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Living in a glass house

Mae Ong,    20 Apr 2013
Living in a glass house

Social media shines a new light of transparency on business behavior

With the omnipresent eye of social media tracking every move a brand makes, businesses can no longer sustain brand strength with window-dressing and image-building campaigns. Thanks to social media, and more broadly the digital communications age, brands now need to walk the talk more transparently than ever with their now-empowered consumers.

The Chipotle case

Just recently, Chipotle, the highly successful, multinational food service chain, pulled its sponsorship from a Boy Scouts of America Scout-A-Rama event in Utah, the biggest fundraising event for the Scouts  Great Lake Council. Chipotle came under fire from highly vocal human rights and civil liberties groups for supporting an organization that explicitly prohibits gay individuals from joining or serving in leadership positions. The sponsorship directly contradicted Chipotle’s own internal anti-discrimination and diversity policies.

As the story of Chipotle’s dilemma went national, more and more people turned to social media to decry the company for its mixed messaging, fanning the flames of controversy through Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, and other digital channels. Chipotle responded quickly to end the incident by reversing course and replying across virtually all social media. “We cancelled our participation in this event, not just due to our policy, but because it’s the right thing to do,” shared Chipotletweets.

There was a time when a company facing such controversy could have countered and contained the criticism with some well-placed national advertising, PR, and other corporate image-building efforts. Chipotle’s 180-degree public reversal demonstrates how the digital revolution and powerful social media can hold brands accountable for their promises and influence how they behave. In this age of unprecedented sharing and interconnectivity, brands can no longer project an image that fits the moment; they have to live their brand promise every day inside out.

Welcome to the relationship era

Today, the success or failure of a brand depends less and less on what you say, and more on who you really are and how you deliver on your brand essence at the individual level. This is a time when human needs, human values, and human connections will ultimately define your business. Awareness and perception are no longer the currency of a strong brand; belief based on personal experience is.

Dealing with this new reality requires a deep understanding across the entire enterprise of what your brand is and stands for. It also requires that each individual team member accept personal responsibility to safeguard the brand’s value and deliver on its promise. Ironically, digital communications, which on the surface may seem distant and de-humanized, have ushered in an era of relationships and human connections, an era that seems much less cold-blooded and opportunistic than the consumer era of mass communication and opaque brand behavior.

Today, every aspect of a company’s behavior is on public display. A relationship-first approach to every customer interaction has become the imperative. Businesses should embrace the idea that brands are built from the inside out and sustained by delivering a totally unified brand experience at every touch point. The importance of a well-plotted social media strategy that connects to its audiences at a level beyond products and services cannot be overemphasized. If you’d like to join our ongoing conversation on building strong brands inside out, drop us a note at info@interaktmail.com .

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