policebadgeThe few of you that read my posts probably know that I often use this as an opportunity to meander into observations that I find interesting from a branding perspective.  After all, as a litigator, I spend the vast majority of my day composing correspondence and briefs that dive into the finer points of law.  So when I get the opportunity to write about something a little less legal, I gladly accept it as a change of pace.

This brings me to my most recent random observation; an observation which intersects with personal branding, social media, and hot-button social issues.  When you see the image to the left, what do you think?  Do you think “Protect and Serve” or do you think “Punish and Enslave?”  (Congratulations to any other nerds who got the Punish and Enslave reference.)

I’m not here to sway your opinion one way or the other on the underlying social issue.  That would require a deep and probably controversial discussion on race, social class, income inequality, politics, religion, and many other topics you’re not supposed to bring up at Lorentz family holidays.  However, the current state of unrest concerning our nation’s police forces does create an interesting case study in brand management.

Regardless of whether you are a “Protect and Serve” or a “Punish and Enslave” person, you can’t deny that there is an existing image crisis for police officers all over the country.  This crisis is the result of highly publicized, yet statistically miniscule acts of police brutality/stupidity/idiocy that have arguably tainted the entire profession.  Social media and sensationalizing traditional media have convinced a sizable population that the entirety of our criminal justice system is either corrupt or incompetent or both, and we need to start over.  My social media feeds are inundated with such posts, and it seems that there is little for the “good cops” to do other than weather the storm and post occasional videos of themselves playing pickup basketball with neighborhood kids.   (BTW, I’ve seen several of these videos in different locales over the past several months, so there seems to be some intentional efforts at image rehabilitation going on).  These neighborhood outreach efforts give you a slight “feel good” moment, but they certainly do not inspire the same level of fervor as the incredibly negative police stories.

To be clear and to avoid angry emails and letters, I’m not suggesting or implying that commercial branding and police shootings/aggression are in the same realm of importance.  I am, however, suggesting that virtually every widespread social media phenomenon can provide lessons for those involved with managing their brands.  I can think of a few key takeaways from this situation.  First, a few bad apples really can spoil the barrel. All it takes is a few bad customer experiences magnified by the shrill screaming of many on social media to have the negatives overshadow substantially greater positives.  Second, once the negative publicity takes hold, it can be incredibly difficult to turn the tide.  There often is no perfect solution, and most solutions require a difficult to determine mixture of time and pro-active conduct.  If you argue too loudly and too soon, you are not giving sufficient consideration to the wronged.  If you wait too long and speak too softly, you risk letting the fire consume all that was good in your brand.