First written: 8 December 2008
Updated 2nd August 2011
I wrote this article in December 2008. Current events make me think it's more relevant than ever. Nothing has been learned, nothing has been done to stop the sabotage of what was a respected brand, locally and internationally.
Charting the trials and tribulations of the ANC over the past few years will no doubt make for a very interesting case study. Not in politics, but in brand management and on the "un-intellectual" approach to their Intellectual Property.
The fundamental flaw in their approach appears to be that people (or in government parlance,“citizens”) will believe everything they are told about a brand. They will listen attentively to the messages emanating from official sources, and they will obey. They will then carry these beliefs to their dying day; beliefs that have been crafted by the “owners” of the brand and received loud and clear by the recipients.
Enter that wonderful old adage about “products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind”. The days of marketers, no matter of what, having a one sided conversation with the consumer, are, of course, long over.
People, especially as they are exposed to more freedom of opinions, simply don’t always believe and do what they are told about brands. They are free to craft their own perception of the brand in any which way they like, based on any and all of the input they receive. Jeremy Bullmore, former Chairman of JWT, says that consumers create brands as “birds build nests. From the scraps and straws they chance upon”.
The second major flaw in their brand management strategy appears to be the lack of understanding of the “Say – Do – Confirm” model of integrated brand messaging. Simply, what I Say, is planned and I, as brand owner, exert a large degree of control over this. What I Do should be planned and controlled, and should of course underscore the Say part of the brand so that the message, the perceptions, the feelings and overall, the level of trust, is Confirmed.
If what Brand X (or A, N and C), Says and Does are not aligned, the message is not Confirmed, and the brand is not trusted. And in the consumer’s mind, the brand moves away from what it says it is, to what the consumer believes it is. And no amount of saying is going to change that!
Douglas Smith, a renowned Management and Marketing author wrote this about the Republican party in the USA: “What happens to companies can also happen to political parties -- indeed, any organization in this new world of ours. At some point, if the brand delivery and brand experience radically contradict the brand promise, then the customers (in this case, voters), the investors (in this case, contributors) and even the employees (in this case those who work and volunteer for the Republican Party) will actually look at the delivery and the experience to define the brand of the Party and not to the promises themselves”.
So when Julius Malema says what he says, when Jacob Zuma (and other ANC heavyweights) doesn’t say what he/they should, and does what it likes, you have a massive disconnect between Brand Say and Brand Do.
Picture the ANC as a KFC franchise, and imagine the Colonel and his team allowing the KFC Youth MD to be at odds with the ethos, the image, and the values of the Motherbrand? Of course he would be fired, instantly. KFC Youth would go on a massive PR campaign to rebuild brand bridges, and the Motherbrand could just live to see another day, untarnished. Because of course, if the Youth League uses the ANC brand in its name, it is a brand extension of the ANC. If it sings a discordant song, or threatens a neighbouring head of state, or spews hatred at the head of the official opposition – it may be a political game, but truth is the real brand owners, the consumers, are readjusting their views of what the ANC stands for as a result. Not in a nice way either.
Of course, brands can evolve. The ANC brand probably has evolved. But its messaging hasn’t, just its behaviour has. Creating confusion. There is no room for confusion in the war-room of brand positioning.
So now, Malema has supposedly been reigned in (again) after years of unintellectual damage to the ANC’s intellectual property. And the media will probably still be seen as the bad guy. Flaw no. 3: you can’t control the “scraps and straws” from which consumers will build their brand. But you can control your brand behaviour, and thus their brand experience. And if you shout loud about Brand promises, and your Brand behaviour is at odds with those, it makes a great news story.
Too little, too late, from a brand health point of view. The ANC spends an inordinate amount of time in court: remember when they fought with COPE over Intellectual Property? Protection of Intellectual Property is of course paramount: but in this instance they might be better served in managing the Intellectual Property they have, and the way their consumers interpret that through their own intellectual filters, consciously and sub-consciously. It’s not just about protection of a name, a symbol, the colours you choose. It’s about protecting what it means.
Much was written about the Barack Obama campaign. All our political parties can learn from it. Pick a clear positioning for your brand, that has relevance and resonance with your audience. Then, consistently build and reinforce your brand promise, not just with words, but also with behaviour, at every level of your organization, every day. Spend more time walking the talk. And if someone using your brand in any way, threatens the integrity of what it stands for, deal with it. Urgently.