What is it with all these tone deaf brands?

Published 03.05.2020

Tone-deaf – it’s a phrase we keep hearing with regards to a lot of creative and communication from #brands during the COVID crisis.

And it sums up a lot of work that I keep seeing. Awful comms and behaviours from clueless brands.

The question is why are so many brands getting it so wrong? 

What we are seeing is not a new phenomenon at all. It’s as old as brands themselves. But, in extreme times, if you get things wrong… that’s going be in the extreme too.

It’s not that these brands are staffed but those that don’t know what they’re doing. It’s actually the fact that they don’t understand what their customers are doing and thinking, more frighteningly, they have little or understanding of their own area of authority and the permissions they’ve been given by their customers.

Good old #joewicks is a great example. The saviour of 9am with his new PE class doesn’t t just help the nation and our children, it’s propelling him to hero status, and even got him some nods for sports personality of the year.

Take #mikeashley and #sportsdirect as another example. His insistence that his business and staff were key workers simply to make a few bucks, while putting his team at needless risk, it’s beyond tone-deaf.

Frankly, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’ve always disliked buying anything from SportDirect, but from now on… I refuse to.

Nike is a great example. A hero by brand archetype, here they are championing and encouraging us to exercise at home, and celebrating our mad attempts to recreate gym equipment from kitchen cabinets, chairs and whatever else we can find. Totally relevant. Totally their domain. And they have absolute permission to continue to encourage and drive us.

There are fixes here, that take real guidance and seeing beyond the weak top-line descriptions of what your brand is, as dished up by brand pyramids, prisms and keys. Nice tools, that should act to summarise what you know… not be all you know.

And there are far better tools out there to really uncover the potential of your brand, and its range of authority and permission. Which can inform you about what you can do, what you shouldn’t do, and what risks are acceptable.

The brands that get it right, and make things look effortlessly simple are those that have dive deeper and deeper into every aspect of their DNA, proposition, relationship and role.

And these things don’t need to take forever to do… extending the diving analogy, make your brand sessions like those of a free diver – take one aspect of your brand, work to sprint methodology, and get to incredible depths, quickly. Test them. Validate them. Then free dive into the next one. Keep it fast. Make it meaningful.

You don’t build a brand with one activity. And you can’t understand it, or your customers in one activity either.

It just needs time, a good steer, and a level of intimacy with your customers lives to give you a powerful sense of self that extends beyond your products and services.

Take the time to get it right, and thrive. Don’t, and at best you’ll never fulfil your brands full potential and unleash the latent opportunity all around you.

And at worst, eventually, you’ll do a SportsDirect – and yes, they make money now – but, like all vampire brands (my term used to describe brands that drain their customers, staff, supply chains, and communities) they will not be a name we will even remember in ten years. Not, at least, if they remain under the current stewardship.

And if you don’t believe it, look at what has happened to Arcadia – another ‘untouchable’ that has lost its way – because they forgot the most important piece of the brand puzzle.

Their customer.