SBM 101: Branding, the BP Oil Spill and the Importance of Telling a Consistent Story

Small Business Marketing 101One of the most difficult challenges any small business has is to create a brand that customers care about. Part of the reason is that branding is one of the more challenging subjects to understand. Here is why:

  • Branding is almost totally abstract.
  • You cannot define your brand. Your customers do. However, you have the opportunity to influence it.
  • A great brand is the long-term result of insightful, consistent business decisions and customer experience.
  • A brand is impacted by every single touch point between the customer and the business.

bp logoConsider BP‘s marketing over the last several years. The oil giant has slowly been working on recasting itself as a greener, friendlier energy company. It seemed like a great move. The company had settled into a branding strategy that was in alignment with much of the public sentiment about energy matters – mainly that fossil fuels have their limits, are available in limited qualities and can potentially have a negative impact on the environment.

To BP’s credit, the company understood the need to take steps to start telling a new story about itself in an attempt to influence what consumers felt about them. They wanted to be seen as a company that was working hard to find all kinds of energy solutions. They acknowledged that we have little choice when it comes to using fossil fuels over the short term. But they told a great story about the long term: They were committed to finding ways to take advantage of renewable resources that would help develop energy independence, cleaner fuels and a healthier environment. Take a look at one of their commercials:

Or take a look at the company’s website (pictured to the right). The company has chosen a beautiful design and layout. It is a clean, modern design that would resonate well with younger consumers. The color choices are interesting. The green and yellow logo has a beautiful natural feel. Overall, the site’s colors are all about the natural world.

Until the Gulf Oil disaster, the company had done a great job of creating a great brand and taking the needed steps to influence consumer perception. The debate over how the company has handled the disaster will rage on more the next several months and BP will have its work cut out for it as it fights a long, uphill battle to rebuild its reputation.

Regardless of the current situation, BP offers a number of things to learn from:

  • They took the time needed to understand how most oil companies were perceived.
  • They made a conscious decision to tell a different story, one that was in alignment with what consumers wanted.
  • The company was consistent. They told a beautiful story of a cleaner, healthier environment and of a company that was committed to making this happen.
  • All of their communication was consistent, everything from the colors they selected to the words they used.
  • They understood that in order to influence consumer perception, they had to put on a great stage performance. They had to go a little over the top in order to drive their message home.

Here are some questions to consider as you think about your brand:

  • What is your story?
  • How are you different from your competitors?
  • In what ways are you sharing this story with your customers?
  • Are your customer touch points consistent?

For more analysis on BP and the Gulf Coast spill, check out some of these great stories:


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