Does the BP brand have a future beyond this perilous oil leak?
Well, the answer depends largely on one big thing: stopping the leak… and stopping it fast.
In a crisis, people want a sincere and swift response, but more importantly swift action. All they really care about is resolution. Saying “we’ve got a problem and we’re doing x, y and z” doesn’t cut it, especially when the problem is inflicting extraordinary damage to our environment and x, y and z are failing.
I’ve said this before, but let me say it again: nothing depicts a brand more strongly than its own actions. BP can say all they want, but the live BP feed of the oil gushing out from the blown oil well drowns the brand out every time. In this way, I agree strongly with Garland Pollard of BrandlandUSA: the best thing BP can do is stop the leak and show the world a live feed in which not one more speck of oil is contaminating our environment (see Garland’s post on BP’s brand crisis).
BP is one of those companies that’s invested heavily in building brand equity and a strong corporate image to establish credibility and trustworthiness. Usually, the more an organization invests in those efforts, the more resilient it will be when facing a crisis.
But this is one belligerent storm BP has conjured. If BP had managed to stop the hemorrhaging much earlier, the story would be different. But with each passing day without resolution, hope for the BP brand fades.
Some will talk about how to better manage the crisis. This is fair as I do believe BP could significantly improve its response.
Regardless, barring some dramatic development, the BP brand is surely forever tarnished. Brands do tend to take on associations with noteworthy events. When I say Exxon, you think Exxon Valdez. When I say Union Carbide, you think Bhopal. When I say AIG, you think greed.
In this same way, I’m not sure BP can recover. BP’s association with this horrific oil leak is now so strong, the mere mention of BP in the future will evoke a total recall of the current nightmare. The brand is forever linked to this blown oil well and the damage it’s causing, not to mention the perceived incompetence of BP with its inability to plug the leak.
Advertising, public relations and communications can go far in creating and influencing favorable associations with a brand, but what counts most are concrete actions to back it all up.
At the end of the day, to paraphrase John Wooden, you need to focus first and foremost on your character rather than your reputation; character is what you really are, while reputation is merely what others think you are.
Guard your reputation, absolutely. But guard your character, that’s essential. And so, if it’s true that BP took shortcuts in its operations that led to this horrific event in the Gulf of Mexico, then clearly the company lost sight of that latter responsibility… and that more anything would suggest little hope for the BP brand.
All that said, let me say that I know behind the BP brand stands many hard-working people, people who believe in the best of BP, people who believe in preserving the environment and working responsibly… they believe, like many of us do, in creating a better world.
To them, I offer the following words from Bruce Barton: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance.”
More than ever before, BP people need to drill deep inside of themselves and find the ingenuity and strength to resolve this problem and then continue pursuit of our shared mission to make the world better for future generations, whether they do so under the BP brand name or not.