Making Brands More Human

    By | Small Business

    The word brand is like the word beer. Important. A noun. Something that is desirable. But pretty much meaningless, unless you throw on an adjective or two. Or provide the name of a specific beer.

    Like Apple (an oldie but goodie). Or Zappos. Or Warby Parker.

    Or Aerosmith. Rock bands are brands, too, right?

    What comes to mind when you think of making brands and Aerosmith? I think of a bit of gossip by a friend of a friend of a friend of one of Steven Tyler’s attorneys. Apparently, the hostility among Aerosmith members is so great that the various attorneys for the members negotiate the set list before each concert.

    That made me chuckle. And reminded me of the super group, The Eagles, whose “Hell Freezes Over” tour in 2004 capped a 14-year-hiatus because of such vitriol among members. In his book To the Limit, journalist Marc Eliot tells the story of Glenn Fry and Don Felder’s petty exchanges on stage right before the band imploded. During one of the last concerts, Glenn threatened, “When this show is done, I’m going to kick your ___.” The roadies shut off the mikes between songs because they feared the audience might hear the snarls. At the end of one gig, Felder smashed a guitar as Fry bolted for his limo.

    The brand called The Eagles could light up “Hotel California” and then walk off stage, trying to punch each other’s lights out. I guess you might say, “Well, they are the consummate professionals, aren’t they? They are able to separate their personal feelings from their performance. And what does it matter? The audience never knew!”

    Historically, there has been a similar dichotomy (lack of integrity?) of making brands among other types: the consumer experienced delight (the emotion and the product or service itself), but those who created the product (ergo, those up and down the supply chain) experienced the brand’s darker side. Yin, you feel good about your body in your sheer yoga leggings; Yang, you sweat for 14 hours a day for a couple of bucks and a one room apartment with no plumbing.

    A New Direction In Making Brands?

    Fortunately, in recent years, an outcry has put a spotlight on making brands and their supply chain practices. A quasi-social brand conscience has emerged. And Walmart and McDonald’s say they intend to pay their workers more. We’ll see. It’s much harder to monitor the conditions of factory workers in Asia.

    Some brands, though, countenance another inhuman condition: their corporate culture.

    A friend recently resigned his senior level sales position at a business-to-business brand, moving to a smaller firm in the space. After 14 years, his ears began to bleed. The big company environment was oppressive, toxic. He told me about his first encounter with his (now former) boss several years earlier:

    “I demand your complete and utter loyalty. Don’t ever cross me,” he said.

    Seriously? At a company that is part of a Fortune 500 conglomerate? Is this not 2015? Or is tomorrow 1520, the era of Ivan the Terrible? Sales is hard enough without the emotional tactics of Ivan on a pillaging tour.

    Is it morally unacceptable for a brand to relentlessly pursue the attention of its customers while also tolerating a withering, dehumanizing culture with philistine tactics? It might work for the band members of Aerosmith and The Eagles, but it’s not worthy of respect. It lacks integrity. The values creating the front stage that only the customer sees should align with what happens behind the curtain.

    Tomes have been written about Millennials and their ostensibly more seamless view of life and work. Here’s hoping that in forty years when it comes time to reflect on their legacy, sociologists will write about how Millennials reimagined what it means to be a brand. And created a more human workplace where brands care as much for their creators as they do their customers.

    This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Making Brands More Human

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