We all have that friend that takes every opportunity possible to say, “I don’t judge.” However, it’s not true. If we bring Webster into this, judgement is noted as “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.” If we go by that definition, then we’d have to agree that anyone who claims to be “free of judgement” is also free of justification.
If you’re asking yourself, “what does this have to do with my brand’s reputation?” we can back that up. It means that each and every individual that you make an impression on will also come to a conclusion based on how they process your information. The importance of how your brand chooses to represent itself is a vital role in both obtaining clients, and developing business to business relationships.
Goffman’s Theory of Self-Representation
Time to get all sociological on you now.
Knowing how to build a brand is a process that has has been studied throughout the years, and a notable theory that has come from such studies came from the sociologist Erving Goffman who coined the term, “Dramaturgy.” He uses this word to serve as a metaphor for how we all view our own lives as if it is unfolding in a play, and that we express ourselves in two ways: through the “front stage” and the “back stage.” This theory can be easily expanded into the world of business, as each brand has a unique voice, personality and visual aspect that have them stand-out amongst their market, much like we as humans want to stand-out amongst the crowd.
The idea of self-representation offers up the idea that your brand is the lead in the show. The spotlight won’t be hard to find, and when you’re front and center, you want to crush it. In the spotlight, you want to make a statement to your peers, that will (hopefully) result in them viewing you in the way you intended. Self-presentation and branding go hand-in-hand and if you want to see it in action, simply log into a social media outlet of your choice and find any social media–driven celebrity. They use social media as a platform for their supporters. Through their front stage visual representation, they create an identity for themselves that would be deemed acceptable to the public eye. This translates to any brand that wants to be viewed in a particular way. By using social media, press releases or any other servant of the public eye, brand’s can tweak their voice, aesthetic or personality to reach the audience that they want to collect. Now the difference between what these celebrities are doing with their “image” and what you should be doing with your “image” are a little different. What they are putting out there may or may not be who they really are. You should undoubtedly be true to your brand’s culture and mission or you can expect that spotlight to turn off. But we’ll cover more of that when we discuss the “back stage” of your brand.
However, even if a brand has intentions that are overall positive, they can get it horribly wrong. For example, Popchips, an all natural snacking alternative, rolled out an advertisement to try and reflect their “front stage” image of health, happiness and popularity. Instead, this ad was criticized as a body-shaming campaign because of it’s negative spin and lost support as a brand over this slip-up.
As much as we can play the part and hit every high-note, each actor in the play has their personal beliefs that they don’t show the audience. The “back stage” portion of Goffman’s theory serves as the potential destructive values that our personalities naturally have, and can easily destroy a brand’s image when those natural tendencies leak through our “front stage” presence.
The “back stage” element serves a vital role as a checks and balance system for brands. Sure, it’s easy for a brand to come out with a commercial that is representative of a social issue such as pay equality, but when that brand fails to be practicing what they preach internally, their image is deemed to not be credible and can be the death of a brand image as a whole. An example of this came from Audi in February of 2017, when they released a moving and positively perceived commercial of a female participating in a male-dominated drag race. The result? She ends up completely dominating. The commercial was backed by their message that Audi of America is “committed to equal pay for equal work.” At their “front stage” surface level, it was a moving and positive advertisement—all until their “back stage” motivations were exposed. Simple research proved that numerous employees had a number of discrimination complaints, forcing Audi to publicly defend themselves which in-turn created a negative impact on their campaign and their credibility. This portion of Goffman’s theory forces brands to be able to reinforce the image they want to create by the image that they have established internally.
If you haven’t seen the commercial, you can check it out here.
The Curtain Call
So what does it take for a brand to accomplish a positive brand image considering both the “front stage” and “back stage” components of this theory? Consistency. A brand that establishes its image and backs it up day-to-day will create a credible, favorable and encouraging identity that will support interaction from their clients, their audience and businesses alike. Like we said, judgement is going to fall on a brand no matter what, but it’s the audiences’ conclusion that really matters.
The brands that are able to balance these two aspects of their identity will come to find a standing ovation from their receptors. So go-on, take a bow and get ready for the next show.
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