Recently, I picked up an article about a company that had a serious issue by the name of Black Rifle Coffee. The company was one that made a point of being pro-gun, pro-NRA, and backing GOP candidates. At first, the coffee brand fashioned itself as the “anti-hipster” coffee brand, going so far as to offer hipster cutouts for target practice.
Then, the bad press came.
As it turns out, their own fanbase ended up wearing their logos to the January 6th insurrection attempt on the White House. When people began to associate Black Rifle with the alt-right, people began to back away. After all, no one wants to be associated with a terrorist attack. I couldn’t help but think that PR disasters like this can be avoided pretty easily.
If you’re currently working to create a site and a brand of your own, you might be wondering what you can do to avoid a gaffe of epic proportions. Here’s how you can avoid disasters that have sunk others before.
1. Bad Clients For Your Brand
You know how people say that “clients choose the company?”
That’s only half true. Companies tend to market themselves towards a certain client base, and also retain the right to distance themselves from clients that make them look bad. This includes asking them to leave or banning them from buying your goods.
With certain businesses, such as bars, you have to take a hardline approach to this. For example, demanding that people dressed in white supremacist paraphernalia leave is a must. Otherwise, you might end up dealing with large swaths of them showing up simply because you tolerate them.
A good IRL example of this is Victoria’s Secret. A woman assaulted another customer, got recorded, then faked a freakout to avoid getting viral hate for her behavior. What did they do? Nothing. They asked the victim to leave. Guess who ended up having a major disaster on their hands? Yep. Victoria’s Secret.
Online, this often means taking a hardline approach to who you market to. When in doubt, choose tolerance and acceptance. The classier you look, the less likely it is that your brand will be stigmatized.
2. Unstable Social Media Posts
For the most part, it’s very rare that you will see a top company post something that seems unstable. However, if you remember Amy’s Baking Company from Kitchen Nightmares, then you already know how bad it can look to have an unhinged screed on your social media account.
While influencers can *sometimes* get away with it, the truth is that it undermines your credibility in a lot of cases. In some cases, it can even end up causing your entire brand to implode.
The solution to this is pretty simple. You just need to walk away from social media. If you’re still building your brand, you might want to hire a professional social media scrubber to help prevent you from scandal later on.
3. Being Caught Acting Out In Public
Ohh, this is a bad one. We’ve all heard about people who have been caught on camera acting out in a racist manner getting fired from their jobs as a result of internet outrage. We have also seen tons of stories about CEOs who, for one reason or another, were caught doing creepy stuff. (Looking at you, Dov Charney…)
In the past, you might have been able to get away with it simply because it wouldn’t get plastered all over the net. Moreover, we used to have a culture where people would be less likely to whistleblow. Today, you can’t get away with that kind of predatory or insane behavior—nor should you ever have been able to.
Most people who have been caught doing something egregiously terrible (like Amy Cooper, for example) are going to have a PR scandal on their hands. They may even have their entire careers ruined. However, this is easy to prevent. All you have to do is be a decent person!
4. Putting Too Much Control In Users’ Hands
Here’s something that many brands and celebrities are starting to realize. The internet is not a good place. Or rather, it’s a great place but people are total jerks. That’s why it’s so important to control the narrative that you allow your brand to have. What does this mean?
Well, why not ask Mr. Cosby? Or McDonald’s? Both the now-shamed actor and the fast food chain had major PR disasters that all started when they asked fans to make a meme of them or talk about their favorite memories at their establishment.
The results were devastating.
In the case of the epic fail known as #McDsStories, users began to rag on the worst experiences they had. It went viral because it backfired so spectacularly. In the case of Bill Cosby, people actually started to pay attention to all the stories about him drugging and raping women. It destroyed his name for the rest of his life.
The moral of the story? Don’t do what they did. Control the narrative. Ask them to send in stories via the DMs, or ask them to repeat something you post instead.
5. Attacking Your Audience
Trust me when I say that I understand the urge to clap back at people who pull your brand down or try to get under your skin. It’s only human nature to want to defend yourself, especially when they are picking apart your brand or making disparaging remarks about you.
The truth is, it’s not a good look to attack your audience. Even if they deserve it, it won’t do you any good. They will be happy to see that they’re getting to you, and worse, they will use your attack at them to further drag your company’s look down.
The best thing to do is to either be silent or release a neutral-toned statement about your company. After all, in a world where PR landmines are a dime a dozen, silence is truly golden.
3 Fast Food Restaurants That Nailed Branding (And One That Didn’t!)
I’m not sure how many people know this, but I’m a huge fan of fast food—but not in the way that you would think. I don’t actually like McDonald’s, per se. I do, however, love their stories. Fast food business is a really fascinating industry. It has some of the most brilliant business stories I’ve ever witnessed.
Honestly, even if you are not someone who wants to have a fast food franchise. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of branding. I love looking at how companies work their magic when it comes to branding. So, maybe it’s time we celebrate successful chains and tell stories that might inspire you.
1. White Castle
White Castle might not be a name that you’d expect to see on here, especially if you’ve ever been to one in New Jersey at 2 AM. However, people don’t realize the story behind them. You see, White Castle is the OG fast food chain—preceding McDonald’s by decades.
At the time, eating ground beef was a bad idea. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle revealed the beef industry to be a vile, foul industry. At the time, regular beef was stigmatized. Ground beef? Well, you just didn’t know what it contained! No one wanted to eat it, let alone at a burger joint!
White Castle changed it by creating a restaurant that was based on cleanliness. That’s why all their uniforms are white and why everything inside is white. It was their way of showing, “Hey, we’re sanitary.”
And you know what? It worked.
They used a moral issue to separate themselves, and it was a consumer concern that people seriously had. That gave them the payoff that helped launch them to permanency.
McDonald’s was a must for this article. Founder Ray Kroc was one of the first entrepreneurs to have a fully uniform protocol handbook, including both recipes and ways to lay out a restaurants. That uniformity was a major part of their brand, even down to the source of their food.
However, we all know that McDonald’s has another major pull to their brand: appealing to kids through the use of Ronald McDonald and friends. You see, this all started because Ray Kroc knew that he wasn’t a likeable person…and because he knew that kids often had an unusually large pull when it comes to choosing dinner.
So what did he do? He took a cue from the now-defunct Burger Chef and included toys in childrens’ meals. And, he also created a mascot we all know and love: Ronald McDonald. The two tricks ended up gaining a massive audience.
McDonald’s was so successful, they put their rival Burger Chef out of business—despite them being the ones who invented the concept of adding toys to meals. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. KFC Japan
KFC is a nationally-recognized chain in America, and that’s great. However, in Japan, KFC fandom goes to a whole ‘nother level. You see, KFC was kind of an oddball in Japan. I mean, what was Kentucky Fried Chicken going to do in a country where they already have fried chicken stands galore?
Well, they took advantage of the holidays.
In Japan, Christianity is a stark minority religion. But, Japanese people love the idea of making Christmas happen sans religion. They loved the presents, but at the time, there really weren’t that many Christmas traditions to speak of in Japan. It was still a new-ish concept.
So, KFC did something a bit unusual. They started a massive barrage of ads tying Christmas celebrations to Kentucky Fried Chicken. It got to the point where one of their ads literally said, “Christmas = Kentucky,” which is kind of laughable to us yanks.
But, it worked. The ads were so beautifully done and heartwarming, people actually bought into it. Sure, “My Old Kentucky Home” is not a Christmas carol, but it worked to bring up the homey vibes of Christmas. Marketers spammed people with it, but it resonated.
Nowadays, KFC is a major staple of Japanese Christmas culture. It’s so popular, you actually have to reserve a box of chicken months in advance in many prefectures. The moral of the story? Starting traditions and thinking outside the box can always build up a brand.
The Restaurant Brand That Failed: Sambo’s
Yes, the name is a huge issue. Originally a portmanteau of the two founders’ names, the pancake-serving restaurant decided to capitalize on an extremely racist story that was popular at the turn of the century—Little Black Sambo and the Tiger. (Sambo is a derogatory racial term, by the way.)
At the time of the restaurant’s creation, civil rights groups already pointed out how insensitive the name and decoration were. The creators didn’t care. For a while, things seemed like it wouldn’t make a difference. The restaurant ballooned to a chain with over 1000 stores.
People kept bringing the bad branding up. They didn’t care, and continued to display things until the 1970s Civil Rights movement. Things got heavier. People began to picket and protest their company.
The solution they had? Well, they put a turban on the racial mascot and continued to go on with their business. Things got worse, and it became a major stigma in most parts of the country. The restaurant chain began to see their branches close due to the controversy alone.
By the time they tried to rebrand, it was too late. Sambo’s was no more. The moral of the story here should be obvious: be inclusive, and don’t be tone-deaf.
5 Reasons Why No One Is Buying Your Brand
I’ll be honest. I’m a shopping junkie, especially when it comes to the online form. I know all the hip and happening places to spend money—to the point where it may be a problem. However, bad as it may be for my bank account, it makes for a great thing for my eye for online marketing. I know what sells, primarily because I’ve seen which brands work and which don’t.
In many cases, I’ve been hired to help people work on a website or online concept that just wasn’t kicking. Sometimes, they’d listen to me. Most of the time, they didn’t. Without fail, those who didn’t often found themselves having to close up shop. Why? Because they couldn’t get enough customers to stay in business.
If you found yourself in a place where you might be struggling to get customers to your proverbial doors, it’s probably because of one of these issues below.
1. You Don’t Have One
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really have a brand, per se. I’m a crazy rave chick who reads a lot, writes a lot, and loves to review food. I’m a jack of all trades. I love to write about everything from finance to fashion, simply because it is a diverse group of things to learn about.
However, that kind of *is* my brand—my life experience speaks for itself and when people hire me, it’s because I do have life experience others don’t. People hire me because my writing voice can change with their brands’ needs.
If you have a business that involves selling merch, trying to put together raving, food, home improvement, real estate investment, and finance won’t work well. In fact, people will be scratching their heads wondering what your site is supposed to be about. That’s not branding. That’s sucking!
If you want to have a dedicated website for your business, you need a brand. A brand means you will have:
- A Unified Logo + Color Scheme
- A Unified Voice
- A Niche Audience
- An Idealized Customer/Result You’re Pitching
- A Problem You Are Offering To Solve
If your brand doesn’t have both visual and cerebral stuff on board, then you don’t have a brand. You need a brand for people to buy into if you want long-term customers.
2. Your Brand Looks Hideous
I know we are told that looks don’t matter when we’re young, but we have to be real. You absolutely can judge a book by its cover, and in many situations, you should. There. I said the thing that no one wanted to say. Bad as it sounds, it’s a fact of life. People are shallow, especially when it comes to commerce.
Needless to say, if your website or packaging looks cheaply made, people will assume it’s not worth the splurge. That’s why you don’t see people flaunting dollar store pants and why you do see people flaunting Versace. One looks more expensive than the other.
The same is true with websites. If your site is plastered in ads, looks like it’s from 2004, is disorganized, or has walls of text, this is your problem. Add more whitespace, make things look clean, and give it an easy-to-navigate style. You will be glad you did.
3. You Keep Changing Your Brand
When you see a bright yellow “M,” you probably think of McDonald’s. When you think of a yellow upward smile arrow, you probably think of Amazon. If you were to see the logo for Red Bull, you would probably know it gives you wings.
Now, think for a moment. What do you think would happen if all three companies were to change up their brand five times a year? Would people still recognize their brands at the grocery store or in the mall? Probably not.
Unless you have a serious problem with your branding, you shouldn’t do a complete overhaul of your brand. Branding changes are supposed to be subtle and done after a lot of deliberation. Most top brands only change their logos once a decade—if that.
You need to give your brand a lot of time to sink in. Otherwise, you’re going to end up losing any clients that you could have kept through consistent messaging.
4. Your Copywriting Sucks
People often underestimate the power of a good writer. How do I know that? Well, I often have to explain what value I bring to the table, just to get a decent wage. When you’re putting together a site, your copywriting is what gets your message across to potential shoppers.
So, what does this mean? It means your copy should be…
- Straight And To The Point. The average person reads at a 8th grade level and has a very short attention span. Do you cater to them? If so, you need to keep it simple and digestible.
- SEO-Friendly. Yes, every site needs SEO help. We need to see stuff rank on Google. It’s how major websites get the traffic that they need.
- Relatable And Memorable. If your clients can’t relate to what you’re talking about, they won’t buy into your brand. The problem is, many people don’t know how to do that or tend to get into the wrong verbiage for their project.
- Appropriate For Your Audience. You wouldn’t be talking about “spoiled youth” to a Millennial, would you? Yep. Knowing your audience and using their slang matters. It’s how you match their energy.
- Useful. If you’re selling shirts, you should mention their material, how it’s sourced, and the best cleaning instructions for them. If you’re selling makeup, you might want to mention if it’s non-comedogenic.
5. You Really Messed Up
There’s no other way to put this, really.
There have been many, many companies that have a slick branding campaign that should have launched them to stardom. Unfortunately, their branding was not the problem. The problem often lay in the way they treated their clients, or dealt with a major PR gaffe that resulted in a boycott.
Be honest with yourself. Has your business been late in delivering products? Were you inconsistent with keeping up the site, or delivered stuff with poor customer service? Or worse, have you found yourself in a major PR disaster that ended up killing your brand?
If so, you have no one to blame but yourself. Bad products or bad service can easily destroy any company’s reputation and brand. I mean, Domino’s actually dropped the term “pizza” from its name because it’s so terrible.
If you found yourself in this situation, then you have no other choice than to come up with a heavy apology, a plan to fix things, and a new brand. Most of the time, mess-ups like this are a sign that you’re not going to do well with this brand for a long, long time.
3 Things To Keep In Mind When Selling Lifestyle Items Online
As someone who is a crazed online shopper, I honestly appreciate the entire experience of finding trendy lifestyle items online. I understand the hustle you have to have in order to sell a lifestyle product—be it art, gym equipment, makeup, skincare, or clothing. So, I tend to soak in everything related to the sale.
I’m not going to lie. My shopping hobby turned me into a connoisseur of good clothes as well as the way to market them. I learned a lot about lifestyle marketing as a whole. It’s my thing, really, and sadly, there are a lot of shops who do not understand how to market their goods.
This is particularly true when it comes to artsy lifestyle gear and artwork. So, what do you need to know here? Well…
People Want To See Themselves In The Gear They Buy
Here’s the truth about lifestyle products: you’re not selling a product. You’re selling a lifestyle experience or an aesthetic that people want to attain. Selling lifestyle products, be it a new pair of sneakers or some cute athletic gear, is about being part of the “in crowd” in the eyes of the people buying them.
Think about it this way: lifestyle items are all about identity. What’s a hippie without bell bottom jeans, or a punk rocker without their leather jackets? The clothing and items they tote around help show people what their identity is. It’s no different with mainstream lifestyle products.
When you’re designing an ad, you need to remember that. People want to associate your product with an idealized version of themselves. That’s why most advertising agencies tend to hire models who act like an idealized version of their customers.
The Price Doesn’t Really Matter
This is something I learned when I tried to make a crappy little handmade tee shirt company in the past. My friend wanted a shirt but had no money. All of a sudden, when I told him that the money was firm, he hemmed, hawed, and then shelled out the money. The price didn’t matter, even if people balk at it. It’s about the lifestyle.
Another good example of this concept can be seen at my local mall. The other day, I noticed that a bunch of people were queued up at the local Louis Vuitton store. Some of the faces looked familiar—and there was one guy who was a waiter at the restaurant I just dined at!
I was perplexed. How did he afford it? Well, it clicked after some thought. For the right lifestyle product, people will save up for months to be able to afford what they want. That alone should be a moment of learning for people who are in the lifestyle sector of advertising. Premium products deserve premium pricing, and people pick up on that.
Well, Actually The Price Can Matter
Remember when I said that price doesn’t matter? Well, that’s actually only partially true. Sometimes, the price actually makes the thing interesting to buy. I mean, let’s go back to the Louis Vuitton story up above.
Let’s be honest here. If Louis Vuitton bags were being sold for $40 a pop instead of $1400, do you really think that they would be as popular as they currently are? Personally, I can name at least a dozen times when people have insulted my fashion as “K-Mart-looking” because they wanted me to feel like I was poor.
Though people like to think that they are good judges of quality, they’re really not. Like, at all. Subconsciously, we tend to associate a higher price tag with a higher level of quality. This is true, even if you can find the exact same product with the exact same materials at a lower price. Strange, right?
What we’re saying is that you shouldn’t try to undercut every single cheap site out there. In many cases, pricing something too cheap will make people think twice. After all, people treat Wish products with suspicion because they often are too good to be true!
So, these three lessons all have a theme in common: lifestyle marketing. Lifestyle means that you should aim for a luxury brand, even if you are not targeting a luxury audience. Lifestyle means that you are making something that people should aspire to, or see their idealized version of themselves in.
If you want to work your affiliate marketing magic (or really, any kind of marketing magic), keep that in mind. Everyone wants to feel like a millionaire, billionaire, or glamorous individual—even if they are at the very bottom of the earning pyramid.