Social media, along with the freedom of expression and distribution that it brings, continues to reshape the marketing world. In just a few weeks, we have seen its tremendous power work both for and against major brands. The difference in outcomes speaks volumes about understanding and embracing the core values of your brand.
Iconic breast cancer crusader the Susan G. Komen Foundation found itself on the receiving end of a social whuppin’ when it cancelled support for Planned Parenthood. Many believe that it was a politically motivated decision reflecting personal beliefs of some of the Foundation’s management. After some clumsy attempts to defuse the situation, Komen pulled a 180 and relented to withering public criticism. Regardless of the turnaround, the damage is done.
This week, JC Penney is in the spotlight after being the target of an attack by a group calling itself “One Million Moms”. The reason for their assault on the retailer? JC Penney selected openly homosexual comedian Ellen DeGeneres as its new spokesperson. JC Penney’s response to the attack was to remain steadfastly behind its new spokesperson, and proclaim to the public that the company is founded on principles of equal and fair treatment. It’s a sentiment that perfectly reflects the company’s new “Fair and Square” brand strategy. This time, the public response has been overwhelmingly supportive of the brand.
So Susan G. Komen lost and JC Penney won. At the heart of it, this all comes down to brand values. The Susan G. Komen brand is supposed to be about coming together and working towards a cure for breast cancer, as well as supporting survivors and women in general. The brand is not there to take a position on any political topics that fall outside of that core mission. It’s recent actions represented a significant departure from that core, and they have paid the price.
On the other hand, JC Penney’s choice, as well as its response to its critics, falls completely in line with the company’s founding principles and entire brand message. As a result, the people that the brand is here to serve flocked to its defense, leaving it in a better position than it was before the attacks.
I’ve said that 2012 is the year to uncover the truth in your brand. Do you have a good handle on what your brand’s core values are? Do you perceive them the same way your customers do? You have to understand them, communicate them and reinforce the on a continual basis. If you do, you’ll be able to respond like JC Penney and come out on the winning side.