Turn an exercise in self-defense into an opportunity for brand building
‘Hagenbuch gets it wrong again.” Those words hit me hard as I read a harsh response to one of my weekly blog posts. Unfortunately, the criticism wasn’t aimed at just a specific statement I made or conclusion I offered. The reader levied a wholesale indictment of my advice, questioning my competence and challenging my expertise. It was a direct attack on my personal brand.
The same social media that make it simple for organizations and individuals to share updates also make it easy for anyone to interject an opinion, be it good, bad or ugly. Unfortunately, public discourse increasingly degenerates into personal attacks, which makes it important for each of us to know how to effectively and respectfully defend our brands.
How did I answer my aggressor? I’ll continue the story:
As my emotions battled reason for control of my actions, I desperately wanted to fire back a quick retort. I’m pretty good at impromptu response, so I was confident I could stand toe-to-toe with this guy in an exchange of unpleasantries.
I also worried what others might think if I didn’t respond right away. Would they assume I was cowering from the confrontation, unable to defend myself or articulate an effective reply? I felt time working against me.
Fortunately, I overcame the urge to react quickly. Throughout the day, I occasionally contemplated the reader’s comments, which were in response to a blog I had written about the ethics of ticket scalping. I then began to draft a reply. The next morning, I reread and revised what I had written. Finally, a full day after the attack, I posted this reply:
“Thank you for your feedback, Bob. I appreciate the point about necessities versus luxuries. The tickets are certainly the latter. For that reason, we can’t call what happened price gouging like we might if a retailer quadrupled the price of bottled water for hurricane victims just because it knows consumers have no other choice.
Still, we shouldn’t think that any price that’s not gouging is a fair price, or that whatever is legal is ethical. Granted it’s hard to determine, but I believe there is a fair/reasonable price for every product, somewhere above cost and below ‘whatever-the-market-will-bear.’ Other-oriented, long-term-leaning individuals can identify those price levels in their industries for their products.
I do truly appreciate your feedback. If more people would have these kinds of conversations, we might be able to avoid the next ‘Wells Fargo, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, and Volkswagen.’ In the meantime, I will keep ‘moralizing.’ Eventually I’ll get it right!”
The attacker fell silent while others appreciated my response. Although I didn’t have a strategy in mind at the outset, I’ve deduced from this experience the following five principles, which individuals might use to defend their brands when under attack:
1. Don’t Be Baited Into a Fight
Generally, those who attack have little to lose. The aggressors win if they can get us to fly off the handle and suck us into a war of words. Don’t stoop to their level. By staying above the fray, you avoid tarnishing your brand’s image.
2. Take Your Time Responding
In an age of texting and instant messaging, people are used to shooting off short, quick replies. Those kinds of responses are often disastrous in these explosive situations where first reactions are seldom ideal. Use time to your advantage, to ease your irritation and process your thoughts. Don’t rush to respond.
3. Avoid Self-doubt
No one has cornered the market on insight; everyone makes mistakes. While we need to be realistic about our abilities, we also shouldn’t allow personal attacks to shatter our confidence. Everyone has ideas and suggestions that are worth sharing and that deserve respect from others. Believe in your brand.
4. Diffuse the Aggressor’s Anger
It’s hard for people to sustain an attack when you thank or even compliment them. If they continue to disparage you, they’re arguing against themselves. However, positive comments need to be genuine. You can always appreciate, as I did, the fact that the exchange gains exposure for the issue.
5. Don’t Back Down
Notwithstanding the prior points aimed at restoration, your brand shouldn’t be a doormat. If you’re right, stand your ground and let your well-planned response showcase your insight. You can also use your attacker’s own words to gain empathy, as I did in the last sentence: “In the meantime, I will keep ‘moralizing.’ Eventually I’ll get it right!”
Attacks on our personal brands are usually intended to make us look bad, but well-executed, respectful responses can turn that aggression into brand-building opportunities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
David Hagenbuch is a professor of marketing at Messiah College, the author of Honorable Influence and the founder of MindfulMarketing.org, which aims to encourage ethical marketing.