Brand and image building is a time consuming, fairly investment heavy process. It wasn’t always the case, but nowadays you spend almost as much effort in managing your brand as you do in getting your product or service out to the market. Sometimes you are so fixated on the image that you forget that brand value and perception has always been an outcome of the sustained business model of the company; It is pegged to the quality and reliability of products, how the company responds to issues and finally on a perception of monetary value – how much are you willing to pay extra for a certain company’s products?Why are we talking about this? Well, for one the Samsung Note 7 debacle hasn’t quite wafted away yet. Every time you get on an aircraft you are repeatedly assailed by messages of don’t bring it on board, some airlines say don’t check it in and don’t switch it on or charge it. But all the attention is of the negative sort. It is the biggest crisis yet to hit Samsung and it carries a double whammy – reportedly many Note 7 buyers are opting for the new iPhone 7 as a replacement. In effect, Samsung is driving their customers to the competition! So how will Samsung handle the image issue? It looks like the Note badge may be dropped for future products, in effect ring-fencing the issue to the Note. But have you noticed that the real issue here was a lack of thorough product testing, lax quality controls and when the initial problems surfaced they were met with a knee-jerk reaction. As always, image and brand issues follow the real heroes (or villains in this case) the products.
On the other hand Volkswagen would have been hoping that their problems this year had such an easy fix. The dieselgate fiasco has hit the group hard and seems like it will continue to bleed the company for a few more years. But what about the image solution in the US market? Diesel was always perceived as the less desirable alternative and with all the litigation the perception of it being a problem child has only increased. In the long run switching customers over to cleaner, smaller petrol engines and hybrids is possible, but you are now operating with an arm tied behind your back if diesel has been one of your core strengths. Volkswagen would have been wishing that all the diesel issues were tied to one small badge that it could quietly dump.
But why limit ourselves only to businesses? Look at what’s happening in the United States of America between the two images of the presidential candidates as they battle out the world’s costliest reality show in order to be elected leader of the self-proclaimed guardian of democracy. Donald Trump is the billionaire upstart who comes across as the champion of the bulk of non-college educated white Americans, while Hillary Clinton is trying to appeal to economic strata both above and below that of Trump. But how much of the rhetoric and appeal is linked to the image that they cultivate? Is Trump really the boorish oaf that he portrays? Is his version of an unpresidential President part of the gameplan? And is Clinton really as democratic as she claims considering the amount of industry involvement she carries?
As any car buyer knows, car companies have for long pedalled their products as a part of your lifestyle. You are enticed to buy a car because of the image that it helps you project to your family, neighbours and wider world. There is even a level of fine-tuning built in, depending on which of a competing set of brands you select. You could be seen as more of a go-getter or one who has already ‘got’ his bit. Admittedly all you are doing is borrowing the image from the product and brand, but who cares?
Even nations are getting into this whole story of brand building and image management. In most cases they have the liberty of having a longer timeframe to do stuff. Sometimes, they are in a hurry – like Qatar. On the other hand, you would agree that Turkey could do with some image management if it expects to be seen any longer as a secular, tolerant, modern democracy.
Serial billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk says, “Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time. Sometimes it will be ahead, other times it will be behind. But brand is simply a collective impression some have about a product.” Let’s just say, get your product (or service, or country) right, the brand will take care of itself.