In January, Conan O’Brien suffered many people’s worst fear – he lost his job. And though he lost it in front of the entire world, he handled it like a professional. With the help of the Internet and his quintessential ORM power move, he was able to brand himself as the people’s Hero. Team Conan was created to honor the quirky giant and he bid farewell to NBC in style, eventually embarking on a cross-country comedy tour. A tour that was possible, in part, because of the positive buzz and following created through Team Conan.
In January, the Conan brand was full of energy, life and a spirit of screwing ‘the man’. It was something everyone could identify with. And it stayed that way for months.
It stayed that way until he sat down to talk to 60 minutes this past Sunday.
There’s been a lot written about Conan’s interview, but the Cliffnotes version is that it hurt him. It negatively changed the perception and conversation around the Conan brand. Instead of seeing Conan as the humble and charismatic man who once spoke to the ‘people of Earth’, he resurfaced bearded and beaten. He seemed increasingly bitter over what happened, taking serious (and awkward) jabs at NBC and Leno, and halfheartedly telling us not to feel sorry for him when it was clear he was feeling sorry for himself. He lost the grace he had in January, appearing more like a jilted bride who, three months after the would-be wedding date, still falls asleep in her wedding dress crying and cursing the man that put her there.
The interview created a disconnect because who Conan was in January and the bearded guy who now sat in that interview chair. Which is the real Conan? We don’t know. And that makes us uncomfortable.
A few years ago I published a post about matching your online brand to your offline brand. In that post I wrote:
You need to decide who you want to be and then be that. Decide what brand you’re creating and then embody it online, offline, and in between line. Get over the brand identity crisis.
One of the reasons so many people take to Rae is because her brand is clear. She is the same person online, as she is off; the same at a conference, as she is if you’re doing a jigsaw puzzle at her house (oh yes, Rae does puzzles). Love her or not, you know what you’re getting when you do business with her. The consistency of who she is and how she portrays herself is what establishes trust, authority and respect.
And that’s what separates the brands people seek out from the ones we steer away from. It’s also why creating a brand identity crisis is so dangerous.
Think about it:
- We get frustrated when companies act differently online than they do off. [waves to Comcast]
- It feels odd when trendy giants who laugh at others can’t laugh at themselves. [waves to Apple]
- It’s weird to see the youthful, self-deprecating comedian appear on a stuffy newscast looking whiny. [waves to Conan]
- We get confused when we meet that ‘outspoken’ online person IRL and find out they’re not so, well, outspoken. [waves at myself]
Brand disconnects hurt you because they weaken who you are in the eyes of your customer. It forces them to question your honesty and your authenticity.
Your brand is much more than just a logo. It’s who you are. And part of creating that brand means making sure that everything you do remains consistent with the image you’re trying to create. It doesn’t matter if the interaction is taking place online, offline, or through some hybrid – you need to build your brand on core values and remain consistent. And to me, that’s where Conan’s interview failed from a brand perspective and something businesses need to work to avoid.
In order to protect your brand, you need to develop a strategy for how you’re going to keep it consistent. That means figuring out the voice, who you are and what channels are appropriate for what your brand is about. These are three areas where I think Conan failed on Sunday.
How are you going to make sure you do it better? How has your brand been incorporated into your daily business life?