Do you know who's listening, reading or watching what you do? The short answer is: everybody. That fact alone is enough to shut most of us down and run to hide in the nearest corner. But reality intrudes and we have to accept the responsibility whether we like to or not.
And given the reality, as owners of our personal brands and/or our business brands, we should be doing better jobs of understanding how we may be perceived by others. Sadly, we can't go by positive intent alone. Many of us don't know each other from a hole in the wall and many of us are not mind readers. We can't always say with certainty, "Oh, he/she/it didn't mean it." when we hear, read or see something that may be odd, unusual or unsettling. And we can't expect our customers to say that about us.
We can't rely on the forgiving nature of others mainly because they may a) not have forgiving natures or b) be tired of forgiving us. The impressions we give others have long lasting effects. As they say, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. So, when we do interact with customers, prospects, peers, etc., what and how we say things always matter.
I've personal examples. Amir spoke on a panel which covered strategic business development using LinkedIn. When he explained that he used LinkedIn 1 hour per day and 3 hours on Sunday, a woman sarcastically asked if he were still married because of the Sunday hours. He smiled and said, "My wife is sitting over there." She came over to me later and called me "the wife." I smiled and introduced myself as the majority partner of 678 Partners all the while thinking I'd never want to do business with her.
Later that same day, we were having coffee with an acquaintance. He described a recent surgery and started railing on how anesthesiologists do a lot of nothing. My dad's a retired well regarded anesthesiologist so I have an understanding of what they do. I smiled and said that someone I know often jokes that he never got paid for putting people to sleep but he got when he woke them up. I was thinking that this guy might have a propensity for putting his foot in his mouth which may explain his inability to close business deals.
But there are broader business examples, too. By now, everyone has done a good job of documenting the Kenneth Cole tweet and the Groupon SuperBowl ad which got the most attention (Tibet). Everyone's also done a good job of forecasting long term impact, etc. I'm not going to do that for you here but it is telling to note that as of today (Friday, February 11), the Groupon ads will no longer be running which means that they have started to understand a bit more what tarnished reputations means.
What's the purpose of mentioning the personal and broader examples? I think all are excellent examples of how thoughts, messages, campaigns, etc. are born in our mental incubators and are fed and nurtured by limited means and limited points of view. And in all of these cases, the limited means and points of view prevented them from having a sensitivity chip with the net result being bad personal and business impressions.
The bad impressions are potentially lethal drugs to our brands. Our brands are more fragile than we think. And our brands only succeed with constant reinforcement of positive values that we espouse. So, when these examples happen and it's obvious we're missing sensitivity chips, I wonder how much or little positive brand values have been identified early on in the process let alone espoused by all of us who work on the brand after we've established the look, feel, vibe, language, personal, etc. after it comes to life?
Have we really gotten that lazy with our brand marketing discipline? Have we really forgotten that a good brand steward (meaning, all of us) is channel agnostic and should be a jealous spouse when it comes to its reputation? Is it true that Zappo's is the exception to the rule?
I know we can do better. But will we do so is the question. I welcome your thoughts! Please comment below.