Driving home recently, I was rapidly approached by an aggressive driver in a commercial van. He proceeded to ride my tailgate, for a half-mile or so, until I moved over. As the van passed, I was amazed to see that it was emblazoned with the logo and contact information for a local construction business.
As you might imagine, my first reaction wasn’t to see how quickly could I call these guys and have them do some work around my home. No, in fact I started to call the business owner and complain. Instead, I decided to use it as a teaching opportunity and share it with you.
So what happened here?
We’ll aside from a careless driving episode, this work crew had just wrecked their company’s brand. The crew, inside of the van, seemed oblivious to what had just transpired.
I don’t know if the business owner was in that van or if he was back at the office. What I do know is that in an instant, his company brand was damaged. Just as carelessly as the driver was driving, he was just as reckless with his company’s brand and ultimately his job.
The driver may have been in a hurry to a job site. He may have had a bad taco for lunch. He may have any number of legitimate reasons for being so reckless. But he instantly demonstrated that he didn’t care about the safety of others. So how could I ever invite him or his crew to my home? So he could wreak havoc and ignore more safety guidelines, until someone actually got hurt? I don’t think so.
Now you may think that I’m over-dramatizing the situation. But I assure you, I will never contact that business or recommend them. All from a twenty-second encounter. Wow!
This incident got me to thinking about the kind of damage your employees can cause your brand.
So what is a brand?
Well first off, your brand is NOT your logo. As much as I love designing logos, your brand is much more than a logo or unique name. Lots of products and services have catchy names or professionally designed logos. But until that product or service resonates in the mind of your prospect, it’s nothing more than a meaningless name or pretty logo.
Your brand is defined by any element that makes up your business. It starts with your product or service, but also includes your name, your logo, your website, your advertising, your location, your uniforms, your company van, your invoicing… you get the idea.
Put simply, your brand is how you present yourself to the public and how the public perceives you.
That second part — how the public perceives you — can be tricky. But one element of your brand is manageable, your employees.
Your employees are fundamental
Now I realize that for some of you, my story may not resonate. You may think to yourself, I don’t have a fleet of vehicles; I don’t have aggressive drivers; My employees don’t even interact with the public. Well hopefully you’re not that short-sighted. But just in case, I have another scenario for you.
Recently the Penn State / Jerry Sandusky debacle has been in the news. Now depending on when you’re reading this, this case may not sound familiar. So let me refresh your memory.
Jerry Sandusky was an assistant coach from 1969-1999 with the Joe Paterno led Pennsylvania State University — Nittany Lions — football team. He was a highly decorated coach, receiving the Assistant Coach of the Year award in both 1986 and 1999.
In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a non-profit charity serving at-risk youth. Sorta ironic huh? The Second Mile headquarters were located on the Penn State campus and Sandusky maintained his involvement with the organization until 2011. That’s when sexual abuse allegations began to surface.
To make a long story short, the allegations were true. On June 22, 2012, Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of the 48 charges.
Sandusky not only screwed up the lives of those young boys, but he corrupted the brands of several institutions. Now I’m not trying to compare pedophilia to brand corruption — there is no comparison!
What I am saying is that one person was able to cause so much destruction, the repercussions will be felt for generations. As a result, The Second Mile was dissolved; The University was fined $60 million; They were placed on five years probation; The football team was subjected to a four-year postseason ban and a reduction in grants-in-aid; Players were allowed to transfer without a one-year penalty — thereby neutering the football program; Team wins from 1998-2011 were vacated — exactly how Sandusky aided in those wins is beyond me; and Joe Paterno — head coach of the Nittany Lions — died in disgrace.
You have a brand no matter what your business model
None of these guys were serving the public directly. In fact, none of them were selling products or services either. Essentially what they were selling was their brands. The University President, Graham Spanier was marketing the historic and educational benefits of the school. Athletic Director, Tim Curley was selling the idea of playing for a legendary coach and perennial BCS contender. Joe Paterno was marketing his own brand as the winningest coach in NCAA history. And even Sandusky was selling his own perverted brand as a kind-hearted guy who simply cared about kids.
In the first three cases, it was ultimately the protection of their personal and corporate brands which was their undoing. In Sandusky’s case, he was only interested in protecting his brand to acquire more victims.
I’m certainly not trying to excuse the actions of Sandusky nor the inactions of Penn State officials. Nor am I trying to argue against the NCAA sanctions. In fact, it’s easy to see that the NCAA was trying to protect its own brand. What I’m attempting to point out is how the actions, of just a few people, caused irreparable damage to a celebrated institution; an iconic sports program; a legendary coach; a non-profit with ties to celebrities, politicians and large corporations; and a league with over 1,200 separate institutions.
I’m also making the point that once decisions were made — which were antithetical to the Penn State brand — there was no recovery.
If a few employee’s actions can cause that kind of destruction, just how secure is your brand?
Don’t let your employees wreck your brand
Do your employees understand how important your brand is? How vital it is to their livelihood? If not, it ’s time to educate them.
Let’s face it, there are hundreds — if not thousands — of ways your employees can wreck your brand. But if your employees don’t understand your brand’s core values, relevant benefits, key differentiators and overall goals, then they could be harming your brand right now. They may not even realize it. But if you don’t instruct them about these factors and your expectations, then they’re not to blame.
Your brand IS your business and if you don’t protect it, it could be destroyed in seconds.