Need to reverse a bad brand reputation—and fast? Read on for the hottest tips in the industry.
I once was next to Vanilla Ice at a booth at a National Association for Campus Activities conference.
That’s right: The rapper whose iconic song Ice Ice Baby was on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990 was not playing to sold-out arenas: Instead, he was at a collegiate activities conference trying to convince students to book him at their school for a couple thousand dollars a show. Looks like the ice melted—big time.
How did that happen?
If you weren’t living under a rock in the early 90s, you know that the song Ice Ice Baby was everywhere. I remember feeling like I couldn’t leave my house without hearing that hopelessly catchy baseline.
And guess what? When the market is oversaturated with one restaurant, one shoe brand or one song, people will start to despise it—no matter how much they loved it at first.
There is a tipping point from marketing your product enough to catch people’s attention and not so much that people flip the channel or cover their ears when they hear your jingle. (Repetition is annoying. There’s no getting around it.)
But there is hope even for successful, oversaturated brands that some people love to hate. And if you’re in marketing, advertising, sales or leadership, you need to have a game plan to stay on the right side of that tipping point. Here’s how.
1. Invest in your people and rebrand your culture.
If you want to give your brand a facelift, you must start on the inside.
Why? If your marketing and sales teams don’t believe in your product (or feel valued), there is no way that they’re going to convince the world to believe in it.
Start with strategically-planned, totally fun events, and use those as a starting point to build out longer-term employee empowerment programs. As a keynote speaker, I’ve had the privilege of attending literally thousands of conferences and meetings at corporations across industries, and I know for a fact that great events lead to real change and real excitement for employees to come to work—if you do them right.
2. Be honest, even if it’s painful.
Sometimes, brands decline in reputation because they’re oversaturating the market. Other times, brands decline in reputation because a negative story about them is oversaturating the media.
Maybe it’s that you’ve been making your chicken with pink slime that’s not really chicken; that you’re underpaying your contract workers; that your new slogan is unintentionally racist; that you dumped oil into the ocean; or that you dragged customers off of your airplanes. (Just making these up!)
PR Nightmares happen—and they happen to the best of brands. Sometimes, they are total misunderstandings or not true at all. Other times, the companies involved deserve every bit of the backlash they’re getting.
In any case, it is the brand’s responsibility (and your responsibility, if you’re in leadership or PR) to apologize and make amends—even if you feel like the media told a half-truth (or a lie) about you.
I’ll tell you right now: You will not gain new customers by denying claims or ignoring that anything happened. But if you’re honest and transparent—and if you fix what needs to be fixed and fire the people who need to be fired—you can regain trust and respect.
3. Refresh and rebrand your image.
Once you’ve rebranded your company culture and cleared your name, you can do the obvious and rebrand your marketing and your products.
Now is the time to get rid of that jingle that everyone is sick of or that logo that someone designed before computers existed.
Change is the new normal, and if you want to stay alive, you have to update your digital imprint and your physical spaces.
I know the investment feels huge on the front end, but I can guarantee that the loss you’d experience from declaring bankruptcy because you refused to update would feel bigger.
4. Raise your prices.
Want your target market to see your product or service as more valuable? Raise your prices. I’m not kidding!
The more people pay for your product, the more they’ll assign value to it—even if nothing about your product has changed.
Just look at Supreme clothes online. They have normal, cotton t-shirts that sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars, just because they’ve created a sense of scarcity and value around their brand.
Raise your prices within reason, of course, but if you’re a brand that people are starting to view as cheap, even an increase of a few cents could make a big impact.
5. Get in on the joke.
Let me ask you something: How do you personally feel about people who refuse to laugh at themselves and have no self-awareness? That’s right, you think they’re stiff and boring, and you’re definitely not inviting them to happy hour today.
Here’s the news flash: If your brand has no sense of humor and ignores its reputation, people will think it is stiff and boring too.
If people are joking about your brand on Twitter or Reddit, get in on that and respond to them from the company account. Don’t self-deprecate your brand, but do respond like a human—and don’t be afraid to show some personality. Not only will it humanize your brand, but it will gain you new raving fans in Gen Z.
Listen here to find out how Reese’s made up for a mistake on Reddit in a way that blew people away!
Check out Crocs, Wendy’s, or DiGiorno on Twitter to see what I’m talking about.
6. Embrace Cross-Marketing.
One of the most powerful things a brand can do is cross-market with another brand.
That’s why I love seeing my longtime client Vera Bradley make magic with other companies I’ve had the pleasure of working with, like Crocs and P&G’s Gillette.
If people are tired of seeing your prints on purses, they might get excited about seeing it on another brand that they love. Foam clogs and razors never looked so good, and it gives new life to both brands.
Also, if you’re trying to level-up your brand and establish it in people’s minds as a higher-end product, partnering with other higher-end products will accomplish this faster than any rebranding effort that you do.
I call it “guilty by association”—but in a good way!
7. Give your customers the best experience imaginable.
I love the Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This is also true about brands: People will forget how amazing the quality of your product is if your customer service made them feel frustrated. They’ll also forget if a meal was mediocre if they received the best customer service of their life.
If you want your brand to grow, it’s time to start thinking about how you make your customers feel and investing in the best training for front-line employees who interact directly with your customers.
Now you are officially prepared to make the trajectory of your brand look less like melted Vanilla Ice and more like this year’s hottest brands.
Oh, and by the way: After I saw Vanilla Ice at NACA, he rebranded himself, released a new album, and went on a world tour. Today, he’s worth $18 million, and he’s still playing big shows.
And if he can rebrand and resurrect his reputation, I guarantee your company can too.
As a speaker and author, Curtis Zimmerman has impacted over one million people with his life-changing messages and award-winning programs. Curtis is an expert at transforming organizations by inspiring individuals to live their lives at performance level.
Want to be inspired? Check out his podcast The Next 24 Hours.