Reputational Risks Brands Face in 2020 and What to Do About Them

The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond. Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Marketers are responsible for building, managing, and protecting corporate brands. Considering how quickly a brand can go from loved to loathed, being a brand custodian is a daunting task. With a tarnished reputation, companies lose customers, employees, investors, and value.

In a recently released pictogram and listicle, “Bruised, Battered, and Embattled Brands,” The CMO Council highlighted 20 of the most challenged brands in 2019 and 15 of the most critical issues impacting brand perception. The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond.

Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Privacy and Security Incidents

Trust is fundamental to brand reputation. Companies want their customers to trust them and feel secure transacting with their company. Maintaining data privacy and keeping information secure is a customer expectation, and rightly so. And while privacy and security are not new reputational risks, CCPA ups the ante and no company wants to be the first company penalized and publicized for failure to comply.

Advice: Build alignment between marketing and privacy teams, with a focus on transparency, trust, and preparedness.

Polarizing Politics

2019 brought to light many politicized issues in workplaces, such as the Wayfair worker protest against the sale of beds to migrant camps. As we embark on an election year, companies will continue to be thrust into the political divide, whether they like it or not.

Advice: Companies need to establish their political boundaries and clearly communicate any limitations to their stakeholders; in particular employees, or they risk being the next brand battleground.

Marketing and Advertising Fails

Brand snafus are identified and discussed at an unprecedented rate across social and digital channels. Peloton’s holiday advertisement is a prime example of an ad campaign turned viral branding criticism. The Peloton scrutiny expanded well beyond social, with coverage across national news outlets and even an “SNL” skit.

Advice: Test your marketing programs with a wide audience before launch. Monitor social and digital conversations about your brand. When all else fails, apologize sincerely.

Compromised Health and Safety

PG&E, Boeing, and Juul failed consumers and their brand reputations have taken a massive hit. All three landed on the CMO Council’s list of companies in the crosshairs. A company that is negligent about health and safety will face devastating reputational consequences.

Advice: Hurting people (or any living thing) is never OK. If your company is careless and harmful, get your resume in order, immediately.

Management Missteps

Behavior in the corner office is under the microscope like never before. Executives are (finally) being held responsible for how they treat employees and for their ethics. With CEO turnover at an all-time high, far too many of these changes are being driven by misconduct, as we saw with the abrupt departure of McDonald’s CEO over a violation of company policy related to a consensual relationship.

Advice: View leadership changes as an opportunity to redefine the brand. Follow a clear playbook to reassure internal and external stakeholders.

No Risk, No Reward

There will undoubtedly be brand reputation winners and losers this year. However, responsible marketers understand the risks they may face and can learn from the mistakes of those who’ve suffered before them.

Is College Outdated? Should It Teach Real-World Marketing Skills?

On one hand, many universities could be doing a better job giving students opportunities to practice real-world marketing skills. On the other, universities are not meant to be training departments for digital media agencies, and it’s unrealistic to expect faculty members who don’t work in the field to keep up with the rapidly changing dynamic of media planning and buying.

Shay Rowbottom of Margle Media posted a video rant on LinkedIn a few weeks ago about a recent college grad she interviewed who had no digital media buying experience. She blames colleges and universities for not keeping up with the times. Knowing that I do a lot of teaching at the college level, Paul Bobnak tagged me asking what I thought. I think it’s complicated.

On one hand, many universities could be doing a better job giving students opportunities to practice real-world marketing skills. On the other, universities are not meant to be training departments for digital media agencies, and it’s unrealistic to expect faculty members who don’t work in the field to keep up with the rapidly changing dynamic of media planning and buying.

Despite being an advertising and marketing major at a large university, the only media buying experience Shay’s job candidate had was in traditional media, specifically billboards and newspaper. She condemns higher education for not keeping pace with the current state of media buying (and shows her ageism fangs in the process):

“You know what, kid, if you land a job at an old company that’s ran (sic) by 60 year olds who still don’t want to transition any of their media dollars to social media then good, good, good. I’m glad you learned the billboards.”

Shay says that something is wrong if a newly hired college grad has to be trained by her agency’s digital media buyer, a college dropout who’s a highly skilled practitioner, self-taught on the Internet. To that I say, “Who better to learn from than someone who does it every day and is really good at it?”

Shay makes a valid point that too many institutions are behind the curve when it comes to integrating real-world skills into their curriculum. But her expectations are valid only if you believe that colleges and universities exist to provide job training. I’ve worked at Rowan, Rutgers and Temple universities. They each hire industry professionals for full- and part-time teaching positions in advertising and PR. But the full-time faculty members at these institutions don’t do media planning every day, so they can’t possibly keep up with the innovations in a rapidly changing field.

Learning the mechanics of media buying is a vocational skill. Universities are not designed to be vocational schools. The ones where I’ve taught deliver a solid grounding in the principles of marketing and advertising; that’s what they do best. They provide value, because most of the underlying principles of marketing and advertising remain stable — even as the dynamics of the media world shift. Media planning and placement are best taught by practitioners who stay current by doing it.

Fortunately, there are several programs where college students can gain real-world experience in a competitive environment; specifically the Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge run by Marketing EDGE, the National Student Advertising Competition from the American Advertising Federation and the Google Online Marketing Challenge. These competitions are underutilized by academic institutions and employers, alike. More colleges and universities should offer and support these programs, more students should participate and more employers should seek out graduates who have had these experiences.

Harry Potter and the Winning Marketing Strategy

I solemnly swear I am up to no good … A fab phrase for activating a magical, omniscient map; not so great if you’re talking about your marketing. Here are some of the key takeaways we can learn from the Hogwarts School of Marketing and Advertising.

I solemnly swear I am up to no good …

A fab phrase for activating a magical, omniscient map … not so great if you’re talking about your marketing.

Here’s the deal: I’m FINALLY going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this week! That means I’ve got my mind on Harry Potter and Harry Potter on my mind. (“But Dani,” says everyone who has ever met me, “That’s just like, business as usual for you.” “Fight me,” I say.)

Anyway, to commemorate the occasion, I thought I’d spin a little Harry into my post this week. Those of us who grew up with the series are always eager to tell anyone who will listen about the impact it had on our lives, about the imagination it inspired and the lessons it taught. But did you know that Harry Potter can even teach us a thing or two about our marketing campaigns?

Here are some of the key takeaways we can learn from the Hogwarts School of Marketing and Advertising. (PS, I need to give a shoutout to colleague and fellow HP-phile Alexis Henderson for helping me compile this list.)

Whether it’s direct mail or email, don’t flood the mailbox.

letters

Good copy is key. The right words in the right order can make the feather float.

leioooooooosa

Leviosa
We’ve all been there, Ron.

Experiment! Not every idea will be a winner …

beans

… but eventually you will cough up the gold.

snitch

If you’re really stuck, though, there’s no shame in turning back to tried and true methods

timeturner2

After all, one reader’s old sock could be another reader’s treasure.

sock

Make sure your piece isn’t a howler!

Ron_Weasley's_howler
Be enthusiastic, be passionate, but your audience doesn’t want to be yelled at.

Some goals call for a major rebrand — embrace it!

iamlord

And once you’ve rolled out the rebrand, yell it from the rooftops — recognition is key.

Morsmordre

tattoo
Hey, Say what you will about his morals, but your brand game’s got to be on point to successfully go by “You-Know-Who.”

Think outside the box — you might just see what no one else has.

luna

Don’t shy away from a little humor either 🙂 

shop
(These guys built their business on it!)

Something about the creative not working? Try a bold design change.

banners

Personalization is a powerful tool … but don’t take it too far.

Marauders-Map-GIF-harry-potter-28884333-500-324

snape map

NEVER underestimate the importance of tracking!

peter

Stay fascinated, keep asking questions, keep looking for the next great tool!

rubber duck

Finally, perhaps most importantly … you don’t get rid of the Banding Banshee by smiling at her.

banshee
There’s probably a marketing lesson in here about making sure your piece is as substantial as it is eye-catching. I really just wanted to use this quote.

With that, I trust you’ll all go off and make magic with your mailings and potions with your prestitials! I’m off to Hogwarts and hope you have a very Harry Labor Day as well!

Mischief Marketing Managed.

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