Brand Amnesia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Brand Amnesia plagues millions. Apple, for example, suffered a bout of Brand Amnesia after they fired Steve Jobs. They regained their senses when he came back.

Unchecked, it leads to brand obscurity and, in many cases, the death of the brand. What's worse, the majority of the brands that have it don't know it.

Given its prevalence (and the fact that I made up the term) I thought I'd explain Brand Amnesia, what causes it, how to avoid it, and what to do if you discover you have it.

Definition:
Brand Amnesia, also known as brand dissociation, is a memory disorder that affects brand leaders and is characterized by episodic memory loss, said to occur for a period of time ranging from months to years.

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Diagnosis:
Obvious signs of Brand Amnesia may include:

  • Personality confusion, in which the leader mistakes his or her brand for another
  • Confusion about ones brand identity
  • Difficulty articulating a cogent brand story
  • Erratic, unexplainable shifts in ones identity
  • Inability to retrieve stored memories that preceded the onset

Prevention:
Brands who wish to avoid Brand Amnesia’s debilitating grip need leaders with courage and a strong sense of their own identity identity. A leader who doesn't know his or herself can't help a brand know itself.

Prognosis:
With said leaders installed, the brand can capture, clarify, and commit to their brand story. They can become the loyal shepherds the brand deserves.

Warning Signs, and Risk Factors:

  • Holiday party speeches that sound strangely similar to the one from the year before
  • When asked to describe their brand story the leader's jargon-laden explanation rivals a presidential State of the Union address in unnecessary length and lack of clarity
  • Referring to brand initiatives as "fluff" or otherwise dismissing their value
  • Obsession with other brands, especially competitors, which can alternate between worship and seething disdain
  • Turnover among vendors and staff related to culture, marketing, and sales

Causes:
Brand Amnesia stems from a single cause: fear. Fear about the insufficiency of ones own brand spawns episodes that vacillate between aggression and wedging ones head under the cushions of an overstuffed couch. But don't be confused by such behavior. It's fear cycling through a rotating wardrobe of disguises.

Possible Treatment:
Leaders need to be reminded about the brand's authentic story. For best results, read the story aloud. This may chase dormant memories out from hiding. Consider also reading aloud books like Extreme Ownership or The Failure of Nerve. These too may arouse latent memories and, with time, help a leader remember the brand's true identity.

Andrew Robinson