Susan G. Komen – Death of a Brand

Pink ribbon
Whenever I am asked for an example of a strong women's brand, I point to Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.  Here's why it's such a strong brand:

  • They have a very clear and focused mission.  The foundation exists to support women with breast cancer and stop women from dying from breast cancer.  Every single woman I know has either had or been close to someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  This is a mission universal to women everywhere.
  • It is a brand run by, driven by, and supported by women.   Are there super guys who are involved as well?  Absolutely.    But the heart and soul and machine that drives this organization are women.
  • An inspirational figure head.  "Susan G. Komen fought breast cancer with her heart, body and soul. Throughout her diagnosis, treatments, and endless days in the hospital, she spent her time thinking of ways to make life better for other women battling breast cancer instead of worrying about her own situation."
  • A powerful brand identity everyone could relate to.  When you say, "I am a supporter of Susan G. Komen," you are saying "I am taking an active role in supporting women with breast cancer.  I am a powerful force working to prevent women from dying from breast cancer. I am joining with other like-minded women and men to create a positive change."   

Recently, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced they were withdrawing their funding of Planned Parenthood.   That does not change any of the above points…..except for the last one.  And therein lies the whole problem.

Brand is all about self-identity

People don't buy brands, they join them.    When you drive a BMW that makes a statement about who you are.   When you wear a designer suit, that telegraphs a message to the world.  When you pull out your iPhone, it makes a statement about who you are and what you care about.  (Apple knows this better than almost anyone, which is why they have one of the most powerful brands in the world.)

When you publically support the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it makes a statement about who you are.

The reason for pulling out of Planned Parenthood

The Susan G. Komen Foundation cited this as the reason for pulling their funding of Planned Parenthood:

Leslie Aun, a spokesperson for Komen, told the Associated Press that Komen crafted new guidelines that prohibits organizations under investigation from the government from receiving financial support.

Planned Parenthood is the subject of investigations by Republican members of Congress for allegedly using federal dollars toward providing abortions. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chair of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, opened an investigation into the matter in 2011 but nothing has yet come of it.

A statement by Komen to CBS News denied that the charity was politically pressured. "Grant making decisions are not about politics," Komen wrote. The statement also said the organization did make changes to its grant-making process and "implemented more stringent eligibility and performance criteria."

Well, if you've been on the Internet, you've seen the tidal wave of reaction, the vast majority of which is claiming the decision was politically motivated.

Brands aren't defined by reality. Brands are defined by perceptions.

It doesn't matter whether the decision was politically motivated or not. The perception (on both sides) is that it was.   

So here's the problem for the Susan G. Komen Foundation – what it means to be a supporter has changed.   

When you put on that pink T-shirt, when you run in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure®, when you say, "I am a proud supporter of Susn G. Komen"  it does not mean the same thing as it did a week ago. (Which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your political and religious beliefs).  People are going to make assumptions about you that may or may not be true.

This isn't about the reality of the situation, it's about the perception of the situation.  Fair or unfair, the divisive  rhetoric of politics has now been associated with the brand.  And that's never good.  

Whoever is the brand manager for Susan G. Komen has some really interesting challenges ahead.  I will be watching closely in the coming weeks to see what happens.











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25 Responses to Susan G. Komen – Death of a Brand

  1. Chuck McKay says:

    Holly, two of your sentences leaped off the page for me:
    “People don’t buy brands, they join them.”
    “When you put on that pink T-shirt, when you run in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure®, when you say, “I am a proud supporter of Susn G. Komen” it does not mean the same thing as it did a week ago.”
    Brilliant synopsis of Komen’s situation. Thank you.

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  3. Roger Conant says:

    Holly–Just caught this. As usual, right on the money again! And that word “perception” is (unfortunately) everything in anything that has to do with marketing. I remember when I first heard “perceived value”…I paused, then said to myself…OH YES…TRUE!

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  16. Daniel says:

    Sacha, I love that you frame it as kaizen imerpvemont. I think that would resonate much better with women (and many men) than experiment. Not that experiment is dirty word. It’s not. It’s adventurous, it’s exciting. But I think experiment hits some women the wrong way because, as a very, very, very broad generalization, women tend to be risk-averse compared to men. Especially with relationships (see the great comment from Teresa about how men talk of experimenting with their children, while most moms would never describe it that way).(If you don’t believe me, consider the enormous success of the book Women Don’t Ask. Summary: we don’t ask for things we want, because we’re worried we’ll overstretch and ruin the great stuff we already have. Women can learn to ask, and do it well. But it’s not natural in our culture). But I digress. Experiment may sound chancy to some. In truth, however, QS experiments don’t risk much, if anything. And in truth, women try all kinds of things — experiments — every day to improve the way we do things. So it may only be a matter of framing. Kaizen imerpvemont is a wonderful way to characterize it, instead of experiment. Thanks again, Sasha, for your excellent comment.

  17. Bevan says:

    Speaking as a woman, and not a young one, I can say that a lack of science eicoatdun has kept me out of all kinds of discussion, reading and thinking in science. I’m a huge quantifying and tracking geek. I love spreadsheets, charts, and technological tools. I have an Android phone and I use it. When I discovered that there’s such a thing as self-quantifying (very recently), I was completely galvanized by it, and by all that it can do for me.But when I started an experiment on your Edison site, I immediately ran into problems with my internal dialog: do I really understand what an experiment is? Is my purely female experiment subject (tracking hot flashes) too girly for this place? Am I really able to apply some kindergarten version of the scientific method to my daily and personal concerns? and so on.Further, since the majority of people in my communication circle are also women, many of them from my generation or the one just behind mine, I have a hard time getting any conversational traction on this subject: they aren’t trained to be interested in it, and I’m not trained to communicate it very well. So this amazing thing is happening to me in what feels like quite a communication vacuum.I hope these thoughts are helpful to your inquiry.

  18. Nounou says:

    I’ve noticed some of my male frnieds who’ve had children refer to parenting as an experiment and talk about conducting an experiment on their infant or child. I can’t even imagine a woman saying she is conducting an experiment on her baby, though I imagine women engage in similar activity all the time. I’ve sometimes wondered if men need to distance themselves from the emotional aspect of parenting by using the language of experimentation in relation to children. Perhaps the reverse could be true as well: inject emotional language into the discussion of self-experimentation and you might attract women. Self-experimentation + emotion = self-help? Or something like it?

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  20. Kenny says:

    your first comment, that’s aulcatly kind of my point, and what I’m arguing with Richard about a specialist blogger (I used the example of Ed) has more traffic than many mainstream media journalists and columnists probably do, which is why media companies looking to set up blogging networks are attracted to big names. I’m not really sure what you mean about newspaper blogs being a marker for quality I think you’re reading something into what I’m saying that I don’t mean so I’m not really sure what I’m defending!In the case of GSB we want to strike a balance between bringing in new traffic to justify to Rusbridger et al what we’re doing, but also acting as a platform to help new or unrecognized bloggers (and other talents) get hopefully wider attention. At the moment none of the bigger picture re: our aims is particularly visible because the first few months are basically about getting something up and working without any drama, and then we’ll slowly build over the next year or more.Gimpy: My point is that we move in the same small blogging pool so my frame of reference is going to be remarkably similar to yours. Totally, and everyone has their own biases. We can make an effort to consult as widely as possible, which is happening, but there are always gaps. The problem is, as you neatly demonstrate, it’s a community issue as much as a Guardian issue you can only reach out to people if you know they exist. Which isn’t to say I’m shrugging my shoulders and saying meh , just that aside from making an effort to talk to as many different people as possible over the next few months, constructive ways forward are thin on the ground.

  21. Malvin says:

    Martin, I’m sure you don’t mean to imply that because there are very few *really* good scicnee bloggers’ you’ll have to give a platform to newer, less recognized women’ to overcome the gender divide. Quite apart from the insulting assumption that the mark of a good blogger is an invitation to the Guardian’s platform, you are seemingly suggesting that women don’t fit that criteria, an innocent mistake I’m sure, and thus need a special helping hand from yourself. Besides, given that many bloggers are pseudononymous you can’t always identify gender (although please assume I’m male).I would argue that the problem is the narrow pool and criteria from which the Guardian consult. I wouldn’t dispute that many of their chosen writers are worth reading but I’d read all of them before. While it’s tempting to think that the Guardian shares my exquisite taste it’s more likely that it moves in the same narrow social media/blogging pool as I do, therefore it has not discovered any new voices, so much as given a different platform to existing ones, and only identifiable names at that. Like it not, the internet, and even parts of skepticism can be unpleasantly sexist and this presumably has an effect on gender ratios amongst named and pseudononymous bloggers. It’s interesting to note that the only pseudononymous blogger at the guardian grrlscientist is open about her gender but not her name.

  22. Gamaniel says:

    Well, I think the make-up of blogging neorwtks is symptomatic of a wider gender bias in science blogging, in which women seem to struggle to get the same recognition as men, and a number of those who do end up clustered around certain topics. That’s problematic because for a new network at a national newspaper you need reasonably high profile names and a variety of topic coverage. Add to that in the Guardian’s case the desire for a largely British voice, and the fact that there are very few *really* good science bloggers to begin with, and the options shrink quite quickly. Even with all of that we had a pretty good balance, but there were various (quite reasonable) issues with the specific people we approached one was concerned about retaining an independent voice for example (this may be bias on my part).It’s something we’re actively fighting, and I want to try and give a platform especially to some of the newer, less recognized women in science blogging I’ve had a lot of success at lay science with that approach.So possibly a constructive way of dealing with this would be for people to start championing under-recognized women science bloggers and writers. I don’t have time this week, but if anyone is willing to help put together a list, I’ll certainly put it up at the Guardian blog as a guest post.

  23. Cristina says:

    Reading this thread remnids me strangely of sitting in the back of the car and listening to my parents talk about me up front One quick point about comparing audience sizes: I always think you need to account for the confounding factors of staff and output. My traffic figures are based on me writing 5 posts a week. It’s a bit of a false comparison to look at those numbers in the context of a gigantic media organisation with hundreds of writers who probably produce 5 pieces an hour. The last time I spoke to Alok about this, we worked out that my page views per article aren’t too far off those of an average Guardian science piece lower by a small factor, but certainly not an order of magnitude.But really, what I take away from this discussion is that it’s always worth reflecting on insularity or disparity within this community and making active efforts to address it. I’m glad Martin asked me to look at the gender balance of my weekly links and blogroll because frankly they’re much lower than I would have assumed.

  24. Evina says:

    Home depot, the dogs allowed in stroes. I think that dogs should not be banned from in the store. The worker and the dog owner are both at fault. The worker should not have touched the dog without first asking about the dog, and the owner should have had more control over her dog. Iam also a dog owner of 2 shitshu’s and I always have control over my dogs when out shopping and/or walking. When I approach a dog I don’t know, I ask if the dog is friendly and I put my had down for the dog to sniff first, then I approach to pet the dog, but nerver put my face close to the dog, People should be more cautious when approaching a strange dog. The owners must have more control over their pet no matter how friendly a dog is, as a dog can turn at any time. However not all dogs and owners are bad and therefor not everyone should have to pay for this unfortunate mistake.

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