The Same Brand Can Mean Different Things to Different People
Expect Negative Reactions, and Go on the Offensive against Them!

Even the most popular and admired brands have their detractors. Not everyone likes the taste of Coke or the fit of Levi-Strauss jeans. So it will be with your brand. No matter how hard you work or how much unique value you provide, there is almost guaranteed to be at least a handful of detractors. If you’re lucky, your detractors will be few in number and low-key in their criticisms. But you may not always be lucky.

A perfect example of a brand that has recently garnered intense public reaction, both positive and negative, is the brand of health care reform. President Obama made health care reform a pillar of his presidential campaign last year and now is trying to implement it. His supporters will tell you Obama’s plans are humane, rational and necessary for the good of both public health and the economy. But there is another, very vocal side of the public argument.

Obama’s detractors argue his health care reform proposal will turn America into a socialist or even communist nation, bankrupt small businesses, create massive deficits and tax hikes, drive doctors out of their practices, and even subject senior citizens to “death panels” that will determine if their lives are worthy of continued medical care. Former Alaska Governor (and Republican VP candidate) Sarah Palin has publicly compared Obama’s plan to Nazism.

Few people are saying our country’s current health care system works well, and few are questioning how hard Obama has worked on crafting his proposed reform or how dedicated he is to enacting it. Yet ask two different people their opinion on the current health care reform issue, and you may think there is no possible way they are talking about the same subject. Sometimes you can work really hard and genuinely try to offer creative solutions to established problems, and still not satisfy large segments of your audience. Please keep in mind I’m not taking a public stance on health care reform, I’m simply using it to illustrate a point about branding.

So what do you do when faced with vocal detractors to your brand? Go on the offensive! Obama’s response to the intense criticism of his health care plan is a perfect example. Rather than ignore his detractors, or try to combat them through the media, Obama and his allies are directly taking their argument in favor of their brand to the public through open town meetings, knowing full well detractors will show up in force. This allows the Obama team to demonstrate how fervently they believe in their brand, directly rebut criticisms of it, and deliver a message undiluted by third-party interpretation.

You should do the same thing. If a competitor or former customer is bad-mouthing you to your clients, acknowledge the criticism and defuse it with direct communication. If your brand competition is internal, don’t be afraid to publicly defend your brand at company meetings or at the water cooler. Your entire livelihood rests on your brand; so you can never rest in your efforts to identify and neutralize its detractors.

Reader Poll: What brand of health care reform do you think is being proposed? A humane, rational brand? An inhumane, un-American brand? A mediocre brand that doesn’t really change anything? Something else entirely? Share your opinion today!