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Why Your Brand Is Suffering (and What to Do about It)

August 04, 2021


Why Your Brand Is Suffering (and What to Do about It)

I was recently listening to a 10-minute Ted Talk by Simon Sinek. Sinek spoke about the post-pandemic world. The reality is that we’re all living with trauma after this event. Even if we’re lucky enough to not catch the virus, seasonal cold or other flu, there’s still the emotional fallout of this worldwide COVID event. The whole world is experiencing this to some degree. Some individuals cope better than others. Some will move on, while others will feel longer-lasting effects.

Sinek talked about how we need leadership. And leadership in this post-pandemic world isn’t just about authority. It’s about healing. True leaders are going to come in and guide us—our brands, our team members, our customers, our communities—towards healing.

That resonated with me—what if we could apply this kind of thinking to brands as a whole? Can this idea help us to explain what happens when brands start failing—and help us see what our brands truly need to heal when that happens?

Your Brand Is a Tree

I’ve used this metaphor before: brands likened to trees. What this means is our brands are living, organic things. They have DNA that dictates how they grow. We can’t grow cherries on an apple tree, and a maple tree will never have pine needles. We have to pay attention because DNA tells us what our brands need from us to grow to their full potential.

The tree metaphor also works because there’s so much hidden from sight. The taproot, the most vital part of the tree, is buried underground. We never see it. We see the sturdy trunk, the branches, leaves, and maybe even flowers. We often end up paying too much attention to what’s visible: the flowers, the leaves. In our metaphor, these represent your campaigns. They change from season to season, year to year, but they’re always guided by your brand’s DNA. The apple tree should have apple blossoms, and you can’t graft pine branches on the tree and expect them to thrive.

The taproot is our brand’s essence or core. It’s the most vital part of the brand, and what makes our brand unique. Overtime, this purpose or essence can become fuzzy or entirely lost with changing managers. 

As long as we pay attention to the DNA of our brand, make sure we don’t disrupt that taproot, our brands should keep growing in ways that make sense. Trees are also adaptable. Think about how many trees you’ve seen growing in challenging conditions. Our brands can do that too—they’re adaptable, evolving.

Our Brands Can Be Injured

Now, Sinek was talking about trauma. And, to some degree, our brands can also suffer kinds of “trauma.” External threats from the environment can threaten our tree. Heavy wind, early heavy snow, or a drought might make water difficult to reach. Lightning could strike. And disease and pests also threaten our trees.

Internal factors can also threaten trees. Whereas some trees adapt well to adverse conditions, others do not. Even trees of the same species may or may not thrive in particular conditions.

So now we can think of our brands again. Much like trees, they face threats from both the external and internal. And where the “injury” occurs dictates the amount of suffering. If one of our campaigns is off strategy or perhaps deep discount pricing to hit budgets? Some blossoms shrivel up and leaves fall off the tree before their time. If this happens over and over again? Some branches stop putting forth shoots. The tree stops growing there. It might even experience “dieback.”

What if lightning strikes down and cracks our tree trunk right in half like a loss in distribution or new competitor that advertises our brand's shortcomings? We might lose part of the tree. In some cases, if the lost listing is a major retailer, the whole tree will die. In other cases, part of it will keep growing! Trees—like our brands—can be amazingly resilient.

What happens if something gets at our taproot, that invisible yet oh-so-vital part of our tree? The tree could begin to die slow or fast depending on the degree of issue. The tree can recover, if there is awareness and effective action taken. But we need to notice that’s what’s being threatened.

This is true for our brands. So often, we don’t recognize that what’s actually suffering, what’s being injured is the most vital part of our brand. And Brand Managers keep treating symptoms or being asked to deliver short-term sales results at the cost of the brand and ultimately never treating the root cause. To switch metaphors, we could compare this to an identity crisis for people. The brand no longer has a clear sense of its purpose or identity. In turn, it searches for a new identity, often trying to be other brands instead of being this brand.

People suffer a lot when they don’t have a clear sense of their identity or are struggling to find their purpose in life. Our brands do too—and the people around them feel it. Our co-workers might start feeling less than motivated about their work. They might lose faith in the brand. What are we doing here? Does it matter? It’s hard to put your heart into your work if you’re not sure it matters or why you’re doing it.

Our customers feel it too. How do you know? Sales slip. And worse, your loyal consumers begin to lose trust. Very often, they can see what’s happening, and they hope that we can recover from it. Think about your friends: they like you for who you are! So when you try to be someone else, you often drive away the people closest to you.

The same is true of our brands. When we stop living our brand truth and start trying to be other brands, we drive our customers away.

Leadership Means Healing

Here, we circle back to Sinek’s idea about leadership and what we need from it in this moment. Leadership doesn’t mean just having authority or telling other people what to do.

Leaders, particularly at this point, need to offer guidance. Leaders can be healers—especially for brands. Often, when we get a change in leadership, what we’re hoping for is someone who can come in and see the real brand. They see the hidden taproot and they work to strengthen it, to help the rest of us see it so our brands thrive.

When our brands have suffered or been injured, the role of leadership is to help heal them. Like a tree can still thrive after being damaged, so too can our brands. But that means we have to be able to see past the flowers and the leaves and the branches and understand our brand tree. What’s in its DNA, what does it need to thrive?

For those of us who feel our brands, this kind of healing—getting back to our roots, “back to basics”—is exactly what we need. When a brand loses its way, when its identity is unclear—we feel that. We suffer along with the brand, because we start to feel helpless and begin to be dragged along with the corporate narrative. We stop having hope, and our actions start feeling pointless. Our customers become confused because they can’t figure out “who” our brand is. They’re never sure if we’re being real with them or if we’re wearing another costume, another mask this week. Can they trust us?

Leadership helps us heal from this by taking the brand back to its roots. Having perhaps tough conversations with Senior Management, Sales and even Retail Customers. Leadership heals by illuminating the core of the brand—why we’re here, what we’re doing. That gives us a sense of clarity and purpose. And those of us who work for the brand can then find meaning and purpose in our work again. We can feel inspired and, often, hopeful.

Our customers can then heal too. When we can say to them, “Look, this is who we are and we know that now,” it helps them rebuild their trust in us. They may not come flocking back—trust takes time. But they can regain their lost confidence and restore their relationship with us.

And in this post-pandemic world, trust is huge: part of what we’re suffering from right now is this lack of trust. Who can you turn to? Who do you believe? A lot of us feel that we’ve seen each other’s “true colours,” and it’s going to take us a very long time to recover from that. Many people feel like the wool has been pulled off their eyes, that they’ve now seen the “truth” about other people or the world. And it’s not what they thought it was.

So—reconnecting with who we are, rediscovering the “why” of our brands is essential in being able to reestablish these relationships. To rebuilding trust. And to helping not just our brands but everyone in our communities move forward.

And that means we have to start with the why!


A little more about me. My goal is and always will be to inspire and create conversation!

I am a businessperson who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles, I have written to inspire others.

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