Can an Agency Save a Brand From Itself? Yes, If We Follow Our Own Counsel

In recent weeks, two major financial services companies have made headlines with how badly they handled major screw-ups. Wells Fargo, whose sales scandal started a year ago, recently reported that the results of its expanded third-party review of its retail sales practices show the number of potentially fake customer accounts at 3.5 million--almost 1.5 million more than originally reported. And the huge data breach reported by Equifax nearly a month ago continues to shake out, with the perhaps forced retirement of the CEO and yet another offer of “free” services by the company to appease impacted customers, after the first ones were dismissed and derided as “wimpy”.

Customers of these companies are rightfully ticked off, many looking for new banks and new credit services companies.  I wonder though, how many would have stood by the company and remained loyal after the initial problem if the company had simply told the truth?

Resonating strongly with me today is an article from AdAge by global brand strategist and self-professed contrarian Jonathan Salem Baskin. He states, “The real challenge isn't to find ways to avoid the truth or distract consumers from it (or shudder when it is revealed), but rather to creatively present it and make sure people understand it.

Go beyond transparency. Maybe the call-to-arms should be for "radical comprehension."

Baskin wrote this piece in 2010. Now, Google has made everyone an instant expert on virtually every topic; and the explosion of social media has made everyone a citizen journalist. That should be enough for brands to seriously reconsider any approach to scandal that is not aggressively transparent. And after Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s disastrous testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee went viral, you’d think companies would rethink using the spin approach. But it’s not just about situational responses to a crisis.

A more fundamental question for me is how can our agency help before the crisis?

Can a marketing agency help save a brand from itself? Can we and our deliverables help establish a more foundationally trusting relationship between a brand and its consumers?

I think the answer is yes. Here’s how.

Our clients hire us for our expertise. We better bring it.

They know their product and targets. We know the other players in the market, their voice, and their perceived competitive advantage.

Our job is to identify then leverage fresh opportunities for education, for nurturing our clients, and exploiting where the competition has no true advantage. That does not mean calling out competitor’s weaknesses but rather using market expertise to expose new benefits.

It is our responsibility to establish a unique voice that is authentic to the client. Authentic is not a buzzword. Consumers demand it. We need to deliver.

We need to creatively use examples, case studies, testimonials--something no customer of Equifax or Wells Fargo could ever give today--to build confidence for our client’s brands.

A great customer experience is at the core of every brands mission, or should be. If the client says it, make sure they mean it.

Most importantly, we’ve got to listen. Listen carefully and call out BS when we hear it, and encourage brands to do the same. Agency relationships with our clients need to be exactly what we advise and encourage the client to have with their customers—open, honest, and trusting.


Back to baiting the hook