Telus’ Leadership Lesson in Brand Mismanagement
I find it interesting how word spread about how Telus, Canada’s second largest phone company, decided to be the first wireless provider to offer to sell downloads of pornographic images and videos. Of course ‘Telus’ didn’t make the decision. It was Telus’ leadership that approved it and, astonishingly, defended the position – right up until overwhelming customer and investor protests forced management to cancel the program.
I’ll leave it to others to debate the morality of pornography on the Internet. The issue I want to tackle is how ‘leadership’ in such a large company decided this was a good business decision. Apparently there is a lot of money to be made in this new enterprise. I’m trying to fathom how a phone company that markets to both adults and youth decided that this was the direction to move their brand.
Friends of mine, George Torok and Peter Urs Bender wrote a great book about marketing and branding called, Secrets of Power Marketing in which they point out, “You cannot notmarket.” In other words everything you say and do – or do not do, affects your brand. Somehow the collective leadership at Telus figured their brand wouldn’t be affected by this new enterprise – one which no one ever associated with a phone company. Hmm…
I believe the huge amount of negative publicity Telus received about this provides yet another wakeup call to business leaders. Think about how your decisions affect your personal image and your company’s reputation. Over the long term your reputation is everything. Of course you have a responsibility to maximize profits for your shareholders. There is however a greater calling than short term profit. As a leader, you are expected to do the right thing. Always. No matter what it costs you.
The leaders at Telus gave a lot of people the impression that they sold their corporate souls. Frankly, I felt sorry for the employees at Telus who had nothing to do with this ill-conceived management decision. Telus leaders now have the distinction of being Canada’s most high profile example of how to mismanage your brand. Let this at least serve as a reminder that everything your company does creates an impression. As a leader making strategic decisions you’ll of course check your sales forecasts and government regulations. Above all that external noise, however, you need to stop and listen to that voice in your gut.