Coke had New Coke. Tylenol had poisoned pills. General Motors has bankruptcy. What do these big brands have in common, and what can you take away from their experience?
Resilience, the ability to bounce back from a significant stressor, is definitely an attribute of successful brands, personal and otherwise. We all experience loss, failure, betrayal, or a crisis that can set us so far back, we wonder if we’ve got the strength to go forward. It could be a job loss, promotion denied, a great business concept malingering at the fingertips of venture capitalists, or facing the same angry, insecure boss who tracked changes over your best work today and will do it again when you turn in the revised draft tomorrow.
Before signing on with us, my creative director worked for a mean-spirited man who made bets against the success of co-workers. “You’ll never make the deadline, betcha a buck.” Then, when the blood sport was over and he’d won, a dollar bill was tacked to the guy’s corkboard with the loser’s name on it.
How to bounce back from losses big and small, accidental and intentional?
It is easier to make your way out of a war zone, when you’re proud of your uniform and the flag you salute. It really helps to know who you are, what you represent and see yourself as an agent of your brand no matter where you are or who’s yelling at you.
Big brands endlessly hone tag lines so consumers know what these brands mean, and what promise they are purchasing along with the contents of the can. With mission statements, CEO podcasts and new initiative kickoff rallies, big brands frame the ideal mindsets for employees. Global 2000 company representatives, especially distributed employees away from HQ, constantly get messages that bolster a solid corporate backbone and crystal clear image of the firm.
What do these principles look like in real life? Coke became the “pause that refreshes.” It’s the “real thing.” It’s “always.” Tylenol is “the brand most hospitals prefer.” GM appears to be the car company that will “return your money if you’re not satisfied.” (Yuck. GM has some work to do on its comeback strategy).
Of course, strength without flexibility can be your undoing. Coke’s unshakable brand promise was part of the New Coke crisis. A small fraction of the market was polled in a taste test of the new formula, and this sample group liked it. However, the majority of consumers felt they owned the brand, exactly as it existed. Mayhem broke out when New Coke hit the shelves. Phone lines lit up with consumers threatening to never drink another drop. Emptying the shelves, and restocking them with what became “Classic Coke” righted what could have been a sinking ship. Eventually the need subsided for signaling a return to the past and we’re back to Coke. Whew.
In the same way, Tylenol overcame its tainted pill debacle to come back as the number one most prescribed analgesic. Tylenol became wildly successful in another market in order to return to the original one even stronger. The foundation of its comeback strategy was heavily discounted pricing to hospitals. The bargain brand overtook its competition in the institutional market, and could then tout itself to consumers as, “the brand hospitals prefer most.”
We’ll see if the new GM president hawking a 60-day return policy will raise the allure of Buick and Cadillac. I’d prefer seeing him dance in GM’s design department to Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days, but that’s just me.
We know that bad happens. If you are going to succeed in your business or career, you are going to fail. You are going to try new concepts, sign on to employers, get yourself into partnerships, hire staff and kill yourself to please clients who will leave you and might seem bent on destroying you. To succeed, you need resilience in business more than you need any other single quality or skill.
You need to greet defeat as a sign that you’re on your way to success. Have a cookie, a good cry, enjoy a revenge fantasy and then get on with being your brand.
The comeback principles that work for big brands apply to your personal one.
Here are some tips for building resilience before you need it
1. Have a rainy day fund. Get some cash into a war chest that allows you get by in an emergency. If that’s impossible, make a deal with a friend that you’ll put each other up and buy the pizza for a while, should it come to that.
2. Keep an eye on the prize of your future while you negotiate the stressors you face today. It is much easier to stand on a pitching ship, if you can keep your eyes on the horizon.
3. Be the brand you want people to rely on. Every day do one thing that reflects and projects your brand promise. That might be settling on keywords and getting them into your blog, tweets, or updates. And, remember to offer a ride, hug, helpful feedback or a book to someone who could use what you’re capable of giving.
Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen.