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Lessons from Paula Deen: How What You Say Can Damage Your Brand

Lessons from Paula Deen: How What You Say Can Damage Your Brand
Paula Dean
Image credit: hiphopnews24-7.com

We say people should live their lives as they so choose, as long as no one gets hurt along the way. Be who you want to be at all times and stay sincere. I would hold the same character trait in high regard when it comes to brands. Being sincere at all times is how a brand builds a trusted, loyal following.

Consumers rely on brands to be truthful and honest in their dealings, which is why people often choose a brand and stay loyal to it. They base their purchasing decisions on a brand’s consistent activities. There is always a lot of upset when we find out a brand's claims have not been truthful or a brand's activities are inconsistent.

Enter the latest development in brand "Paula Deen." I use the term “brand” here because that's exactly what she is: a brand empire with a massive consumer audience and a lot of employees to support it.

Insincerity is portraying your brand in one manner, then acting in another. It makes us feel betrayed. When a brand leader acts inconsistently, we can't help but ask: Has she been truthful and sincere to us all this time?

Paula Deen's perceived inconsistent behavior is not an overnight or one-time occurrence. Her seemingly well-orchestrated announcement of diabetes along with a sponsorship deal with a diabetes drug company came off as insincere to many at the time, especially when they also perceived that the lifestyle her brand promotes could be a contributing cause.

Not only are the recent allegations of her making racist comments troubling on a basic human level, they contradict the image she has publicly built. It's no surprise that the Food Network decided to stop supporting her as a result, and I imagine there may be other partners following suit. Time will tell, as some of her fans have already come to her defense while others continue the outrage at her insincerity.

We can learn from this unfortunate example. First of all, understand who you are as a brand. Be clear about your intentions and your beliefs, and align them with your marketing activity.

Secondly, make sure that your beliefs and behaviors align with your customers as well, to avoid any disconnect like we are witnessing with Paula Deen. While some fans have risen to defend her, for the most part, her actions are fortunately out of line with her broader following.

Lastly, a big part of sincerity is consistency, allowing people to trust that you'll always behave a certain way. These are human qualities that go a long way toward building a brand. The better people know you, the more they will trust and depend on you.

And remember that as a business owner, your personal actions represent your brand at large. You are your brand's biggest most important spokesperson.
  

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Jim Joseph is the North American president of New York-based communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, part of the media company WPP Group PLC. He is the author of three books, including the latest, The Personal Experience Effect (Happy About 2013). Joseph also teaches marketing at New York University and blogs at JimJosephExp.com.

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