December 5th, 2012

Books!

COIN for Brands

Maybe one of these days I'll have contacts at enough of the publishing houses that I'll be able to get review copies of pretty much anything that I run across that sounds interesting, and the current book would certainly have been a candidate for that. However, I ended up ordering this from the new/used guys online, rather than hunting down the particular publicist at the publisher.

I wish I could recall what specifically brought this title to my attention. While I was getting ready to decide what to review next (I'm back to having a stack of books waiting for me to triage my time for cranking out reviews), I was racking my brain for a clue of what had pointed to me to Johnathan R. Copulsky's Brand Resilience: Managing Risk and Recovery in a High-Speed World, but nothing surfaced. Obviously, it may very well been referenced in one of the other business/marketing books I've been reading of late, or it might have floated through in the Social Media channel, but something out there no doubt suggested I take a look at this, and with enough verve to convince me to actually go and buy a copy.

The basic thrust of Brand Resilience is that in today's world of near-instant communications, the threats to brands are very hard to defend against, as word of some failing (real or fabricated) can explode across the web in hours, becoming “common knowledge” among the Connected before it could be brought to the attention of the C-suite. Of course, in this world, there are more brands than what define consumer products, Copulsky discusses chefs, politicians, newscasters, sports stars, authors, even terrorists who are their own “brand”, and gives the example (at length) of Tiger Woods for what can happen when one of those personal brands (and things associated with them) takes a PR hit (he cites a remarkable figure that seven publicly held companies who had sponsorship deals with Woods lost twelve billion dollars in market value the month after that story (and Wood's temporary “retirement”) broke.

More and more brands are about trust … they're a short-hand that the consumer uses to connect attributes they value with particular products, companies, individuals, movements and institutions … and when that trust goes bad, and that trust can be very fragile, it can be disastrous. Copulsky goes back to the well-worn analogy of “marketing as warfare” and notes that while Sun Tzu and Clausewitz were models for the older world of business, the new lightning-fast reality of brands dealing with a connected world required a new model, and Brand Resilience is structured according to a metaphor of “Marketing as Counterinsurgency”, based on The US Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 (which is available as a free .pdf download at that link!).

The five “main takeaways” for brand defense from FM 3-24 are, briefly:

1. At first you may not recognize that your brand is under attack …
2. Your natural tendencies to respond in a conventional manner to attacks on your brand may be misguided …
3. When it comes to building a resilient brand, the winner is the one who learns more quickly …
4. Some of the most effective weapons for counterinsurgents are not those aimed directly at brand saboteurs …
5. If a tactic works this week, it might not work next week ...
Further, FM 3-24 has a “Guide to Action” appendix which presents “three pillars”: Plan, Prepare, and Execute. From the material detailed there, a list of seven steps which each have a chapter devoted to it in the main section of the book. These break down as follows:

Plan -
          1. Assess brand risks.
Prepare -
          2. Galvanize your brand troops.
          3. Deploy your brand risk early warning systems.
Execute -
          4. Repel the attacks on your brand.
          5. Learn and adapt your brand defenses.
          6. Measure and track brand resilience.
          7. Generate popular support for your brand resilience campaign.
Now, of course, this is a business book, so most of this is focused on brand brands, and so you'll see lines like: “In fact, for many organizations, the financial value of the brand exceeds any single asset class that appears on the balance sheet and is a significant multiple of revenue and cash flow.” … Whuh? … but there are also more general observations such as: “Brand risk is contextual. The more valuable the brand, the higher the risk., with the further note that it's very likely that in most companies nobody is responsible for “brand risk”, even where “reputation management” is a line in somebody's job description. However,

When it comes to brand reputation, social media have let the proverbial genie out of the bottle, and there is no way that you're going to get it back in. … Social media make the entire world a potential stage.
Now, I'm not going to walk you through step-by-step here, but wanted to point out a few highlights (that earned bookmarks as I was reading through this), for example, in Step 4 – Repel the Attacks on Your Brand, one of the case studies they look at was the Tylenol poisoning back in 1982 and the classic “crisis response” strategy exhibited then, with three elements, the “three Rs”, Repentance, Remediation, and Rectification.

There needs to be a lot of flexibility and inventiveness to stay on top of things in the current environment (do they teach those things in MBA school?), and “...constant vigilance and constant adaptation are the hallmarks of brand counterinsurgency. As a brand counterinsurgent, you know you can never fully anticipate all the dangers that lie ahead. No matter how well you prepare and how effective your early warning systems are, surprises will happen because insurgents are, by definition, constantly improvising the next form of attack.” The case studies here deal with transportation safety, both in the air and on the roads … with a “learn and adapt” approach constantly improving the numbers involved …

The notion of accident investigation with a focus on identifying the root causes and fixing them works for aviation accidents. It works in manufacturing plants. It works with cars. It works with failures of engineered products. And it can work for brands.
Again, each of the seven points is fleshed out with case studies, and context returning to concepts of COIN warfare … fascinating, but a bit too expansive to walk through in this review.

While I'm still not an overly-enthusiastic fan of “business books”, I did rather enjoy Brand Resilience, and felt that the linkage of counterinsurgency with brand defense worked quite convincingly. I've not had a chance to check out FM 3-24, but it's on my list. If you want to put this on your list, your best bet at this writing seems to be the on-line big boys, where the hardcover is being featured at a significant 60% off. It's relatively new (just came out last year), so you would probably be able to find it at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor as well. I liked it, and found the interweaving of the marketing challenges with the military metaphor fascinating, so if this falls within your interests, do go check it out!


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