What Marketing Missteps Can Teach Us About Branding

As an author working every day to develop your brand and grow your audience, you are constantly on the lookout for the latest advice to maximize your efforts. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from other authors’ successes and failures, and general marketing and personal branding advice is not hard to find. But it can also be useful to pay attention to what big brands are up to—after all, many marketing best practices apply to established brands just as much as up and comers.

With that in mind, we'll focus on what you can learn from the controversy surrounding Pepsi’s recent splashy protest-themed commercial. Let’s start with the official word from the company itself.

 “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.” – Pepsi press release

You likely already know the story of how one of the world’s biggest brands came to release a statement that began with those unfortunate words.

In the commercial’s wake, a number of intelligent and enlightening critiques  successfully explained the many ways in which Pepsi’s ad missed its mark, and the 24-hour news cycle moved on to the next controversy fairly quickly.

This major marketing misstep can be a teachable moment not only for major corporations, but for authors and thought leaders as well. Here are three crucial takeaways to help you prevent your noble intentions from turning into a PR disaster. 

1. What you say isn’t always what your audience hears.

The first and most important lesson that authors can learn from this example is that there is ALWAYS a gap between what you intend your content to say and what your audience hears. This is one reason why editorial partnerships will always serve as a fundamental and essential element of the publishing industry. In today’s world, however, the book is far from the only channel authors communicate with their audiences.

As an author building a platform, every new blog post, Facebook update, and Tweet you publish marks another point on the course of your brand. Setting up a system to vet new content before publishing can help minimize the chances of major misunderstandings.

2. An external perspective can be worth its weight in gold.

One detail about the Pepsi ad that may have been lost in mainstream media coverage – but was a main component among the marketing industry – is that it was produced by the company’s internal agency. While there’s no guarantee that a commercial created by an external partner may not have produced the same result, the exclusion of an independent voice within the creative process created an environment devoid of the crucial questions that could have helped the team see the potential issues with the concept.  

While it is impossible to predict every possible interpretation of a piece of communication, enlisting an external expert with diverse perspectives to serve as a check can improve your chances of connecting with your audience without inadvertently offending them. 

3. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” 

Although it didn’t come immediately, Pepsi’s apology for its new commercial’s failure in the court of public opinion and explanation of its intention helped to heal the wounds it unintentionally inflicted. 

When you embark on the journey of thought leadership, it is almost inevitable that you will make a few mistakes along the way. You are only human, after all. But there is enormous value in learning when and how to apologize for a gaffe, and once you do that, it is important to redouble your efforts to share your message and help your audience. Keep going!

Ultimately, there is nothing you can do as an author to completely avoid the possibility of running afoul of public opinion. It is an inherent risk in sharing your knowledge with the world. The key is to learn from your experiences – and those of others – and move forward better-equipped to handle the next crisis. 

For more tips on building your personal brand as a thought leader, visit Greenleaf’s Learning Center.