Five tales of woe and what you can learn from them

Five tales of woe and what you can learn from them


The moral of this story is…

Over the years that I’ve been writing for SmartCompany there have been plenty of tales of woe. Of organisations that, for any number of reasons, made the news for all the wrong reasons.

But as with any tale there is always a moral to the story. So this week I’ve picked five reoccurring tales so you can learn from the mistakes of others and hopefully avoid the same pitfalls.

So let’s get started.

It’s an old tale. Company X wants to gin up some interest. New customers aren’t flocking in the door as quickly as projections demand and so the call goes out – bring in the ad agency, a new campaign will be just the ticket.

While sometimes it is, just as often what lands on the consumers has little relationship to what the company can deliver – to the promises they can keep.  The drive to grab attention becomes an escalating game of hypemanship. And while not bad in and of itself, when a prospective customer is attracted to that hype only to discover on contact it’s not true, they not only don’t stay, they end up further away than before they started.

The moral of this story is: Don’t pretend to be something you are not.

In what could easily be an extension of the story above. The other common reaction to things not working quite the way they should is to blame the window dressing. Or in other words decide the company (or city) needs a new logo and or name. I’ll focus on the logo bit for purposes here but everything in this story can just as easily apply to name.

The bottom line is that in my 25-plus years of practice I can count on one hand the number of times the logo was the problem. But being part of a design process is fun. It’s much more fun than trying to fix the supply chain, or solve a product flaw or bad service, which is exactly why so many reach for that as the solution.

It’s not. It’s mostly a distraction. Sure a new logo gives you a reason to communicate with your customers (something you should have been doing anyway and probably shouldn’t be talking about your logo). And that can lead to a bit of a business bump. If you want it to stick you’d better get on that supply chain issue.

The moral of this story is: Don’t fall for bright shiny things.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the line “perception is reality”. Well, OK, but only up to a point, because perception doesn’t come out of nowhere. If people think your customer service sucks, they probably think that for a reason. Likely because they were stuck on hold with you for 45 minutes or know someone who was. That perception is reality because it’s reality.

And even when the example isn’t so cut and dried, the likelihood that customers will think something about a company with absolutely no basis is pretty rare. Chances are that the company did something, someone experienced something, said something. So be conscious and deliberate even with the small stuff, because before you know it, whatever that perception was gets legs. Then you’ve got a whole different level of problem.

The moral of this story is: Perception doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Today outsourcing is no longer that thing other people do. A lion’s share of companies outsource something and there are barely any aspects of business that aren’t outsourced by someone. This leads to the tale of woe because when you are at arms length from critical parts of your business and something goes wrong it’s easy to point to “them” as the problem.

But whoever is impacted by whatever goes wrong doesn’t care. They bought it from you. They expect you to deliver what was promised. The fact that for business efficiency (or whatever other combination factors drove your decision) you’re having someone else do it is of no interest. The buck as they say, stops here (and that’s especially true when some agency you’ve outsourced your social media to comes up with a campaign that backfires!)

The moral of this story is: When your name is on it, it is your fault (even if it isn’t).

It wouldn’t be my blog without at least one reference to the importance of keeping your promises to build a brand. It’s also important to remember that once you start keeping them a funny thing happens. Your customers will expect you to keep on keeping on. It’s not a one-time gig.

And that’s where the power lies and also the pitfall. Because once your customers start to really care about what you care about, their sense of betrayal when you don’t, or even when you’ve made different promises can be make or break. From beers to banks and a myriad of small business in between, there is a long list of companies who have discovered the hard way that keeping promises can be a double-edged sword.

The moral of this story is: Approach your promises with care. But once you make them. Keep them.

See you next week.

Get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Michel is an Independent Brand Analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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