I woke today to a great example of how communications and emotional intelligence truly impact the way your brand is perceived by your audience and had to share.
Turns out, our local CBS affiliate made some staffing cuts that were confirmed this morning when my husband turned on the television to watch the morning news. He declared, “I’m placing a boycott on Channel 4 News” as I noticed we were back to the FOX affiliate. Apparently, in those staffing cuts, two of our favorite anchors were let go. One was an evening anchor named Steve. He was a 26 year veteran for the station, a local guy who had been an evening anchor on the station for several years, and prior to that, an award-winning sportscaster. The other, named Marissa, was a new mom and had been our favorite morning anchor for the past three years.
Both were more like friends who we allowed into our home every day. They became part of our family and especially now – during the COVID-19 pandemic – we relied upon them to keep us connected to what was happening in our community. We built trust in them as our lifeline to the world especially in a time where some media appeared more opinionated than trustworthy.
While I too was disappointed, I knew there was more to the story.
With my business hat on, I had a gut feeling that it was either related to contract negotiation or budget cuts that had to be made, but it seemed strange that they would make the risky decision to release two prime-time anchors. Now, I would never wish a job cut upon anyone, but in the scope of the best outcome for their brand at this time, was there ever an option to consider two lesser positioned reporters? Maybe someone who had less face-time or was less recognized as the face for their brand?
I may never have the answer to these questions, but it did remind me of two important points about branding and communications:
- Making a human connection in any communications about your brand is massively important.
- Use caution in choosing a human to be your brand ambassador.
While we understand that “it was a business thing”, it still created a ripple-effect of negative emotions around their brand for those who were upset by the change – like my husband. As with anything in life, change is inevitable, but how well humans process change is the unpredictable wild card that gets tricky for brands to navigate. Here, the station was able to quickly put other “friendly faces” in the role to help their audience adjust but, based on what little we found to explain the switch, it looks like they tried to hide the reason for the change instead of just being honest. Add to it, the unique time we are in – navigating country-wide quarantine restrictions due to COVID-19 and people in our community losing their lives – well there may have been a better, less executive decision, and more “everyday Joe” way to communicate this situation that would have helped their audience process what just happened.
In summary – they came off looking sneaky and selfish instead of trying to be honest and trustworthy in uncertain times.
So what can a business do to better navigate the situation and reduce the risk of brand boycotting?
Better Communicate the Situation from a Human Perspective
Knowledge is the super-power in this situation. So, without digging too far into an online search, I found an article by Jacob Barker from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicating that it was budget cuts that led to the staffing changes at the local station.
“…the layoffs were in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The ensuing recession has hit advertising spending across media types, hurting local news providers already dealing with advertising dollars and audiences migrating to other media forms.”
While this helped me understand the situation a little better, it was still a sore spot for my husband. Why? Well, I knew he was recalling an emotional trauma in his life that left a scar of anger. Like Steve, he had been laid off from a company where, he too, had been a loyal employee for many years. Those emotions and difficult times we faced were fresh in his mind creating a wild-card connection that triggered a wave of emotion and empathy he had to the situation. See, those were scary times for him. He felt betrayed, worried about how he was going to care for his family, and those emotions were now fueling his anger toward the station and sparked his change in behavior.
While the television station was unaware of his personal trauma, and it made sense why the changes had to happen for their business, it was those hidden emotions that were part of the communication equation that determined his action to boycott the channel. This wild-card emotional trigger, that anyone can have, has a huge impact on how a brand is perceived. The funny part is it only takes a slight shift in the communication process to create a completely different response.
Let me explain.
See, by ignoring the situation, they created anger in anyone who could relate to the experience of “the business thinking about themselves” – kind of anger. By getting in front of the situation, publicly addressing the reason behind their tough decision, and showing even the slightest bit of remorse for having to let go of two of their key staff members, they would have created empathy and likely earned greater respect from their viewers. Heck, some of which may have reconsidered their advertising dollars if it meant keeping Steve and Marissa on board! Just look at what a pandemic is doing in our local communities. People are ordering out and shopping locally just to help merchants in their community survive this time of adversity.
Now more than ever, brands need to prove they are human. Your audience wants transparency. They want to build trust, but that trust is only earned when they feel emotionally comfortable with you. That state of emotional comfort is different for every person, but that is why knowledge is good, but knowing how to communicate with emotional intelligence – a way that can avoid potential negative triggers – is even better.
Choose Your Brand Ambassador Wisely
Change is part of life, but if you can align your brand to something that makes a human connection while having some flexibility on the exactness of the character, you situate yourself for the best situation when change happens.
For example, instead of using a person, like Jan from Toyota, we are starting to see brands using animations and animals – like the Gecko from Geico Insurance, or the Fox from Carfax. These characters are entertaining and human-like, and engage emotion for people who have an affection for animals. They also provide greater flexibility for creating a brand ambassador that can withstand time, but they have to be created in a way that their personality is relatable and entertaining. (Something Geico is doing better than the Carfax Fox in my own personal opinion.)
In all cases, it is the human connection that drives us in life. That spark or gut feeling that directs the outcome of every situation. Approaching tricky situations with a proper dose of emotional intelligence will help you better navigate how your brand is perceived and help you mitigate risks before bigger concerns can arise.
If I can be of any assistance in helping you improve your brand image or encourage an emotionally stable environment for building teamwork and trust within your company or with your employees, please reach out and connect. I would love to help.