Tag Archives: branding

Who needs a Brand Coach?

If you have not heard much about brand coaching up until now, it would not be surprising.

I have been a brand consultant for many years, working with many companies and implementing many new brand and communication strategies. In the past, companies and managing directors were in a hurry to outsource their identity and branding needs – let the experts do it, they would say.

That was fine by me!

Today, however, the world looks very different. Business is different. And the way people look at their business needs has changed dramatically. Today CEOs, startup managers, entrepreneurs, and marketing graduates have all had a taste of the freedom of self-help. Continue reading

Can a Leopard Change?

Personal branding cannot change who you are, but it does change how people perceive you.

CHANGE IS NOT easy. Any time we want to try something new or try to change something about ourselves, certain people are only too happy to smile and say: “A leopard cannot change its spots.”

In saying this, the clear meaning is that people do not change. That maybe we cannot change. And if we could change, it would be incredibly difficult – so much so that we would most certainly give up. That we are what we are, and we shall ever be thus.

Personally, I am not sure how much I believe that. People are changing all the time, but often we do not perceive it. The function of personal branding comes from this idea: that we can affect the perception people have of us, in order to help them understand us as we would like to be understood.

Same leopard. Same spots. But another point of view.

HAVING A PERSONAL brand today is almost obligatory. The need comes from social media and the online culture in which we have immersed ourselves. When someone wants to check us out, or find out who we are, they open Google. What the search engine spits out is the sum total of our existence online. Many HR departments and recruiters insist on perusing the social media sites of prospective candidates, asking the candidate to friend them, follow them, and link with them, and the candidates assent to be “browsed.”

Some recruiters, moreover, take a pass on anyone who either a) has no social media footprint, or b) refuses to share it out of privacy or other concerns. The mere act of writing that sentence made my skin horripilate and break out in goosebumps. The idea of being browsed is bad enough (it sounds like stalking), but being punished for refusing to submit to the prying eyes of strangers? It feels like a sci-fi plot – and a fairly predictable one too!

Nevertheless, this is how we size each other up today, and all the crying in the world will not change it.

If we like you, we swipe right. If not, thanks for playing.

The question we are looking at now, however, how we can manipulate the perception of our personal brand, especially if we effect a major change in our lives or in how we would like to be perceived. This could be as dramatic as looking for a new job, moving to a distant country, or running for public office. Or it could be much subtler: new interests, new friends, breaking old habits, changing old associations.  

Whatever the extent of the changes in your life, you will need them to be reflected in your social media presence, your personal brand. This is especially true if you are a “public” kind of person, posting often about your life. But it is also applicable if you are more discrete, if only to ensure that people know how to stay in touch with you.

Altering Perceptions

THE IMMEDIACY OF being online is both a gift and a curse. On the one hand, it allows you to be in constant contact with many people all at once, imparting rather personal and sometimes intimate information in a rather impersonal way. It overlays a gossamer net of trust over you and your “friends” – they share with you and you share with them. It is a new kind of trust, one that is quite easily given and lost, that the internet and social media engender. Psychologists aver that online chat and communications give rise to a false sense of intimacy among people who do not really know each other. This happens because we project our own feelings and opinions onto the others whenever there is an information gap.

Your personal brand, therefore, is a kind of “persona” that you create for others. People will like, follow, or connect with you because they are attracted in some way to your persona. Because faith in your persona is based on relatively little – some pictures, information, videos, or thoughtful posts – changing any part of it needs to be done carefully. Your online personal brand (excluding people you know in real life) will not include any of the shared experiences that help to create real bonds between people.

If you are looking for a new job, for example, you might consider the kind of people who will be seeing your online persona. Your current boss and colleagues might be shocked to see it, and prospective new bosses might think it a little indelicate. On LinkedIn, there are hundreds of profiles that state LOOKING FOR A NEW JOB in the headline, some of which on profiles of people who are still working.

A subtler way to approach it would be to change your headline from “Sales Representative at Acme Sales” to something like “Proven sales professional in pharmaceuticals”. The fact that you do not refer to your employer, Acme Sales, any more is a clear signal to HR people but perhaps less of a slap in the face to Acme.

What people remember is also something to consider. Last year, with the idea of starting up somewhere new, I announced to the world that I would be moving to the Philippines. When things did not work out as I hoped and I ended up NOT moving, I neglected to alter my persona. Because it felt like a setback, I failed to communicate it – but I have been answering questions about the Philippines for the past year now!

YOU MAY NEVER be able to change a leopard’s spots into a zebra’s stripes, but by curating your personal brand you can make sure that people interpret your spots in the right way. Our online culture pushes us to make snap judgements about each other based on images, but the tools exist to create a full personal brand online, as long as we do not neglect any part of it.

By paying attention to the details, introducing changes slowly and subtly as opposed to bluntly and suddenly, then you can effect a total transformation of your personal brand in very short order.

Spots aside, the leopard is still a leopard.

How to Sell Your Brand

When you want your brand to sell, consider first what branding will not do for you

Branding is not about selling.

Branding is about attraction, about creating affinities, and about earning a place in the hearts of your consumer. At best, we want people to feel very personally about their brands. We want them to feel like their Pumas, their Alfa Romeos, their Crest toothpastes, and their Lavazza coffees are integral parts not only of their lives but an expression of their personalities.

Branding is first your consumer’s identity, then the product’s.

This having been said, a brand is also a product and has to be sold. If no one is out there buying your brand, it means that you do not have a brand that people like. Easy. People do not like it (or worse still – people do not even know about it) and therefore they buy something else. And therefore, you start working on your CV and thinking about a career in waiting tables.

The title of this chapter, I will now tell you, is therefore based on a wrong premise. It should not be How to Sell a Brand but rather How People will Buy a Brand. It is a subtle difference but the difference is everything.

I will also tell you, while we are on the subject that you should never try to sell your brand.

The Art of Selling

In a sense, everything must be sold.

Manufacturers sell products to wholesalers. Wholesalers sell products to distributors. Distributors sell products to consumers. But we also sell ideas and opinions. We sell plans and strategies. In each case, one person is expounding more or less eloquently on the price, features and benefits of something and attempting to convert the listener. The conversion is a transactional process, at the end of which the buyer either shells out his money, changes his mind, or commits his time and effort. One person sells. One person buys.

Marketing spends a lot of time to understand as much as they can about what leads up to sales. They specifically target a certain group of potential clients as being the most likely to buy, based in most cases on mind-numbing rows and columns of numbers and statistics. They will check the age, gender, jobs, incomes, locations, marital status, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliations, and many other demographic details. They will look at buying patterns, money spent on what kind of products in what retail outlets and when. They will check on lifestyles, hobbies, interests. The marketing people will examine the consumer to death by demographic, psychographic, behavioral, and geographic information until ideal consumers drip out of the small end of the funnels and a target group is formed.

They then work on how to make people in that target group decide to buy their product. The group may spend up to $3.50 on toothpaste, but may balk at paying more than $10.00 for a bottle of wine. They may like to shop in supermarkets better than corner shops. They may be willing to travel up to 10 miles to get to a mall every week but never travel 12 to get to a bigger one. Marketers will hone consumer profiles to a very fine point. Their job is to ensure that all the conditions are perfect for pushing a sale.

Then comes the critical moment. This is the moment when the consumer is faced with a pair of tube socks at the exact right price, in the exact place where they love to shop, and even at the right height on the shelf so as to be in their fields of vision – and they walk on by. They will not even look. They fail to react according to the numbers.

This happens all the time and that is also why marketing-driven companies like Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, and Mondelēz play the game of large numbers and volumes. With many products available in many places and at many price points, they still manage to rope in a massively large number of consumers who will hand over their money for Tide, Rexona, and Ritz crackers every day. The names are familiar, the prices are familiar, and the consumer – by eliminating other choices in a heuristic process – gravitates to them.

The whole process of sales and marketing is a push, pushing the consumer into the decision to buy. It is posited on the idea that if you know enough and act on the information, the consumer will decide to buy your product without thinking too much about it. It is a process of manipulating needs and desires while constantly pushing your product to the front of the line so that it will be chosen.

But none of this is branding.

The Power of Attraction

Branding is the opposite effect. It is not a push, but rather it is a pull. The brand will pull people toward it, attract people to it because it corresponds with who they are and how they see themselves in the world. Branding does not seek to sell – it seeks to have meaning and significance to consumers. Of course, once we identify with a brand as being the one for us, we will buy it – but that is just a natural movement and secondary consideration. The primary consideration for any brand is to mean something to the consumer as an individual and to acquire a place in his or her life.

The brand buys people.

Before you take this sentence into a board meeting and watch all of the finance, sales, and marketing people roll their eyes in disbelief, a little more explanation is required. We are in business to make money, right? We invest in manufacturing our Doo-Dads so that people will buy them, right? And now you are saying that we need to spend money to buy customers for our Doo-Dads?

A brand is a mix of different elements that are combined together to form a specific identity. This is not the identity of the product but of the consumer. And when the consumer is evaluating a purchase, he or she is not really looking at all of the manipulative tricks that marketing has prepared for them. They will be looking to see if it is a brand that resonates with them, that they would be proud to buy, that they would happily display or talk about or recommend. Contrary to popular belief, price is not dispositive in these decisions. People simply do not always buy the cheapest product in every category just because it is cheap.

We have to feel a kind of attraction to a brand, an attraction that is not dissimilar from that which we feel for certain people in friendships or in romances. Part of this attraction – and this is equally true with people, unfortunately – is the judgment on appearances. We swipe left or right based on a quick visual of the brand or person. In this way, brands must pay close attention to the colors they use, the fonts they employ, the packaging they choose, and the slogans they repeat. The attractiveness of the visuals, in fact, is a function of how well they conform to our expectations.

Imagine if you will a bright orange package with garish circus-like lettering across the front. In the top right is a big red star showing the price emblazoned in giant numbers. On the bottom left is a cartoon figure of a man with a preternaturally large smile pasted across his cartoon face. We can see it on the shelf from nearly 300 feet. It calls attention to itself. We can hardly avoid going to check it out just because it is so loud as not be ignored. So we approach the shelf with confidence to see what the fuss is all about. And it is a package of condoms.


Even the most permissive of societies and most open-minded of consumers consider the purchase of condoms as a kind of intimate act. Packaging that cries out for us to see it is at odds with our expectations. We expect to see a smaller, more discrete package. We also expect to see more subdued colors, such as blues, burgundies, or violets. Such colors evoke romantic settings and moods. Bright oranges and reds are more public colors. An illustration of an ecstatically happy man, while potentially having the virtue of being a true reflection of using the product (one hopes!), is not how we see ourselves buying the product. Some people may still feel somewhat sheepish about buying condoms, others more comfortable with it, but in the majority of cases, it is not something that we want to announce to our fellow shoppers or the check-out clerk.

We just want to buy them. We do not really need to tell the people in line behind us, “Hey, I am planning to have sex!”

In this somewhat extreme case, the brand has fully mismanaged the consumer’s expectations for the visuals. Many people may laugh and move past the circus-brand condoms, but some may still buy them out of a sense of fun. Surprise or irreverence or shock may be values that this company wants to get across. One of the brand’s underlying values may be to demystify sex and to promote safe and healthy attitudes toward it. The slogans that we read could be all about making the purchase of condoms a reflex – like the 1980s American Express advertising campaign: “Don’t leave home without it.”

Suddenly, the garish orange pack of condoms has a sense and a reason. There is more behind the surprising packaging than a need to call attention and try to sell more. This company is making a statement about social responsibility and public health.

Ah, ok…

In the next days and weeks, we start seeing banner ads and billboards – in the same loud colors and big print – for the condom brand. We see it on television and as an advertisement on dating apps and then nightclub sites and then on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We start to read articles talking about how brave this company is to take on a social taboo and make it their own. We read blogs that praise them.

Later, the brand launches a campaign for smart behavior concerning sex and distributes little orange pins that say “SAFE” in stenciled red letters. Celebrities are seen with the pins at award ceremonies.

The condom brand that startled us a few weeks ago in the shop is now the biggest selling brand in the nation. Other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon and try to lighten the tone of their brand communications. The messages we are getting from all side – that sex should be both fun and safe – all originated with one brand that dared to be different.

That is the power of attraction. This brand presented an entire personality to consumers, not just an unexpected visual, and the result was that consumers began to rally behind a brand that represented both themselves and the way they wanted to be perceived. Buying the condom brand showed that they were not just thinking of themselves, that sex was not a dirty thing not to talk about and to be overly discrete about.

That one need not whisper about buying condoms.

Branding is a process and takes time. In the same way as people do not become our best friends from the first handshakes and hellos, so it is with getting to know a brand. It is important to realize that this is a long game. We need to get to know about a brand, to test it, to hear about it from people we know, and to see it around. The more this happens, the more the brand’s personality gets showcased and the more it can become attractive.

It does not happen overnight, but when it does, sales surely follow.



Brand Refresh: The Good, the Bad, and the Smelly

Every country in the world is chock-full of smelly brands.

Old brands that have somehow survived the test of time by having no direct competition, by a sense of nostalgia, by price-gauging, or other means, sometimes boggle the imagination at how they have managed not to die. An example of that from the US market is Old Spice. Continue reading

René Magritte, Les Valuers Personnelles

Branding: It’s Only Human

Do you talk to your cat?

As humans, we tend to endow human qualities to a wide range of unlikely things. We give our pets names and we attribute to them the ability to think and understand us. We talk to the dog and the cat and the fish and the fern and allow ourselves to think that they “get” us. In fact, many pet-owners will say that their pets get them more than humans.

Our brands “get” us too!

Our brands feel the same way we do about child-labor (Nike), about ethical sourcing (Starbucks), about speed and elegance (Maserati, Alfa Romeo), about families (Apple, BMW, Heinz, Disney, McDonald’s, and many more). Our values are reflected in our brands and we choose our brands for their values.

This happens for the simple reason that a beloved brand (for us) enters into our DNA. It becomes a part of our identity, and while it is always possible to change this identifier, we only do so in changing ourselves. The change can be subtle as in a shift away from Nike to Puma, or it can be dramatic as in deleting a cigarette brand when we quit smoking. In the first case, it is a matter of our personal style and the statement it makes, in the second it is much more about deep-seated value decisions about your life. Marlboro cannot be part of your identity anymore if you have become a non-smoker.

On the other hand, people who quit smoking half-heartedly keep their identity in tact – and usually become backsliders.

Most people contain a number of brands within their personality mix. We do it in order to establish an identity both to ourselves and to the world at large. Since I am and have always been very sensitive to brands, I will use myself as a test case.

My Brands

When I am shoe shopping – which does not happen more than once a year or so – I do not go out with the intention to shop randomly until I discover what I want. If it is a new pair of sneakers, I look for Pumas. If it is work shoes, I favor Italian brands. In the first case, it is a quite specific brand. In the second, it is a specific category.

It might sound heretical to say so, but there is no quantitative difference among Puma, Nike, Converse, adidas, Reebok, or any of 20 other brands. Most have features to distinguish them, but before I leave my flat to head out to shop for them, I have already made my brand choice. I like Puma.

Why? God knows!

In my experience they do not last for more than a year without coming apart. They are less common and therefore harder to find. And they are priced at a premium compared to others. This is not a value for money choice – it is a clear brand choice.

A number of things go through my head – I like Nikes and they were among my first sneakers that I chose myself. I like how they look and feel. But I am annoyed that they are everywhere. I don’t like Reebok – the association I have with Reebok is that of a secretary walking to work with heels in her bag (that used to be a thing). And I like New Balance generally, but the name bugs me. I like Puma because it is none of these things. It seems like it is all about style. It’s about me. So my choice – in this little bit of stream-of-consciousness, which is automatically felt and never clearly articulated unless pushed to do so – is already made.

I once bought a pair on holiday because I needed a new pair (the old ones were shot) but did not find any that fit me well. But I bought them anyway and wore them for about six months while they actually hurt my feet each day.

Puma for me was an identity. It was not pushing sales down my throat. It was not about organizing contests and ten-mile runs. It simply is. And because I feel that way about the brand, I immediately filtered out the many others and concentrated my search on them.

Another of my brands includes a Mont Blanc Meisterstück pen, a brand that has been close to me for many years. I use the Mont Blanc for signing “important” documents. It is a personal ritual and part of my own brand. I also contain Alfa Romeo cars in my personal brand. Although I currently do not own one, I have had two in my life, and they are “my” car and thus a part of my brand. I will very certainly own another one again!

A few other brands – in no order – include:

Why would I include a city in my brand? For many people, their home towns are an integral part of their brands. The place where you grew up or spent your formative years becomes an integral part of your branding. For me it is Rome, Italy, even though I have lived in a number of European capitals and other countries and cities over the years. Rome is my brand without question – it is the one place that I love without needing to justify or qualify with reasons. This does not make Rome a “better” city than Paris, London, Munich, Belgrade, or Shanghai.

It makes it my city.

In all the examples above, the brands that are part of my identity are those that have had a lasting presence in my life, by my own choice. Pasta De Cecco, as another kind of example, is a remembered brand. It is unavailable in Belgrade where I am living today and I have not been able to buy it in years. But I remember how much I liked it. I can picture its logo and brand identity. I associate it with excellent pasta. And again, it may not objectively be better than Barilla or Buitoni or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but it is my pasta brand.

The brands we love communicate with us on a much more intimate level than those about which we are indifferent, only just “like”, or have ambivalent feelings. Looking at Place Branding (also called Nation Branding), we can break down the reasons for which Rome continues to be my brand. It appeals to a number of deep emotional triggers – nostalgia, familiarity, consistency, and trust. In Place Branding, one could use the same triggers to alter my personal brand by communicating heavily in all these areas regarding Paris, for example. It would not be a direct appeal to me – because the agencies working on Paris as a brand do not and could know me – but to the same base phenomena that attach me to Rome.

The brands that comprise me, moreover, need not be static.

Newton’s first law of motion is in play here. It is commonly stated as: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”[1] In our context, it means that I will happily stick with my own personal brands until another one of sufficient impact comes along to bump the old ones out of the way.

Some will try. Many will fail. But some will get through!






[1] “Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus illud a viribus impressis cogitur statum suum mutare.” Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Sir Isaac Newton, 1687.


Questions about your brand? Want to launch something new? Contact notapipe brand consulting today and we will assess your situation, give a frank appraisal, and real ideas and usable suggestions about how we could work together to make your brand the best it can be!



I am Brand

When you get up in the morning and look in the bathroom mirror, what brand do you see?

Bright and fresh (or gloomily pre-coffee) you see someone you know very well. It is the same person that once met a famous movie star in a breadline in Paris. It is the same person who had her first kiss in a darkened movie theatre. It the guy who crashed his old car and traded it in for a better one. Continue reading

Where Should We Eat?

Restaurant Branding and the Embarrassment of Choice

If a burger is grilled in the woods and no one sees it or hears it, does it really exist?


One of the biggest parts of branding in the restaurant industry comes near the end – getting the word out! In Serbia, there were approximately 20,000 restaurants and bars according to one survey. Given that vast amount of choice, how can we possibly evaluate for ourselves the best place for lunch or dinner?


Eeny meeny miny moe?

Even the well-established brands have to contend with the ever-growing tide of competition for our attention. Aside from creating a brand with its own unique and attractive personality, a restaurant must communicate a clear and simple message: “Here’s why you should come to us tonight.”

1. Create regular appointments

You can usually count on people to remember what day of the week it is. So why not give them a good reason to remember? If it’s Monday, you get 20% off at Credo. But if you missed Monday, on Wednesday it’s Ladies night.

By making this kind of consistent appointment with the consumer, it helps them make up their mind. We are all creatures of habit after all!

2. Make a Big Deal of the Big Deals

Holidays are a particularly hard time for restaurant goers. We never really know which places are open and which are closed. We don’t always know if there is something special going on. Communicating that you are there for them is important.


3. Toot your own horn

If there is one thing you do well, make sure everyone knows it. If it’s pasta, then show us the spaghetti. One question that people very often ask themselves is “where can we get the best burger?” Or pasta. Or T-bone steak. Or desserts?

In the case of Credo, above, the speciality is in personalization. By telling us that on Fridays we can design our own pasta – and allow a world-clas chef to cook it for us – it’s something we can latch onto. In this way, not only will we know the best place to go on Friday, but we can start looking forward to it on Tuesday already!


Simple is not easy

Sadly many restaurants fail in this department, and as a result restaurant-going can feel a little random. Many places depend on advertisement that shows an image without telling us what we are seeing. A restaurant, remember, is more of a service business than a product one. The food must be good (of course!) but if no one knows about the good food, it can spoil quickly.

Keep it simple. Tell us what you do and why we should love you. Chances are we will listen!

Employer Branding: Staying True

Much of Employer Branding begins at home.

Employer branding is very much about values, ethics, and transparency and how these are communicated, shared, and taken up by a company’s employees and potential hires.

Naturally, there is a critical need for these qualities to be felt and perceived outside the walls of a company. This can be accomplished in several ways, chief among which are the following:


  • Contextually – wherein the values are woven into the content published by the company;
  • Directly – wherein the company actively and purposefully explains itself to the public;
  • Experientially – wherein the employer brand emanates from the employees themselves in a natural and unforced manner.

Creating this tapestry is a subtle process and one that requires careful attention to detail. While consumer brands grow in the esteem and emotional response of their followers by the a perceived proximity to their feelings and senses, the employer brand cannot depend on perception alone – the brand must walk the walk more than it talks the talk.

In other words, a car brand (like Alfa Romeo) must correspond to the dreams of its buyers and, as such, will be forgiven its minor flaws and problems, the automobile company (e.g., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), must continuously prove itself to be worthy of the loyalty of its employees.

In employer branding, forgiveness is hard to come by.

The reasons for this can be found in the very definition of employer branding. According to Barrow and Mosely, employer branding “describes an organization’s reputation as an employer, and its value proposition to its employees, as opposed to its more general corporate brand reputation and value proposition to customers.”[1]

Good employer branding, therefore, can be defined as a company that structures a clearly defined and motivating reward system and that sets reasonable internal rules and abides by them.


Promises Fulfilled

The coveted response is “This is a great company to work for!” This response makes for better conditions inside the workplace and entices people to want to work for you, attracting talent. The path to arrive at this is neither as steep nor as easy as it might sound. Most of it comes down to making promises and fulfilling them.

According to HR Solutions, Inc., a Chicago-based management consulting firm that specializes in employee engagement surveys, an employee’s main concerns surround the issue of transparency and fairness. Are the salary scales clear and understandable? Does management communicate well? Is there obvious favoritism? Is HR responsive? Last on this list: Is it a clean place to work?

These basic issues make the difference between what is perceived as a good employer brand and a bad one. It is not the company that promises the most, but the one that makes good on everything they promise.

In this way, it seems very clear that you cannot just fake good employer branding by putting out a lot of spin – by being true to your own rules, you are half-way to achieving a good employer brand.

After that, it becomes a question of word-of-mouth. This kind of communication can be dramatically bolstered by attention to social media, by inclusion of employees in external communication (where feasible), and by thought pieces or blogs that reflect the company’s fundamental integrity and fairness.

Potential new hires must be allowed to infer the brand’s values. Telling them directly will probably arouse more suspicion than allay fears.

Getting the word out that this is a great company to work for is, therefore, solidly in your hands. A branding agency can assist you in finding the balance in communications and engineering the transparency you need and in what areas, but once established, you need to be as good as your word.

In other words: talk the talk AND walk the walk.




[1] Barrow, S. and Mosley, R. The Employer Brand, Bringing the Best of Brand Management to People at Work, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

BRAND BANTER – How to Say What You Think


Novak-DjokovicThere can be no doubt but that Novak Djokovic is a Big Brand.

In the recent firestorm over Nole’s opinion about prize money for men and women tennis players, however, the Big Brand blundered badly. In an interview after Indian Wells, he basically set himself up to be object of revilement by fans of women’s tennis around the world.

This started me thinking about how brands can express unpopular opinions without offending half the world. On the one hand, it would seem to be impossible. Djokovic’s stance on prize money for women players is not illogical – men attract bigger audiences to tennis and therefore should be rewarded more. Should he just shut up about it and not say what he thinks?

A brand has certain values and a certain character. In this way, a brand should be encouraged to express itself according to those values. Novak Djokovic – as a brand, not as a person or tennis player – stands for a certain number of things. His values include excellence, outspokenness, and a (slight) sense of humor.

Each of these values has a dark side and one that should be kept under wraps as much as possible. Excellence can indicate arrogance and a degree of ruthlessness that Djokovic will let out of the bag from time to time. Outspokenness can be a good thing and show sincerity. But it can also quite easily become a liability when the brand’s sincere opinion is politically incorrect. And a sense of humor is always subjective. Sometimes it is just not funny.

So how does a brand like Djokovic make any response to the question of equal prize money without sounding like a misogynist, male chauvinist, and just plain thoughtless?

There are, in my view, three ways to attack the question –

1. Shut Your TrapAustralian Open Tennis

He could have just said he does not want to talk about it. By not saying anything, he takes no position and allows people to think what they want. Detractors will still say that he is guilty by omission, but fans will call him wise and circumspect.

Eventually, however, avoidance will lead a brand to trouble. The most important aspect of a brand is that it can be trusted. Remember the beating Nike took over child labor in Vietnam? They denied. They were found out. And they backpedaled. It was not an easy time for one of the world’s Big Brands.

2. Deflect and Dodge

He could have used the uncomfortable question to redirect attention to the cause of the problem. Should they have equal prizes? Who decides this anyway? Shouldn’t we be asking them what their reasons are? And by creating a media furor, does it actually help? And why is the opinion of one player in the circuit actually make any difference?

Deflection does not reveal his true thoughts, but it is a form of avoidance. At one point, some clever media person will trap him into a Yes/No question on it. As long as the deflection remains smart and on-topic, he will get away with it for longer. It can create distractions that sideline the bigger issues

3. Think it Through

This is, by far, the best way to deal with uncomfortable questions. He needs to be well-versed on the issues and able to discuss them intelligently. He can thereby demonstrate that a) it is an important issue, b) he thinks about it, c) his opinion ultimately is informed by real facts and the reality of the sport. In the midst of this, he could even slip in his real opinion about the prize money, but wrap it in undisputable facts about the subject.

In short, he will have to study. His handlers, if he has any, should prepare him for this. There are not 360 burning issues in professional tennis – there are only a few big ones, and he should have been prepped in his response.


As it is, Djokovic chose Number 4 – Blurt it out and backpedal. The next day, Djokovic came back to apologize, blaming adrenalin over a big win. My bad.

By doing this, Djokovic did further damage to his own brand not only by having to apologize for something he actually believes, but by eroding public trust in his brand. People will start to think: who is this guy? They will doubt his statements. They will trust him just a little less.

In branding, trust is hard won and must be guarded carefully. It means sticking by your announced values and living with them every day. No one could ever be overly shocked by Jean-Paul Gautier when he would say outlandish things – that IS his brand, the bad boy. We expect it from him. With a great tennis player, we expect him to be dedicated to fairness and sportsmanship. That is also part of Nole’s brand whether he likes it or not.

Can he say whatever he wants whenever he wants? Clearly he can and he does. And we want our star brands to say what they think. But if he insists on doing so without regard to the fallout, he might not become the beloved figure that he seems to want to be. We want him to speak his mind, of course.

But we want to be able to nod with him too.