Grandma knew the importance of brand management. In Grandma’s days, children were not allowed out of the house with holes in their underwear for fear of the proverbial ambulance ride.
Housewives cleaned thoroughly under their beds and chesterfields lest dust bunnies be discovered and whispered about. Business owners were careful not to do anything that could alienate their local customers. Grandma and her compatriots did brand management by instinct, although they called it protecting one’s reputation. Small-town living made brand management a matter of every day survival.
The Internet is moving us back to the imperatives of small town living. We are in a global village where reputations can be ruined at the speed of light. The examples are numerous: an instant of road rage, captured on traffic cam, forever brands the corporate executive as a lunatic. An ill-considered comment forever brands the politician as a moron. A funny caption on a Facebook picture forever brands a job seeker as a problem-drinker. Fortunately, we seem to be taking heed of these brand accidents, and many of us are paying attention to our online footprint.
After years of social media and e-mail debauchery, we are re-learning the value of circumspection. At least, some of us are. I was once CC’d on an e-mail to a local volunteer about a dispute the sender was having with a recreational sports organization in which they were both involved. The e-mail was angry and inflammatory, and verged on slanderous, but anybody who has experience with volunteer-run sports leagues will recognize it as par for the course. What was unique was that the sender elected to CC dozens of other people who were not involved in the dispute – myself included – and signed the e-mail using her professional position as the owner and president of 25-year old small home services firm.
This business owner had done the e-mail equivalent of going out with hole-filled underwear – exposing her dust bunnies and alienating her local customers. While I’m sure it was emotionally satisfying in the moment to craft her e-mail and press the send button, it was clear the sender did not consider the long term impact of her e-mail message. She had just announced to nearly one hundred households in her target market, as president of her company, she was somebody who was prepared to resort to mud slinging and petty tactics.
And, as Grandma will tell you, a reputation once ruined cannot easily be mended.
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