Knowledge Management Issues: Branding and Bad Communication Memes
Let’s presume that you are the Vice President of Marketing for your organization and Brand Management is something you are naturally quite passionate about. You have spent several million dollars over the last few years carefully building brand recognition in the marketplace, and at last you can see the signs of these efforts – customers associate the logo, color schemes, and fonts with the company name and products. You have also tested brand recognition out in the market, and prospective clients show good brand recognition. The investment analysts have the brand on their radar, and you are slowly moving up and right on the magic-quadrants graph.
You are naturally very focused on brand recognition, but equally on what the brand evokes – you want recognition to trigger positive, dare I say, buying emotions. You keep a close watch on whether people refer to your brand positively.
Part of this effort involves a shiny new website, and on it you have a teaser that offers a white-paper and some product information, and then collects respondent information and sends an acknowledgment email.
Look at the following three scenarios:
1. Which of the following taglines would you have at the end of the email?
“Please DO NOT respond to this email, this is an unattended mailbox.”
This is an automatically generated email, please do not reply.
This is an auto-generated email. Please do not reply to this message.
2. Which of the following email addresses would you provide?
3. Which of the following font, color scheme, and logo combinations would you use?
Plain ASCII text, no logo, no color scheme
Same as #1 but with really tiny font
Same as #1 but with no actual company information at all
Well by now you are thinking that nobody would ever do any of these things.
However, let me assure you that I collected these and many more from real emails collected over the last year. The only facts that I have changed is that these are not from a marketing department, but from HR departments.
I have also measured people’s affective response to receiving these emails, and there is pretty much uniform feeling of irritation and displeasure with substantial skew towards negativity.
One person summed it up thus: “[the emails] are downright insulting, rude, offensive … I wind up steaming and irritable and in no mood to buy from them, ever”
People hate them, and they have residual dislike for the associated company that rubs off both in terms of their purchasing patronage as well as their willingness to volunteer positive references for the products and services.
I have no data on how many bad references they volunteer to acquaintances, but I would bet it far exceeds both positive and neutral references put together, and I also bet that they will volunteer the bad experience enthusiastically.
Now consider for a moment that these emails that I collected are all in response to people who submitted applications to job vacancies at director and VP level, and that the people being anatagonized are likely to find jobs elsewhere at places you might care about and where they may exercise significant influence over decisions that affect your firm – customers, prospective customers, business partners, suppliers, your bank, and so on.
Here’s an odd paradox though – as much as the emails are probably an affront to many thousands of people, the fact that they are unbranded means that there is actually a weakened link to your branding. The effect is not universal nor very strong, but for the moment the fact that they are not using the same branding is a slight protection – imagine if they were experienced as rude, offensive, antagonizing and they also had very high brand recognition!
I can’t imagine a better outcome for your competitors
The flip side is that your HR department is touching thousands of people regularly and with a bit of help from Marketing, could turn this into a positive branding exercise – leave those people not only with high brand recognition, but also a feeling that they have been treated with respect, listened to, and heard.
It may be a good idea for the Marketing and PR side of the firm to keep an eye on how other departments are communicating with the public, whether that is the customer support teams, the receptionists, the accounts receivable team, or your HR department.
The first step is to clean up communications – there just is no good that can come from irritating thousands of people, some of whom might soon be in positions of power over your costs or revenue.
Second step needs to be a complete overhaul of the communication format and styling that recruiters use, it makes no sense to spend tons of effort on the website, letterheads, and all those other communications to the public, only to have some departments send out thousands of “no-name brand” emails.
Your HR department can be a positive branding force, but you have to include them in the process and support them so they don’t need to employ utilitarian techniques that are the polar opposite to the rest of your branding.
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Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.