Fake Harmony!

In the end, there are only two key questions the world asks of us: Who are you? Where are you going? (The same goes for your brand) 


Fake harmony

A new expression that I hadn’t heard of came into my world a couple of weeks ago. Also described as ‘artificial harmony’. It’s about avoiding conflict to prevent tension and maintain harmony.

I think it’s safe to say we have all been there. Otherwise why would we have a need for phrases like: for the sake of peace, some things are better left unsaid, to prevent discord, to maintain harmony… etc .

There is for and against for both approaches and depending on personality, upbringing, cultural influences, personal experiences and the environments that we find ourselves in, the path we take (whether situational or habitual) differs from person to person. 

How does fake harmony play out when it comes to your brand?

Way back, if you recall, the launch of the Mother energy drink brand, owned by Coke, was a dismal failure. Everything about the brand positioning, product and communication was way off the mark. So Coke threw everything out the window except the brand name. 

In the relaunch campaign (watch here), they overtly admitted that they had screwed up big time and consequently had made significant improvements to the beverage. This was one of the first bullish honest campaigns I had seen in the market. I wasn’t a fan of the drink, but I did admire Coke for putting it all out there.

This campaign changed my perspective on the true value of marketing and communications and the value of honesty when it comes to your brand. 

Flourish or die?

Relationships flourish through honest and open communication and doing what you say. If there is a problem it’s raised and addressed, and consequently the relationship deepens because of the conflict and the resolution of the conflict. Who would have thought conflict is good for the relationship!!

So what happens when relationships do not flourish? Let’s go back to fake harmony. There may be someone in your life that you are at a stalemate with. Something happened that hasn’t been properly addressed. The relationship becomes stuck. It doesn’t move. It doesn’t grow. It stays where it is and then slowly starts to retreat.

This is what happens to brands if there is a culture of ‘sweeping things under the carpet’.

Alarm bells start ringing internally. People are talking. The same comments are being repeated over and over again. Your high performers leave. They are always the first to go. For them everything is about performance and performance blockers include a lack of: open discussions, reflections and feedback, a learn forward approach. Then you have light-mid weight performers not making decisions because they are sh*t scared. They have officially joined the ‘yes’ brigade. Which results in all ideas having to swim upstream. It becomes tough. This is back facing.

Let’s go front facing – how the world sees the brand. Nothing changes for a while. It all feels the same. Trusted, exciting to be associated with this brand. Then in 5 or so years (more or less given the industry you play in) the writing on the wall starts to appear. In Boeing’s case, however, it took 8-10 years.

The trust in Boeing was high. Costs down, profits up, customers happy. Then planes started falling from the sky in 2018. When they looked back they realised that the problems actually started back when Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas (1997) and moved from an engineering-first approach to a more profit-driven model.

In 2017 one of the internal messages described the 737 MAX as “designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys”. (Revealed during investigations into Boeing’s practices).

In Boeing’s case it appears that internally people knew there was a major problem, whether the information was fed up the ladder or not, there was bound to be copious amounts of fake harmony. Despite painting a very safe picture to their customers, in the investigations, “it was found that the board of directors were aware of certain internal issues but often lacked detailed information about safety concerns.” Definitely smells of ‘fake harmony’. 

How to avoid the fake harmony trap?

Get it right internally before you think about the story you present to the outside world.

Getting your story right is not a stick in the sand and you’re done. Like you, a brand evolves. It changes its thinking and beliefs and ways of doing things (hopefully for the better). With anticipated, organic or forced change – a high level of communication is required to articulate the change (i.e. who you are becoming) and how this translates into behaviour.

Everyone internally needs to be on board and understand what’s involved (and required from each person) in bridging from the old to the new. (Even if you are not bridging.. what’s the brand ethos and are we living it?). 

During the bridging stage or after, depending on the business short and long term aspirations, you can then take the story to the rest of the world.

If you go out into the world with a story that has no backend substance… it may work for awhile but at some stage it stops working. Whether people intuitively know something doesn’t feel right and they walk away or worse case you’re Sam Bankman-Fried and end up spending 25 years in prison.

Also check your blind spots, often. Even go as far as having blind spot checkers. Sometimes despite our best intentions it’s our unconscious biases that creates the problems.  

After playing around with the notion of ‘fake harmony’ I can’t say ‘fake it to you make it’ holds up! Maybe for an open-mic night perhaps… if you mistake the crowd cheers for recognition rather than encouragement!!

Last words

The person that brought ‘fake harmony’ to my attention also said during the same presentation “Life’s too short to not be real”.  

My challenge to you – how can you bring more ‘real’ into your interactions today. Even just one. Then observe the impact – on you, the other person and the connection between you both.

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