart manage to stem the loss and perhaps become more admired? She faced the music, did her time, and moved on. The public admired her for it.
Brand Disaster #3: Tell the truth. It will come out anyway.
From the moment he crashed his Cadillac Escalade at Thanksgiving, Tiger Woods couldn’t get it right. As tawdry details about multiple affairs came to light, he was silent, then he lied, and then, no one believed him. When he finally confessed, his apology didn’t ring true. And then, the women started coming out of the woodwork with their stories of extra-marital affairs. His golden reputation went into a freefall.
Sponsors pulled TV commercials and print ads. Woods was the most powerful endorser on the planet, but the story was so big, and so out of sync with the carefully constructed, disciplined, family-man reputation he had built, that Woods’ image finally fell apart like a house of cards.
Moral of the story? Tell the truth… no matter how hard!
As a brand champion, the CEO is in a unique position. You can enhance respect for the institution, or you can damage it. You can bring greater credibility to the brand, or you can hurt it. So be sure that wherever you are, you are doing a values check. There is nothing more fundamental to your success than your good reputation.
Suzanne Bates is author of the new book “Discover Your CEO Brand: Secrets to Embracing and Maximizing Your Unique Brand as a Leader,” just out from McGraw-Hill. Founding CEO of Bates Communications, a firm that transforms leaders into powerful communicators who get results, Suzanne is also author of www.thepowerspeakerblog.com and two other books from McGraw-Hill: “Speak Like a CEO” and “Motivate Like a CEO.” Visit Suzanne's website:www.bates-communications.com
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.