Yesterday’s announcement that the News of the World was to close down got me thinking of branding – and how easily a brand can become damaged.
Branding – just what is it?
What actually is a ‘brand’? Well, there’s the literal and comprehensive version and the down-to-earth NLP version.
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as the name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Interesting, but I’m not sure many people outside of the marketing industry would be any wiser for reading that.
As usual NLP enables us to describe it in a more down-to-earth way because we look at what’s actually going on behind the term/word. So from an NLP standpoint we could say that a brand consists of the feelings people get when they think about a product or service.
KISS: it’s about feelings
From an NLP angle branding is very straightforward. It’s simply the application of the NLP process of Anchoring. Anchoring is the process of attaching an emotion to something — so that “something” henceforth automatically and involuntarily triggers that emotion in other people
In branding the creators of the brand determine the feelings which people will associate with a product – or service, company, political party, movement – or even with a person.
For example, there’s actually little real difference between one toothpaste and another. Between one detergent and another. Or even between two cars of the same size and power – there may be a £100,000 or more difference in the price tag but they’ll both do the same job of helping you join the nearest traffic jam on your way home.
So the marketing and advertising people have to ensure that you and I associate different feelings with different products.
Buying feelings – rather than products
They do this by associating or “anchoring” feelings to their product – so that we don’t buy a car to get us from A to B on a daily basis; we buy a bunch of feelings which we believe the car will give us. They have attached an anchor for these feelings and for this image to their car. And we fall for it.
In the same way we don’t buy some paste to clean our teeth; we buy confidence and sex appeal. And we don’t buy a wrist watch to be able to tell the time; we buy a feeling of success. We don’t buy an outfit of clothing; we buy confidence and a feeling of being different/conventional/fashionable/etc.
The News of the World’s damaged brand
So which emotions did people associate with the newspaper and its steady supply of sex scandals, celebrity exposes, criminal investigations, and its use of questionable methods to get stories?
In the minds of its readers the NoW was likely associated with excitement, titillation, vicarious living, and trust (in many households the 168-year-old scandal sheet has been a Sunday morning friend over generations).
But since the Guardian newspaper exposed the NoW’s use of phone hacking two years ago, and despite the huge financial and media and political clout which the Murdoch organisation used to try to hush things up, the relentless trickle of negative stories about NoW’s methods proved too much.
The brand had been damaged beyond repair: recently the NoW has become associated with feelings such as sleazy (which is ironic), untrustworthy, ruthless, and even unpatriotic.
Can a damaged brand be saved?
Undoubtedly. Especially if you use NLP to keep things simple – and recognise that it’s just a matter of creating new anchors so people associate new feelings with your product or company.
VW provided an excellent example of re-branding when in the early 90’s it began getting us to associate favourable feelings with the lowly Skoda brand. It’s taken 20 years but Skoda is now a thriving and respected brand.
In recent years lots of big companies have gone through difficult times and have regained, repaired, or replaced their brand: including BP, Nestle, Exxon, British Airports Authority, Volvic, and Toyota.
Yes, the NoW brand could have been saved. But the decision not to do so may be a financial rather than a branding one. Throwing the NoW to the wolves in order to appease the UK media and politicians will have been a sound financial move if it results in Rupert Murdoch finally attaining full control of the much more profitable BSkyB.
Your own brand!
If branding is, through the lens of NLP thinking, about attaching feelings – about creating anchors – it has wider applications than in industry and commerce.
It applies in your personal life because, for your family, friends, colleagues and customers , you are an anchor – you evoke feelings in them. When they meet or think of you they have feelings – do you know what these feelings are likely to be? Because if you don’t then perhaps you should.
Try this. List a handful of people you know socially and at work. Now, one at a time, think about each – and notice the feelings that this evokes for each one.
This is their brand.
And when they think about you that is your brand.
What’s your brand?
So what is your personal brand – at home, socially and at work? What feelings do you want people to associate with you? And how successfully do you look after, or ‘manage’, this?
When they think of you do they get a happy feeling? Do they perceive you as someone who makes them laugh? As someone they feel they can trust? As someone who is warm and friendly? As a supportive friend?
Or do they associate you with ‘grief and misery, pain and woe’ i.e. as someone who’s always complaining? As the person with a chip on their shoulder? As the team groaner and moaner? As the gossip who cannot be trusted. As insecure manager you needs to put others down in order to feel confident? As cold and aloof?
Branding in your career
The feelings which people associate with you in social situations merely determine whether you are popular, shunned or exist somewhere in the middle.
Perhaps more critical is how you are perceived in your career. You can be an expert in your role but unless people associate good feelings with you you won’t get very far!
Take a good look at how you may be perceived – at the feelings which you evoke in people. Ask a few people who you can trust. (The NLP Different Perspectives technique can be helpful here.) And then look at how you can begin improving your brand or even re-branding yourself.
The payoff will not just be in enhancing your career – it will also feel good. Because when you like people more they pick this up – and start liking you more… and you feel better.
More about negative anchors or hot buttons:
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