Tina Stowell Associates

FIFA, the Banks, John Lewis, a bit of Wayne Rooney, and image problems

June 7th, 2011 | Posted in Uncategorized

Sepp Blatter says FIFA’s got one (and he’s hired Placido Domingo to help him with it), some banks have gone as far as “admitting” they have one, and on Sunday I read – to my surprise – that John Lewis thinks it’s got one too. They call it an image problem. Until John Lewis joined in, every time I heard someone say that I screamed: “but that’s not why we don’t like you”.

To be honest, it’s never clear to me if the leaders of these organisations really believe the only problem they have is their image (which is worrying), or if they know things are much worse but they don’t think we’ve noticed (which is stupid). Either way, when things go wrong seemingly clever and well-paid people too often mumble a few things about their corporate image or – rather insultingly – our perception of it, don’t specify what the problem is they need to fix, never mind actually do something to fix it, and then wonder why things don’t get better and we still don’t like them.

Pop-stars, sportsmen (btw, forget Wayne Rooney and his hair because I think he’s done that for his own sake as I can’t believe he’s done it for ours), celebrities and sensible politicians and salesmen of any type take image seriously because part of their instant appeal to us as a fan, voter or shopper is whether we like the look of them. If we do, we might be willing to hang around and listen, watch, vote for or buy what they’ve got on offer. But if their songs are rubbish, they never score a goal, they sell duff stuff, or promise to let criminals out of jail (for example), what they look like won’t matter very much.

In fact, the only saving grace if you are good-looking but not very good is your critics are less likely to exaggerate one of your physical imperfections to explain why they don’t like you. Because they don’t have to: it’s obvious what’s wrong.

But surprisingly, this is where people start to get confused between image vs real problem.

Let’s take politicians as an example. People’s perception of them for a long time could broadly have been described as “they’re in it for themselves”. Arguably, that was an image problem because that’s what came to people’s minds when they thought about politicians. But when the expenses scandal broke, it became a real problem because finally people had the evidence to prove what they had suspected all along.

Sometimes the opposite happens. An audience (voter, shopper, fan, shareholder… insert whichever best suits your needs) will know they don’t like something or someone and say it’s because of their appearance, but in fact that’s not really what’s wrong at all. They just do this because it is easier for them to focus on something they can see and it is not their job to work out what is really wrong.

For example, after the Conservative Party wipe-out in 1997, a common explanation from voters who said they would not vote Conservative at the 2001 General Election was they didn’t like the look of the Tories and some mentioned things like William Hague’s voice or his [lack of] hair to justify their view. The Conservative Party got through two more leaders and another election humiliation in 2005 before accepting the real problem that needed fixing: it had become out of touch with too many people on too many issues.  (Who talks about William’s voice and his bald patch now?)

If the problem is so deeply rooted it is effectively “who you are” a makeover which goes no further than a new hairdo and a change of lipstick won’t work. To use the corporate jargon rather than human English, when it gets this bad, it’s time to rethink your brand.

Brand is shorthand for who you are. It’s definitely your identity, but it’s less about style and more about soul because it’s identity based on a few important, carefully considered decisions that are used to drive actions and behaviours: why you exist (your purpose); what you are trying to achieve (your objective or your vision); where you’ve been and what you are doing to get there (your strategy); and how you are doing it (your tactics, style, values).

Businesses like Apple, Nike, Google are successful and have a strong image people like because the services and products they supply are very carefully and systematically designed in line with the component parts of their brand. It’s clear to me that they:

  • know who they are and why people use/want them (purpose)
  • are very clear what they are trying to achieve (objective)
  • know what to do to get there (strategy)
  • don’t do anything which could dilute any of the above.

Which brings me back to the so-called image problems of FIFA, the UK banks and John Lewis. This is where I think they need to look for their real problem:

The UK banks have a problem with their “purpose” because they think they exist to make money and we think they exist to provide us with a personal service and to be part of the financial system that fuels the economy. They have a problem with “objective” because ‘them getting rich’ doesn’t work for us.  And they have a problem with “strategy” because we’re not willing to pay for their failures again.

FIFA has a problem with its “strategy”. They understand their purpose (world football tournaments) they have a compelling vision (for everyone to love football and for the world cup to lift our spirits – or something like that….), but they need to sort out what they do to achieve their purpose and vision (ie, the corruption thing).

As for John Lewis, they just need to believe that their “purpose” (the shop we trust for quality, service and price) really is what makes us love them.