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.