Caution: this blog post may contain HIMYM spoilers. Image: CBS
When starting and running a small business, busy entrepreneurs sometimes forget one critical aspect – creating and managing a solid brand. We’ve talked before about the differences between name, logos, and brands, so we won’t backtrack too much here. Suffice it to say that after coming up with a business name, a logo, and stationary, many people think they’re done branding their business. But that’s just the beginning.
A brand is a set of associations that people hold about your business, and because of that, it’s something that you have limited control over. Making sure that what you set out to be is actually what you end up being perceived as takes vigilance. Branding professionals often say that you must know who you think you are, but more importantly who the public thinks you are.
Brand perception is on my mind today as a result of the recent backlash against the finale of the long-running sitcom, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). Stick with me here.
The writers of this somewhat polarizing nine-year series clearly decided from day one who they thought they were. We know this because they filmed the ending around the time the show began. While this was handy for making sure the “kids” did not age drastically by the end, it set up a situation that did not allow the writers to take evolving brand perception into account.
The result of this lack of flexibility? A lot of angry fans. As can happen with a ‘real-life’ company, when the company makes a move that doesn’t feel natural for the brand, longtime customers feel betrayed. This is often the result of a company letting their brand aspirations take precedence over their brand perception. The writers and cast seemingly thought they’d neatly tied up the story they set out to tell nine years ago. But what they might not have taken into account was the way their ‘product’ was perceived and what the actual ‘customers’ felt the story of the show really was.
So how, as a small business owner, can you avoid the fiasco that has befallen this beloved (or be-hated I guess, depending on who you are) series?
3 Steps To Successful Brand Management
1. Start with a strong idea of who you want to be. When you first start out, it’s critical to have clear brand aspirations and build the brand you want. While your brand will be strongly influenced by the public, don’t let it be entirely determined by them.
2. Monitor your brand by tuning in to the conversation. Ensuring that your brand activities online and in print are consistent is key to your continued brand development. But just as important is knowing how you’re being perceived at large. Luckily, there are lots of free and low-cost tools for social listening – like the ones on this list from Brandwatch. (Related: See Brandwatch’s analysis of Wendy’s #HIMYM tweets). Not only does listening help you keep your finger on the perception pulse, it serves the dual purpose of making sure you can address any potential PR challenges before they get out of hand.
3. Be flexible and open to change. While you certainly don’t want to abandon your core values, there may come a time when you have to adjust your aspirations to align more closely with perception. As with the writers of HIMYM, sticking to your guns despite brand evolution that has taken place over many years can be hazardous. If you start to see your brand perception moving in a direction you really don’t want to go, react right away with a smart plan to get things back on track. But if the change is actually just a slightly new direction that does not damage your brand or ideals, be open to becoming the brand your audience wants you to be.
If you don’t address it, someone might just do it for you. YouTube user Ricardo J Dylan took matters into his own hands and re-cut the ending of the series to give fans the ending he felt they were looking for. And while a lot of people enjoyed the video (which has since been removed from YouTube due to copyright concerns), what really happened is that the HIMYM team lost control of their brand.
How did you feel about the finale of How I Met Your Mother? If you are a long-time fan (like me), did it align with your perception of the brand, or did you feel betrayed? See how you compare and cast your own vote in this fantastic poll we found on Mashable: