Don't Miss the Lessons to Be Learned From a Major Crisis

Four Takeaways for CMOs From the Wall Street Meltdown

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Every CMO should look in horror at what has happened to some of the most venerable brands on Wall Street, as recent events have perhaps irrevocably damaged the reputations of businesses and the industry overall. No responsible brand leader can risk missing the lessons to be learned from others' suffering.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of "Branding Only Works on Cattle" and blogs about marketing at
Dim Bulb.
First, you can't assert emotional associations for your brand. Think of the billions spent on branding by the top financial firms. They've produced some of the glossiest stuff ever made, and it all proved to be worthless. Worse, as of last week, some firms were still running it next to headlines declaring that their businesses were contemplating ruin.

Traditional branding theology suggests that we can apply emotions to things. That approach doesn't hold much water with consumers who live in a mediasphere that is constant and pervasive, that draws its content from events, not declarations, and from experience, not imagination. So it's not enough to announce that your company is "bullish on America" or that consumers should "Whoo hoo." The stuff seems not only irrelevant but somewhat dishonest.

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That's because, second, reality matters. Your brand can't be good for kids yet have a supply chain that tolerates lead-based paint.

Third, that means actions speak louder than words. Don't tell them to feel better; help make it happen.

Finally, transactions matter more than intentions. Consider the airline industry the weeks after Sept. 11: How many people are getting on planes, and how much unhappier could they be about it? The exchanges you have with individual customers are far more important than the broad aspirations of your branding.

Questions to ask about prepping for a crisis

LOYALTY: What are the quantitative measures you can rely upon?

TRANSPARENCY: Would your customers be surprised if they knew what you were doing?

LIMITS: If you can't substantiate a brand claim easily and clearly, should you make it?

SURVIVABILITY: Have you planned for the most likely crises? How about the odd ones?
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