April 23, 2021
Talking to Margot Bloomstein was quite a bit out of my lane, but I like to think I’m still educable. I had been hooked by an email where she seemed to be slamming Victoria Secret to their knees and kicking them in the guts, according to her publicist. The company is such a feminist target and a well-known brand, that I thought, hey, give it a shot, see what this branding stuff is all about from someone who seems on the right side of the divide. I read Bloomstein’s book, Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap, before she visited with me on Wade’s World. I never found a word about Victoria Secret in the book, so at one level I felt snookered, but I pried open my mind and hoped for the best.
People talking about their “brands,” I find distinctly icky. What is that really? A neoliberal, corporatization of the individual, their work, and identity. How could that ever be a good thing? It seems to me to define cynicism, and in the age of TikTok and YouTube flash-in-the-pan one-hit-wonders, how could trust possibly be a word even in the same sentence? Bloomstein takes a different cut at all of this and sorted through a bunch of companies to highlight how some had blown it by doubling down and then losing their customer base once they had flubbed it, and others had been straightforward and used a crisis to build trust through straight talk and transparency, and expanded their base.
ZOOM, the indispensable pandemic tool that we love to hate, was a perfect example for her. In the pre-pandemic, way back in 2019, they had been largely a business tool, marketed to corporations for teleconferencing. Suddenly in 2020, they became an everything tool for almost anyone with internet access trapped behind doors. Their original business model in dealing with bigger corporations assumed that all of them had internal tech departments and would smooth out the rough edges and make sure their security protocols were intact. When they morphed to a mass base adding tens upon tens of millions of users, their lax investment in privacy was a horror and bit everyone in the butt. ACORN Canada learned the lesson early when they posted the link to a meeting on Facebook and were zoom-bombed by several dozen Ukrainians out for a lark. The ZOOM folks came clean, cried mea culpa, said they would prioritize privacy and virtually stopped everything they were doing to make it right. They were like the anti-Facebook pretenders, and they in fact fixed the problems. Bloomstein had a point.
I asked her whether the ironfisted, take-no-prisoners, way that Amazon had crushed the union in Bessemer would hurt their brand, it turned out I hit a deep vein for her. She thought Amazon had incredibly damaged themselves. She later shared with me her belief in unions from her family ties. Several days after the election, Jeff Bezos pitched about learning something from the election, and believing they needed to alter their work culture, all of which seemed to be taking pages from Bloomstein’s book.
Not that anyone believed him, but at least in the branding world, he was making the effort.