Your Brand’s Value is Influenced by the Company it Keeps

Many years ago, an older and wiser colleague gave me this advice: be careful where you put your logo. A point made all too well, when at one of our port city’s many waterfront festivals, I ran smack dab into a biker (the Hell’s Angels, not Lance Armstrong, type) wearing our health system’s 100th anniversary t-shirt. There was our carefully-crafted and beautifully-designed ‘future of medicine’ message and logo stretched across the beer belly of a large, bearded and seemingly-intoxicated man complete with ‘die young’ tattoos, leather studded neck collar, and dangling cigarette. The dichotomy of the message and the media underscored the importance of context for brand building communications.

Professors Brian Sternthal (Kellogg School of Management) and Myungwoo Nam (INSEAD) conducted a series of experiments (Kellogg Insight) to determine how the environment in which a brand appears influences brand perception, and concluded that managing the brand’s environment is just as important as managing the brand. A more favorable context produces a more favorable perception, and a negative context, a less favorable one.

Most marketers know this and work hard at selecting and controlling media that enhance and complement the brand – but the advent of the Internet and increasing popularity of social media sites have made this a more challenging aspect of brand management. Organizations fear and avoid social media channels, citing the need to maintain control. As if by not showing up, they have somehow done so. But they’re really in denial that a cyber-biker might just be sporting their brand in a compromised context around the web.

So the question for chief marketing officers is how do we help health systems replace old concepts of control with those of engagement, conversation, relationship, community, partnership, insights and influence?

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