Brand or branding is a highly misunderstood term. When you talk about good brands people mention Apple, Google, Virgin, Tata, Mercedes, BMW, etc.
Forget large corporations, even SMEs and start-ups are buzzing with the big B word these days. But the question is – What exactly is a ‘brand’?
Historically brand strategies were developed by advertising agencies. Understandably, the dimensions considered and developed were largely communication-based with a view toward creating great advertising. As a result, the logo, advertising design and messaging were the key ingredients.
In time product/brand attributes were also factored in leading to concepts such as USP (Unique Selling Proposition), as obviously, prospects had a choice and therefore it was important to stand out and articulate the key points of difference.
Fundamentally, it would be fair to say that branding strategies were largely around communications and selling.
In a quest for this identity creation, many organisations that I am personally aware of spend excessive time, effort and money on marketing to enhance brand recall through visual and audio means, focus heavily on developing an external image, spend exorbitantly on advertising, and much, much more. Successful marketing can make for easy brand recall. But are you going to remain customers’ preferred choice over competitors – that’s the question I’m going to ask you to ponder upon and help you find the answer to building a sustainable competitive advantage.
A critical factor to consider is that we are currently in the experience economy. Purely focussing on brand identity and communications aspects alone is massively limiting.
I attended a conference many years ago where a consultancy firm spoke about aligning brand communications, service and internal culture. For the first time somebody was thinking about linking brand, culture and service. This struck a chord in me. I, however, felt that there was a key missing ingredient. This missing ingredient is your value proposition – the reason why prospects select you over others and existing clients stay loyal. It is not what you say about yourself, but what you actually do. In fact, if you say too much and deliver little it can severely damage your brand.
To find that missing piece of the puzzle, I started analysing multiple established organisations that were considered ‘brands’ in the broad sense of the word. In at least nine out of ten cases, there was acute disharmony in the overall operations. Three key observations included:
-Advertisements would make promises that the product or service could not deliver on.
-Organisations wanted to offer great customer experience, but treated their staff poorly.
-There was disharmony among operational silos within the organisation.
The main reason for this was separate ownership. Branding was owned by Marketing, Culture was owned by HR and service by operations. The individual goals were different, marketing wanted to sell, operations wanted to be more efficient and HR wanted to ensure staff were satisfied.
In summary – what you say (brand communications), what you do (experience and value proposition) and who you are (internal culture) were just not aligned. This leads to sub-optimal loyalty and growth outcomes.
Before I go any further there is a key point I want you to fully appreciate and understand. If you want engaging customer experiences you must have engaged staff first. After all, staff are the ones that design and deliver experiences worthy of recommendation.
Now let’s look at why is a brand like a person? How will this mindset galvanise your branding efforts and take you to the next level towards becoming an iconic brand?
I came across this quote from Gandhi which helped me strengthen my brand strengthening strategy: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Imagine you meet a person that is completely in harmony like the Gandhi quote above, you will find them thoroughly engaging if they are totally aligned as outlined below:
Brand Communication (say):
Experience (Do): What is an experience with them like?
Value Proposition (Do): What unique quality do they being to the table?
Who they are internally (Are):
Alignment is key. This is not about always wearing a suit. It is about aligning what you say, do and are. Imagine a person who is immaculately dressed and who is a great presenter, but they are unreliable and never deliver against what they promise. Another person says they are passionate about climate change but own three large cars – all gas guzzlers – and do not use solar panels for electricity. What if another person bring nothing to the table? What if an experience with them is just dull and boring though they are handsome/pretty?
When you are not in harmony it also creates internal stress. What if you are by nature an empathetic and kind person? However, you believe you must be an aggressive leader at work to go up the corporate ladder. As this is not who you really are, it will cause you internal stress and you will not be an effective leader as you are not using your natural strengths.
The exact same thing happens with brands. The advertising is great but the experience is boring. The brand promises a lot, but the actual product does not match the brand promise. Staff do not go above and beyond as they are not valued or recognised.
With a mission to unleash potential in organisations and individuals and help them build strong brands that are true to the word, I developed the Total Engagement Model®. The model has been published in an academic journal article co-authored by Dr Frank Alpert and has featured in a Customer Management text book published by the University of Auckland. It is part of the curriculum at the University of Queensland. It has been designed such that it can fit into the brand strategy of any organisation and sets the wheels of success in motion, where the organisation becomes the preferred choice of customers over competitors.
This Total Engagement Model® is what adds personality to an organisation and makes it a brand by dramatically increasing its performance via engaged staff, engaged customers and a strong culture.
I have personally used this methodology to rejuvenate brands that were the worst in their category to becoming the best and to increase NPS® scores by 80 points in Business to Business and 60 points in Business to Consumer.
Let’s look at Apple. It has a unique concept of challenging the status quo by creating an ecosystem of products and services that are exclusive to itself. Apple users are nearly like club members, where they enjoy the perks and benefits of innovation and technology that is exclusive to the safe and secure ecosystem that Apple takes pride in offering them. This value that Apple provides its customers with makes them overlook the price tag and look forward to upgrades. The experience at an Apple Store, its products and advertising has a consistent theme. Plus the staff are absolute ambassadors of the brand. To entice customers to keep returning as well as encouraging them to recommend you via word of mouth, a business needs to ensure that it focuses on two major aspects:
1.Ensure its employees become its ambassadors and provide great experiences to customers across every point of interaction.
2.Deliver on a strong value proposition that is replete with both functional and emotional elements.
Essentially, while an organisation decides on what its DNA should be from a value proposition and planned customer experience perspective, it is the staff who bring that to life by delivering against the brand promise, and thus work as a cohesive force that elevates an organisation to becoming an iconic ‘brand’ – a brand that propounds a value that it can add to its customers, that lives the value and that ensures that it delivers on that promised value.
In my next article I will cover exactly how you can align and design your key strategic elements to build an iconic brand.
Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score and NPS are registered trademarks of NICE Satmetrix, Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld.
Total Engagement Model is a registered trademark of Engaged Strategy.
Article by Christopher Roberts
Managing Director, Engaged Strategy