02 September 2016 12:57:59 IST

Who’s sabotaging your brand?

The greatest danger that threatens a brand comes from within the company. Read on to know how

A brand is a living entity — and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures — Michael Eisner, CEO Disney.

I spent six years of my life learning (?) economics and at the end of this ordeal, I could remember only two statements. The first was JM Keynes’ often quoted line: “In the long run, we are all dead”. The second, more exotic one, is: “There is no such thing as a free lunch”.

I was reminded of Keynes a few weeks ago when I was talking to a friend’s son, who I am going to call Rahul for the purpose of this narrative (after all, Rahul is the name of all Hindi film heroes, not to forget those smart kids you see in TV commercials). This Rahul too is a smart young man, an engineer from a good school who was working in the software industry for a few years before going on to one of the top ten business schools in India.

After doing his MBA there, he worked for two years in another software company and was looking for a change, primarily because the company had crazy hours. After all, Indian software has an enormous predilection for the US time.

A headhunter put him on to one of the top three software companies in India, which is truly global (though they are not my clients, I am not going to name them as I don’t believe in sabotaging brands. Who knows what might happen tomorrow!). After a couple of interview rounds, Rahul met the vice president, the decision maker whom he would report to, if selected.

What are your long term goals?

Rahul’s interview was as smooth as the current English one day team’s batting against innocuous Pakistan bowling on a benign pitch. In his own opinion, he was doing famously till the final question, that turned out to be a Mitchell Starc Yorker — only, he didn’t pick it.

“What are your long term plans?” asked the VP, and to which Rahul replied honestly that his long term plan was to get into consulting. Sadly, Rahul is one of those rare interviewees who speaks the truth in interviews. It concluded soon after.

When Rahul didn’t hear from the company for some time, he called the headhunter to check on the status. Imagine his consternation when she told him that he had been rejected because the VP didn’t want to recruit a team leader who wanted to get into consulting!

Understandably, Rahul was livid. “Doesn’t he know what long term is?”, “I could have so easily lied”, “Who wants to work for a VP who doesn’t want to know the truth?” were some of his valid, immediate, angry reactions. I empathise with Rahul and only feel sorry that this hugely successful company has such a poor brand ambassador in an insecure VP, who is probably great at delivering to his clients.

Brands under threat

When we think of brands that are threatened, we conjure up images of competitors who have a “dirty tricks” department. But there is a greater danger from within — the danger is from anyone who is a decision maker, a performer even, but is sending out a strong, negative signal about the company.

Rahul, of course, is too well behaved to go to town about this individual and the company, but not everyone is Rahul. And most are on Facebook and Twitter! While I admire the VP’s tunnel vision in only thinking of his short-term needs, I wish he would think of the ramifications of his slightly immature action.

I am not, for a moment, suggesting that companies recruit everyone they interview, but they could be a little less open ended in their questions, as there are clearly different interpretations of the word ‘long-term’.

Would further probing have yielded greater clarity and understanding of what each of the people meant by the same term? Would this have resulted in a better decision and, more importantly, less ill-will for the brand?

Branding is everything a company does

Branding is often seen as a sexy website, striking colours and a provocative tag line. But there is a lot more to it and often, companies don’t realise it before it is too late. An insensitive manager could be a very poor advertisement for a brand, as you just saw.

So what’s the answer? The answer is a realisation that branding is doing the small things right, day in and day out. It could be boring, but the results will be dramatic. And when you don’t get it right, the damages can be disastrous.

So is someone sabotaging your brand?