Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guest post by Denise Lee Yohn - The Economy Made Us Do It

I'm delighted to present today a guest post by Denise Lee Yohn. This is the first time we've done a guest post. I'm curious about people's thoughts on this--if you have an opinion, leave it in the comments. regards, John

It seems today's tough economic climate has become the ultimate scapegoat for pretty much everything.

This past week's New York Times Sunday Styles section included a piece describing the cleverness with which people have used the economy to get out of social obligations. From firing the nanny to avoiding a dreaded family reunion, the recession, it seems, provides a convenient excuse for folks who can't bring themselves to deliver an honest, yet unpleasant message.

And Business Week just ran an article about how companies are trying to get out of contracts by arguing that the economic crisis should void legal obligations. Although the troubled economy isn't technically addressed by force majeure clauses, companies in tight situations aren't letting technicalities stop them from trying to pull one over their creditors and business partners.

Such behavior seemed somewhat comical to me until I found myself on the receiving end of a similar excuse yesterday. It came from a service rep who relayed a change in the company's policy by saying, “We've been hit hard by the economy so we had to cut some of our services and that was one of them.” The momentary sympathy I felt for the company was quickly replaced by indignation against it for trying to excuse the change by blaming the recession. And my questioning of the wisdom of such a tack soon followed.

Now, I understand that economic pressures have forced companies to change the way they do business. They're cutting back and by definition that involves tough decisions. I get that. What I find curious is executing the changes in a way that smacks of a“victim mentality.” Why would any business want to give the impression they’re helpless and desperate?! Companies weaken their brand perceptions with a thoughtless --sorry, it's the economy -- excuse.

If companies want to retain any measure of respect and trust with their customers (respect and trust being key drivers of brand equity), they should assume responsibility for the decisions they make and use these tough economic times as an opportunity to reinforce their relationships with customers. A message along the lines of the following would be a good first step in taking a proactive, brand-building stance: “Please accept our sincere apologies for making a change that we know adversely affects you. We are diligently working on ways to improve and will resume the suspended service as soon as possible.

Communicating this type of message -- and delivering a customer experience consistent with it -- has the power to transform brand perceptions. Instead of being perceived as a weak player that’s relinquished control of its destiny, the business is portrayed as a brand with the integrity and customer commitment to come out of this economic storm even stronger.

With excuses to be found everywhere these days, I certainly hope we're not seeing the beginning of a trend that makes adopting an excuse culture”-- an acceptable way companies do business --– but I fear it may be. After all there's an excuse, it seems, for everything from criminal acts to indiscretions by politicians. But business leaders should realize excuses erode brand credibility and equity.

Simply put, excuses are bad for business.

Denise Lee Yohn is an independent brand as businessTM consulting partner who inspires and teaches companies how to operationalize their brands to grow their businesses. World-class brands including Sony, Frito-Lay, Burger King, and Nautica have called on Denise to maximize brand impact. She can be reached through her blog, brand as business bitesTM.

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