On Monday, I watched Charlie Sheen being interviewed by Piers Morgan on CNN. He is an archetypal Hollywood bad boy in a career crisis. From a branding perspective, brand awareness of Charlie Sheen is growing and at the same time his brand reputation is crashing. Charlie Sheen’s interview was fantastic entertainment. Sheen was hilarious, insightful, controversial, pitiful, reckless, and stupid all at the same time. The highlight was when Piers asked “Are you on any drugs right now?” and Sheen answered “Yes, I’m on a drug and it’s called Charlie Sheen!”
What if Your Brand was on the Drug Called Charlie Sheen?
- You would have really high brand awareness because it was so different and authentic.
- You would have a poor brand reputation because it was illegitimate: too different and breaking the norms of your target audience.
These two themes: authenticity and legitimacy are critical in successfully developing your brand.
The Authenticity Challenge
Authenticity for a person or a brand is difficult to achieve. Human identity theory posits that when we are young we need to explore different personalities and finally commit to our life-long personality. By contrast, if we are forbidden to explore our personality due to religious or other cultural strictures, and are forced to commit, we develop a conformist personality. Charlie Sheen definitely is not suffering from a forced conformist personality.
It is even more difficult for a team to develop an authentic brand promise and personality. They have to overcome the typical decision making pathologies that plague teams and make decisions on what feels true, what is competitive, and what is compelling to their target audience. They need to avoid picking the brand that others think they should be – the brand equivalent of a conformist personality – as opposed to an authentic brand. And then they need to ensure that the brand operates in a way which is consistent with its promise and personality.
The legitimacy quandary
In our Distility 1day1brand workshops, we help teams avoid conformism – the desire to fit in and be the same – because it is is the enemy of a quality brand. When people stand out too far from societal norms, they risk their credibility and reputation. The quandary that a brand must face head on is to both ensure legitimacy by conforming to societal norms (and avoid a low reputation), but also ensure that it embraces its differences. To be a star performer, brands need to be different but not at the cost of being discredited for illegitimacy.
The lesson for your brand
Be as different as you can be, but not so different that you are seen as weird or reckless by your target audience. Allow your business to be on a drug called Your Brand, and make sure it enhances your authentic and valued differences. Avoid the narcissistic Sheen-like decisions that lead to notoriety, make you lose touch with your audience, and make you lose touch with what makes your brand truly great.