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PART II: Certified Brand Strategists’ Least Favorite Brands

March 31, 2017

Welcome to part two of a two-part blog series about the most and least admired brands. At our recent Brand Establishment meeting, where nearly 40 of the country’s best minds in brand gather to share ideas, best practices, and maybe a few cocktails, we polled the Certified Brand Strategists (CBS) about their beloved and not-so-beloved brands.

Certified Brand Strategists’ Least Favorite Brands

The discussion surrounding the least admired brands got very personal with many of our CBS’s expressing first-hand experience where the brands they cited fell down. Once again our conversation centered around stating and delivering a brand promise, business values and alignment, and the human component but unlike the most admired brand blog, many times it was the employees were at the heart of brand failure. Take note that the majority of following least admired brands were service providers. There is huge room for improvement in that space.

Additionally, in this blog post, you will see where our brand strategists cited not only brands, but entire industries where brands are universally terrible. Perhaps it’s time for some innovative companies to come in and disrupt the space. (Apple? Google? Amazon?)


Transportation is in Trouble

Kia – This California CBS had bad product experience nearly the minute she drove her new car off the lot. Plagued by one thing after another, the transmission finally blew altogether. When she was 10 miles over the warranty period. Even though she had a well-documented history of issues, the company basically said, too bad – this one is out of warranty. She said all along the customer service was terrible passing her from one person to another, from one department to another. Now she is warning everyone she knows, not to buy a Kia.

American Airlines – A Pennsylvania AND an Illinois CBS were incredulous about American Airline’s operations. In an extremely passionate statement, Pennsylvania claimed the boarding process is absolutely ridiculous having no less than one dozen boarding categories prior to her own Zone 2 status ranging from Platinum to Sapphire to Super Galactic Premier First Place. Illinois agreed, and stated that the American Airlines tagline is, “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.”

TSA – The simple truth, a Florida CBS said, “I don’t talk to my enemies like they talk to us.” Another CBS Noted that TSA stands for “Thousands’ Standing Around.”

Our California, Guinness-loving CBS cited all airlines, all other beers besides Guinness and local car dealers as his least admired brands. On the car dealership, in particular, he is amazed at what passes as brand (no competitive differentiation) or marketing (cheesy execution where there is a lot of yelling and screaming by dealer-owners). He noted that a dealership marketing director once said to him, “My job is to understand the poor taste of the American public.”


Media is Missing the Mark

AT&T – This Indiana CBS cited that AT&T’s claim of “fewer dropped calls” was not true at all. And their newer claim of more bars in more places was actually quite the opposite. Hailing from the second largest city in Indiana, and he’d have to go out in his driveway and point the phone down the road just to get one bar. Their brand position simply never rang true.

This led to our thoughts on any cable company anywhere. Complaints like, “Bad service.” “Horrible people.” “International call centers.” Your cable goes out and they won’t show up for a week. One CBS noted that you could get Direct TV by then. Another CBS shared that he overheard his extremely sweet, polite, and curse-free southern wife swearing at the Charter guy over the phone in a moment of frustration.

And speaking of…

DISH Network – One of our CBS’s had inside scoop on Dish Network stating they are one of the worst companies to work for. If you are in at one minute past nine, you have to call HR and explain why. And, they don’t pay vendors, suppliers on time.

In general, all the CBS’s agreed that media companies are facing real issues with their business model.


Retail is Looking Rough

Chipotle – This Ohio CBS, boycotted Chipotle when they stopped carrying carnitas, which aren’t as spicy as their other food. Oh yeah, then that whole E. coli thing.

Walmart – To this Georgia CBS, Walmart isn’t his least-admired brand, he said it was actually his “most despised” brand.  There are typically 50 cash registers and only two cashiers. No one asks if you need help. The greeter doesn’t greet you. Not sure what they are for. Many other CBS’s chimed in with the fact that they squeeze all suppliers and aren’t great to their employees. Also, while many of us appreciate all the good work of charities, allowing so many charities to hustle you at the front door, makes you feel uncomfortable and guilty.

Target – Our Ohio CBS is boycotting Target after only one shopping experience where she bought a vacuum cleaner only to return it less than a month later with packaging completely intact and the receipt. Because of some technicality in the return policy, they wouldn’t allow a refund or exchange. After giving her a hard time at the customer service level about the return she rose her way up through management, to corporate, to the board of directors. At every level, she was met with a lack of concern or help, and in most cases,  no acknowledgment at all.

JCPenney – This Florida CBS stated that the Penney’s business model hasn’t grown with the times. Add to that the fits and spurts of a changed brand and model, that they come up short every time. They aren’t innovative. They tend to employ super shady SEO practices and took a big financial hit for it. They tried to be brand driven versus coupon driven. But they ignored the fact that they had trained customers for so long around the coupon that to then change it to something else, they no longer had a customer to appeal to.


Politics and Payroll

ADP – This Illinois CBS used ADP for payroll and 401k. Anytime she called in, she never got the same person twice. Call centers were stationed out of the country. Scripts that are only 3 questions deep. Nightmare to deal with. Fulfilled none of their brand promises. Heavy sales, no people behind it.

Both political parties – Many of the CBS’s nodded in agreement that some serious brand work needs to be done on both Democrats and Republicans. Another Illinois CBS asked, “Can we not find leadership in this country that can rally 60% of the people?”


Pharmaceuticals, Facebook, and Football

Mylan Pharmaceuticals – The Colorado CBS cited Mylan (the EpiPen people) and all pharma companies that pull that “pricing crap”. While companies are in business to make money, when they do it so excessively by taking advantage of their own customers it’s downright disgusting.

Facebook – One of our guest speakers put a surprise spotlight onto this popular social media company. He stated that with all their big philosophy about connecting people, Facebook is the first one to back out of taking responsibility for those human interactions happening right on their platform. They conveniently dismiss accountability by saying we are a technology company, not a media company.

New England Patriots – Okay, so this was definitely a claim of one of the Georgia CBS’s. I personally think he was sore that I brought up the big Patriots Superbowl win over the Falcons. However, being that I am the only CBS in New England, pretty much everyone other CBS agreed with him. I get it, no one likes New England’s **winningest** sports team right now, but they did have to admit the sweet revenge against the Goodell and the NFL. And the fact that Tom Brady is the best quarterback that ever lived.

PART I: Favorite Brands from our Favorite Certified Brand Strategists

Notes were loosely transcribed from the BE Winter meeting; statements and figures captured from off-the- cuff discussions and may not be exact.

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