insights in culture

This Is Why You Have Brand Haters

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It’s a good thing.

“Suck it up.”

That was often the tone of my response to our PR clients when Concept Bureau was a communications agency in the early years.

A CEO would complain about negative comments readers were leaving on a recent article… or worse yet, a journalist that had included a negative remark in an otherwise good piece.

It never feels good, but here’s the thing — brand haters are usually a sign that you’re doing something right.

If you’re pushing the boundaries of your brand strategy, making bold moves and actually moving the needle, you will inevitably get brand haters.

When people care enough to have an opinion about what you’re doing, that’s a good thing.

When you’re saying something that matters, people will have a reaction.

When you make the effort to create a family of lovers, you will, by definition, create a family of haters.

That’s because saying or doing something new will always be met with resistance. Just as with any revolution, people will resist and fight back. They’ll tell you it’s against the ‘rules’ to do what you’re doing or that you have no right to do it.

But it’s the people who refuse to give power to the rules that always make the biggest difference.

Amazon, Uber, Facebook — these brands didn’t follow the rules. They created them. You can try please everyone by following the rules that will limit you, or you can get comfortable with the fact that you will not please everyone, and instead write new rules that will take your brand to new heights.

Speaking at GSOFT in Montreal about how building a real family of lovers means building a family of haters, too.

Every visionary founder has ignored the rules and looked for patterns instead… but for many of us, rules are inescapable unless you’re willing to take a step back and see how you live within them.

Here’s a short list of rules the vast majority of us blindly follow:

  1. You can’t fight City Hall (…unless you’re Uber)
  2. You can’t have a store without inventory (…unless you’re Amazon)
  3. You can’t act like a president (…unless you’re Facebook)
  4. You can’t have a ‘scandalous’ past and become a role model for young girls (…unless you’re Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie or Miley Cyrus)
  5. You can’t create a new category of clothing (unless you’re Lululemon)
  6. Plus nearly every other rule you can think of…

Rules are a list of cultural do’s and don’ts, but patterns are those giant trends hiding just under the surface of a society, that point toward where society is really headed. Patterns converge toward the future and tell us what new rules people will be open to adopting.

Beware of rules. Rules usually don’t give you the answer. They hide the answer.

Uber, Facebook, Amazon, Lululemon— all of these companies saw underlying patterns about where the future was headed and just how much change society was willing to endure if given the chance and right incentive.

But betting on the future is risky.

And it should feel risky! There are innumerable unknowns. You face immeasurable hazard. The future literally could look like anything, and even though you can see the pattern, you may not always be certain of where it will end.

Heck, even choosing to have a specific, brand-led strategy is a risk.

I’m not crying, it’s just a risk headache.

But when you choose to embrace that risk and place your bet on your vision of the future, it will bother other people.

Whether it comes in the form of a customer service complaint, hate mail, a rude tweet, or a nasty comment on an article, it all stems from the same mentality —

People will hate you for not following the rules.

Haters take it upon themselves to tell you when you’re breaking the rules, and that’s a good thing.

Lean into it, because if you’re doing things right, the arrival of haters should also herald the arrival of lovers.

Provided you’re running your business ethically, sense-checking major decisions and following your true north as a brand, haters are a strong indicator that you’re on the right track, and lovers are a confirmation of it.

You need both lovers and haters to ensure you’re moving in the right direction.

 


 

I’ll admit, “Suck it up” was tough advice, but I never appreciated just how hard it was until I had to take a dose of my own medicine.

I had written an article for a major fashion industry website, and I wasn’t sure if I should publish it. It was bold considering other writing in the space, and it had a strong message that I felt the industry needed to hear.

It was my vision for the future, and my best advice for people who wanted to head in that direction.

I knew some people might resist at first, but hey, no risk, no reward.

Then it published.

Soon enough it was being shared everywhere and while some comments on the article came in as positive, there were definitely haters that started to voice their opinions.

“This article is so off-point and literally a disgrace […] There’s absolutely nothing insightful about this article, except that maybe BOF should raise their standards.”

“This article is everything that is wrong with marketing…”

“This is SUCH a ‘Millennial’, egocentric, self centered and self involved perspective.”

I can tell you that it was hard to ‘suck it up’ in that moment.

Let me be clear — I stand by my opinions but I am always open to expanding them. I took each comment to heart and really considered the opposite perspective, and I’m sure if given the chance to have a conversation with these commenters, we may have come to a common ground or I may have reshaped some of my thinking.

But these haters weren’t the only feedback I got.

Chanel, Brioni, Harvey Nichols — these are just some of the major fashion brands that reached out after reading that piece, eager to share how they related to the article in their own experiences.

Yeah I got some haters, but the people who really mattered — the ones I was really talking to — they turned out to be lovers.

You can’t have only lovers, and you certainly can’t have only haters. You need both to help guide you down the right path.

Embrace the rollercoaster.

Scott Galloway recently wrote that regression to the mean is the strongest force in the universe.

He’s right. People will always be pushing you to be unremarkable. Competitors, customers, critics, shareholders and investors — they will find reasons to make you follow the rules.

If you’re going to build a great brand, then you need to resist.

Haters can come from anywhere. Even people who were once friends may gently remind you to follow the rules or pay the price. They may grow resentful of your risk taking. They may provide fear-based thinking disguised as sound advice.

It’s ok. Everyone is doing the best they know how in a world of unknowns. You just happen to know better.

Congratulations, you have haters. That’s a good thing.

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