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Warning Signs of a Toxic Brand

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The words “toxic” and “toxicity” are thrown around a lot in our common parlance these days. One area in which you see them quite a lot is within media, marketing and branding circles. Nobody wants to be at the helm of a toxic brand!

But what makes a brand toxic? Is it just about bad press and bad sales numbers? If you’re worried about your own brand becoming toxic, or getting involved with other toxic brands, you should start by looking for the warning signs.

1. Out of Touch with the Marketplace

Brands that don’t invest enough in things like in-market testing solutions, and those who don’t react to customer insights are doomed to become completely out of touch with their target market. There’s an arrogance and a complacence that goes along with such toxicity, where those in charge of the brand believe that their own ideas and decisions are above what the marketing data is telling them.

2. Poor Company Culture

One of the primary signs of a toxic brand is a poor culture of top-down leadership where the majority of other employees are feeling micromanaged, underappreciated and undervalued. You can find out about their staff turnover rates, what former employees are saying, and how they react to complaints and conflicts in their workplaces.

When a brand and its parent company can’t even treat its own workforce with respect, and would rather maintain a toxic working culture than temporarily disturb the bottom line to get things right, then it’s not a healthy or admirable brand.

3. Negative Press and Other Media Attention

If you set up a Google Alert for certain brands, what kind of news do you see coming up? Is it praise for their green initiatives? Excitement surrounding new product launches? That’s likely what you’d be hoping to see, but what if it’s scandals over unsafe conditions in their overseas factories, or workers being exploited to do long hours for little pay? These are the kinds of news stories that indicate toxicity in a brand.

Any brand that cares about its image will not just work harder to cover up bad aspects of their business, but rather actively seek to make things better for everyone who works there, and for any affiliated factories or production facilities they use.

4. Lack of Progress in Presentation and Innovation

Brands that use the same old ads, the same endorsements, the same marketing methods, and who release products with no discernible progress in either presentation or function, are brands that contain some level of toxic culture. Healthy corporate culture is focused on fresh, innovative and creative new ideas; on whole new ways of doing things that disrupt the industry blue chips and engage the kind of creative destruction that moves society forward.

Any brand lacking in these aspects is likely a toxic one that consumers, investors and other stakeholders will likely steer clear from.

5. Poor Social Responsibility

For years now, business experts have been warning companies large and small to pay more attention to what they do to prove their social responsibility. Some companies support charitable causes very openly and publicly. Others offer internship opportunities or education subsidies to young but disadvantaged talent…and so the list goes on. Sustainable development is also a big part of this.

Why have the warnings been coming? Because consumers care about companies being visible and transparent in their social responsibility and commitment to the communities they serve. A lack of social responsibility indicates to consumers --- as well as talent that may otherwise consider working there --- shows that companies have a toxicity that leads them to simply not care about anything but their own bottom line.


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