The Woes of Misrepresentation

Last week I wrote, “Brand Storytelling When There’s Nothing to Tell.” A few people approached me later to discuss the idea of brands who misrepresent themselves.

Over the years I’ve witnessed and learned a few key lessons that come only from being good at your job. First, the better you are at brand storytelling, the easier it is to recognize when someone is not. Secondly, the ability to fully analyze the good and the bad of a brand and its strategy is not nearly as fun as one would hope.

As a brand strategist, marketer, brand designer, or whatever you call yourself, chances are you have at one time worked for a company pretending to be something it is not. Sometimes it is through lack of awareness that a company comes to me and says, “Our message should be all about how we’re _____________.” Which is when I generally ask, “Is that what you think you represent?”

It’s not that we as brand strategists are arrogant and superior — though sometimes we have that complex — it’s that we’re hired for our ability to take a step back and see what is in front of us. How do you tell your employer or client that what they think they are is completely wrong?

As an honest individual who has never been a “yes-man” I definitely have no problem telling the truth to my client. That’s part of why I was hired. It’s only then that I have witnessed companies admitting that they know “_____________” isn’t what they represent, and they’re ok with that.

Take for instance earth-friendly companies. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of companies out there claiming to be eco-friendly, carbon-footprint concerned, and all about recycling. Then why is it so difficult to remind employees that plastic Greek yogurt containers are recyclable, that old computer gear shouldn’t just be tossed in the trash, and why its time to upgrade from Styrofoam coffee cups to reusable mugs?

Occasionally the misrepresentation is far more serious than some thrown-away yogurt containers. These days image is everything, but so is an honest image. To tackle the question of perception, companies will take great strides to prove they can tackle the job, can acquire the biggest client, or prove they offer the happiest work environment. Unfortunately, these are just perceptions.

As the brand strategist I often think, why not then create a better work environment for your employees, or actually start recycling, or go after the mid-size client instead of pretending you don’t? Sadly, there are some more concerned with image rather than substance, and more concerned with the bottom dollar.

This post, written by me, was originally published by Beneath the Blog on Friday, March 28, 2013.