What’s in a brand?

The barrage of news about Harry and Meghan’s divorce from the British royal family is a great study in the highs and lows of branding, and its importance in today’s world.

Either naively, or ill-advised, Harry and Meghan decided to adopt a royal brand, and create a fancy new website and social media pages under the moniker “sussexroyal”. That was before they told the actual holder of the royal brand – Her Majesty the Queen – what they were planning to do.

Meghan is an American actress and therefore, she knows all about social media, websites, personal branding and publicity. Her sussexroyal Instagram has more than 11 million followers already.

The Queen holds a centuries old birth right, bestowed upon her by religion and tradition, and it turns out she knows a lot more about the importance of royalty than the newcomer. The sussexroyal website is now under review and we will be updated in due course. They may lose their carefully crafted personal brand name. The unhappy couple are now in damage control. They are a hot mess – on one hand needing the media to survive, and on the other unclear of what their message to the world is, and telling the media they are not allowed access. About the worst thing you can ever do is tell the media they can’t have access unless of course, you are trying to drum up even more media.

For those of us in road transport, the specific scenario is far removed, but the importance of a company’s identity, public message and brand, is not something to under-estimate. In a fast-moving media environment, reputations can be won and lost in a matter of minutes.

Road freight transport is not yet in the same situation as farming. Farmers are being unfairly pilloried from all angles, including the state-funded education system. But as users of fossil fuels and public roads, we are not the most popular of brands out there. No one is saying this is fair. It’s our role to continually remind both the public and government decision-makers of the great value we bring to their lives and the New Zealand economy.

For many road freight companies their brand is a family name. Any hit to the brand, has far reaching consequences, including personal ones.

Given the wired world we are working in, and the unpredictability of the regulatory environment, it’s wise to think about having a plan in place if things go wrong and you are faced with a situation that could damage your brand, and therefore, your business.

Here is a basic process you should plan to have in place before disaster strikes, in order of importance:

  1. Make sure your staff know exactly what is happening and what your company policy is on speaking about it to anyone outside the company, including customers and media. Keep staff regularly updated. You will need staff goodwill, so protect your staff throughout.
  2. Talk to your customers. Outline what the situation is and what you are doing about it. Scale the size of the problem – it may only be small and easily fixed – and have a confident, solution-driven focus. Keep talking to your customers and keep them updated. Be available.
  3. Get expert advice. You may need a lawyer and/or someone to help you with communicating to your customers and the media – particularly if you need to do this at speed and regularly. People are looking for a clear path to resolution – what’s the problem, how are you fixing it, and when will you be back to business as usual.
  4. Talk to your staff and customers before you talk to the media – this is very important as it is easy to panic and get side tracked by media. Don’t answer their phone calls until you know what you are going to say. Be very clear with media and don’t venture off your script. Saying the same few lines over and over is the best way for your message to get through. It should boil down to “we know there is a problem, we are fixing it in this way”.
  5. Be prepared for backlash and have a plan. Brands can be taken down overnight via social media. If you think competitors, disgruntled ex-staff, or just a personal enemy are going to use this situation to hurt you, plan ahead to counter this. The sussexroyal team are constantly plagued by Meghan’s disgruntled family, including her father Thomas Markle. Meghan and Harry largely ignore her vocal family members, which is the best strategy in their circumstances. They don’t give the detractors air.

If you cover these five critical points, you will be well placed to deal with any business blips.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


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