The image of a brand to its target market helps to gauge the health as well as the strength of the brand. A positive image is not only important for driving sales, creating brand loyalists, it also plays a role when the brand is associated with a stigma. By definition, a stigma, is a mark of shame or discredit; an identifying mark or characteristic. While there are some stigmas that shed a positive light upon the brand, we generally talk about stigmas when they are associated with a negative. Stigmas of this nature, wreak havoc within the brand as well as for brand loyalists. Their beloved brand is suddenly in crisis and depending upon the strength of the brand, it may not survive.

Breaking the Stigma

Breaking a stigma is not impossible however depending upon the nature and severity of the stigma it could be an uphill battle. The reaction/response from the brand as well as the accessibility to the brand, especially when the stigma is derived from some sort of event or happening is crucial to the survival of the brand. Stigmas that have developed over time are much more difficult to break as there are stronger ties to the stigma with continued support to fuel the stigma. Breaking a stigma is dependent upon the brand reaction as well as the how strong the brand was prior. Consumers, especially at the time of crisis, want to stand by their brand but can only do so when the brand reaches out and reassures that action is being taken to properly and adequately access and rectify the situation.

Long Term Stigmas

This past week, we were introduced to Ted Williams. The homeless guy with the golden voice. The homeless guy was repeated over and over in headlines by main stream media and bloggers. This label overshadowed his talent. There is no denying that Mr. Williams has had several run ins with the law. He has a rap sheet. He is also a recovering addict. There is also no denying that he did not have a place to live. He lived on the streets. He is incredibly talented and also if you watched the interviews, he is a smart man. He knows his industry. The stigma that is associated with homlessness is years in the making. We think of the homeless as the mentally ill, the addicts, those that do not want to work, those that are ignorant, uneducated, etc. The new face of homeless is a far cry from the stigma.

Toyota Breaks the Stigma

Toyota a year ago was associated with unsafe vehicles. The massive recall had consumers scrambling and questioning their vehicle purchase as well as how much could they trust Toyota. Toyota responded with not only recalling all of the vehicles in question, they suspended production until they were to ensure that the problem was fixed. Their next move shows the strength of the Toyota brand and their ability to survive and emerge as a brand that is safe and also responsive to their customers. Toyota is in the business of selling cars. People do not want to purchase a car that is deemed unsafe. Toyota’s response was to air spots that had people supporting the brand by not being fearful that the vehicle they were purchasing was unsafe. They also offered incentives to entice potential buyers. Consumers rewarded Toyota with year end sales being reported at over 1.5M vehicles, keeping Toyota as the best selling retail brand for the third year in a row. This was certainly not forecasted in January and February when they were facing some very flat sales and were unsure if their marketing efforts were going to be received and accepted.

As a brand keeping a watchful eye on the perception as well as associations with the brand has become a necessary in how we market. Customers will not become or even remain loyal to a brand that is depicted in a manner that is inconsistent to their expectations. Brands that are able to break the stigma have built a customer base that will stand by them. These loyalists will remain loyal providing that the brand gives them reason to.

Is your brand strong enough? Have you built a customer community around your brand?

photo credit: patrykbot5000