Think of a young, beautiful pop music star. How would your feelings for her change if she was arrested for drunk driving? The news would circulate around the world in a matter of minutes, and it would change her brand in the minds of everyone who saw it. From that point on, her brand would be associated with a whole new set of images — her mug shot, videos of her court appearances, photos of her walking into rehab, talk show confessions. But what if she began to speak out against underage drinking? What if she used her celebrity to raise money for a program that encourages kids to attend alcohol-free parties and events? It’s possible that, given enough remorse and time, she would eventually be seen as a champion of that cause — for some people, her brand would be redeemed.
Her team of publicists and agents already understand this dynamic, and they know that one negative event, even a serious one, does not have to cause irreparable harm. But they also know that no brand remains stable, and every brand must be constantly cultivated. Entrepreneurs must be tenacious: able to respond to and rebound from negative events, no matter where they come from. Entrepreneurs must constantly respond to both their own mistakes and unforeseen disasters that damage the business and the brand.
We may forgive our young pop star for her transgressions, but we will never forget them. When something negative happens to your brand, it can take years to repair the damage. In some cases, the brand may never be fully restored. If, during her drunk driving arrest, our young celebrity had gone on a tirade and made racist statements to the arresting officer, she might never be able to regain her original standing. As you build your brand, remember that everything you do will be remembered, and that enough negative impressions can kill your business.
As an entrepreneur, your brand is not something that you can construct and then ignore, because nothing stays the same forever. Like any part of your business infrastructure, it will need to be maintained and repaired. You may have to change your brand to respond to your competitors. You may have to reach out to new audiences as a result of changing economic conditions. If you make a mistake — and all of us do — each negative impression will need to be countered by several positive impressions. Every business owner must continually examine the marketplace and invest in her brand, rectifying blunders and countering external threats.
Larry’s Lakeside Cafe
Larry opened a beautiful restaurant with an enormous patio on the side of a pristine lake. Over several years, Larry developed a loyal following of customers who came out to take a break from the city and look at the spectacular scenery. But over the course of four years a significant drought had decreased lake levels, leaving a bare, ugly shore and revealing a muddy, garbage-strewn lake bottom. Of course, Larry’s profits dried up at the same time.
Faced with a tough decision – whether to close the business permanently or find some other source of revenue – Larry chose to stick it out, believing that the rain would return eventually. In the meantime, Larry decided to take his great food directly to his customers.
- He began by offering a delivery service, using a database of customer emails he had collected as a starting point for the delivery promotion.
- He also purchased a small food truck. On the side, Larry posted a large sign that read “Larry brings the lake to you.” He parked the food truck in different locations around town, notifying customers via email and on social media where he would be each day. He purchased several inexpensive plastic swimming pools and filled them when he got to each location, allowing small kids and overheated pets to play in the water.
- Larry also began catering small business events during the evening. Once again, his database served as the initial marketing channel. He printed large, colorful banners with a photo of the lake as it had looked several years earlier, then set them around the food truck, along with bistro tables and chairs. A misting system cooled the air and lights hung from above, creating a fun, easy atmosphere, not unlike the patio at his original location.