Your Brand Under Attack: When ‘Goodyism’ Doesn’t Pay

Nothing can be more precious to many of us than our personal brands, since they are often the result of sound strategy, countless positive interactions with others both online and offline and a proven record of delivering quality service to our clients and the community. However – and as our editor Maria Duron pointed out in a recent post in the context of small business which equally applies to personal brands – the effect of social blunders and other social media faux pas (unless they are properly addressed!) can mean that our carefully-crafted brand quickly collapses like a house of cards and renders all our time and efforts momentarily worthless.

Today I would like to confront one of the most pressing dangers for our personal and corporate brands: an attitude that I have defined as ‘goodyism‘ that has sadly gained ground in the social media as of late due to the often imperfect training and education of community and social media managers (corporate communications and digital PR professionals in no way being immune). By goodyism (a.k.a. a ‘goody-goody’ branding philosophy) I am referring to the lack of a vigorous, proactive and strategic response when our product, service or brand is unfairly attacked with distorted, incomplete or downright fake arguments and accusations; and its substitution by a tenuous, conciliatory, goody-goody reaction instead which quickly detracts from our credibility and can be construed as an admission of guilt by our community of clients, followers and (if you have achieved certain notoriety) the media.

We should know better. No matter how friendly and sincere we may consider ourselves, how determinedly we may want to stay in the best possible terms with everyone and how unblemished our record, there are two stark facts that should dismantle the goodyist approach for good in our minds and from our interactions:

  1. Sometimes we are not likeable… no matter what! A number of industries and professions are (with or without reason) periodically or permanently eschewed and targeted by important segments of the population and exposed to harsher and potentially malicious criticism. Examples known to all of us: the defence, chemical and pharmaceutical industries; any business related to or connected with nuclear energy; the automotive and oil industries; political parties, churches and religious organizations; the list goes on. If your job or business is on this list you are strongly advised to be especially vigilant.
  2. Due to the immediacy brought about by the ‘mobile revolution’ and the almost instant viralization of contents in the Web 2.0 – and even for products, services and brands apparently innocuous – a not very appropriate goodyist response that does not deal with the unfounded rumour or attack head-on and fails to address its substance can unwittingly contribute to its spread and – especially once it reaches the media – be directly responsible for it going viral with fearful financial and reputation costs for the personal or corporate brand involved and the people behind them (yes, that could be you!). And this will be the case, I hasten to add, even if the attack is totally and wholly unjustified and without basis.

I know of no better example of how goodyism can wreak havoc for a brand than the crisis that hit the automotive company Audi in the 1980s with their Series 500 automobiles. To cut a long story short, it all started when a lady denounced that her car had suddenly accelerated without any action on her part other than starting the vehicle, the tragic consequence being than her son had been killed in her garage as a result. The unconvincingly mild, indecisive and goodyist response by the stunned German car manufacturer – offering condolences, promising an investigation and the like – was followed by 13 fresh new accusations in the following weeks. When a major TV station picked up the news the complaints reached 700, and the compounded effect of the PR fiasco made Audi lose almost 80% of their market share in the US. A later investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration exonerated Audi of any mechanical failure in their vehicles and the original complaint against Audi was undermined when the unfortunate lady recognised that ‘she might have accidentally stepped on a pedal’. (A more thorough examination of this case can be found in Eric Dezenhall’s excellent book Damage Control, which should be compulsory reading for anyone serious about defending their brand).

Each and everyone of us can (and, I venture to say, will at some point in time) be exposed to rumours and attacks against our reputation that require a polite, measured, intelligently put-together but at the same time vigorous defence when no objective reason exists for an apology or a rectification. We do not live in an ideal world and the dream of being liked and admired by everyone (despite our most strenuous efforts) does not always become a reality all of the time. The defence of our personal and corporate brands remains one of our more pressing duties and the eradication of goodyism of the surest ways to contribute to this worthy goal.