Your brand doesn’t have to crash and burn!

My tweet response to #brandchat Q4 (11.2.2011) struck a chord with many participants. Retweeted twice, it reached an audience of nearly 10,000 viewers (crowdbooster.com). When brands and industries are doing abrupt turnarounds in the wake of customer dissent, it’s enough to merit a deeper dive into my simple method to avert a crash-and-burn brand experience in the first place.

1. Stoke the fires of warm customer relations

Now with online resources, enterprises can and do monitor sentiment to the brand in particular and to the product category or industry as a whole. Loyal customers become great influencers and your best brand evangelists. Angry customers are often willing to weather brand storms when the organizations are willing to step up, be honest, and continue to engage customers.

Here are two examples of customer relations in the digital age.

Hit: Macy’s Inc. (NYSE:M)

macy's window photo

Macy's Fans Join the Parade

If you’ve read about consumers pushing back against the creeping holiday season, it doesn’t seem to have affected Macy’s , one of the brands that helped to create Christmas shopping as we know it.

So how do you outdo the parade that ends when the big guy arrives on a sleigh? Get ahead of it! Macy’s has done a 180 with holiday windows. A holiday store window now has a Webcam that snaps photos of visitors. Pictures are posted to a special Macy’s Facebook Page Fan

Branding is all about storytelling.

That’s a powerful combination of aspirations and memories enmeshed in a brand. This young woman’s holiday shopping story (see photo) takes the form of a branded customer experience. The shift is so subtle it’s hard to know where the aspiration begins and who’s in charge. For brand evangelists and influencers, it doesn’t matter. Loyalty and engagement say it all.

Storytelling is an experience.

Best of all, Macy’s has made the customer experience “gameful.” The world’s largest retailer changed shopper behaviors to achieve a higher goal — word-of-mouth community building and traffic to the Macy’s Facebook site.

  1. People turn away from their view of Journal Square (for a moment).
  2. Turn to the famous holiday windows at Macy’s
  3. Find the Webcam and interact.
  4. Become part of the parade, not parade goers or idle TV viewers.
  5. Log on to the Facebook site and become part of a new parade.
  6. Drive traffic to the Facebook site by sharing their story with friends.

According to marketwatch.com Macy’s sales rose in 2011, while the 4th quarter was open. It will be interesting to see how the story plays out on the business pages.

Miss: KLOUT (private)

Image representing Klout as depicted in CrunchBase

KLOUT, the influence measurement company, launched its new ranking algorithm using a one-to-all news vs. marketing model. A non-customized message to all registered users emphasized the minimal impact on a user’s score. Reality was far different.

Before the change, Klout beta users laughed and tweeted to the quirks that included praises for influence on the subject “cucumbers” (author’s experience). Expectations were of a people-oriented process. That quickly evaporated. Klout’s organizational behaviors demonstrated more consideration of its algorithm than customer sentiments.

Only when the new Klout went live (new algorithm, same dashboard) did the new model become clear: It was entirely game-based. Quantity — not quality — was key. No problem, except:

  1. Expectations were set high and not delivered to.
  2. Verified Klout account holders saw the “value” of their badges (the currency of gaming) lose value.
  3. Klout maintained a staunch silence, communicating only with one newspaper days later.

A groundswell of community resentment took hold. Angry hashtags appeared. Citizen bloggers revolted while social networkers and major media joined in. Finally, Klout relented, providing delete options to both the subscribed (account and public data) and non-subscribed (public data).

Klout emphasized conformity to the game’s regulations not branded relations with living, breathing customers. This weak customer experience has significantly weakened the brand based on current press coverage and social media posts.

Next up: Step 2 – Put out fires promptly (Tuesday, November 29)