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Andrew Stothert, CEO of brand alignment company Brand Vista, looks at how branding exercises should include everyone involved with a company and requires focused leadership.
In the connected world we live in today, keeping brand promises has never been more important to businesses, yet paradoxically more difficult.
In my opinion, the most important thing is to start any process with the insight that a business is a brand. Customers have views about products, people and services provided, as well as how processes work with theirs, and every aspect of how a company transacts with them. These are all aspects of a brand, and of branding, and companies have to move away from the antiquated belief that this sort of terminology can only be applied to logos.
This is because a business can develop all the sophisticated communication plans it likes, but if the customer experience differs from what the brand is promising then there is a real danger of tipping a customer into searching for alternative providers. None of us like people who say one thing and then do another. and many brands have gone to the wall as much through arrogance on this point as anything else.
Vitally important to all companies is the fact that if brand vision is aligned to customer experience, it will deliver promises more effectively and consistently. This in turn reinforces repeat business and recommendation and drives the differentiated position all companies seek.
There are a number of simple tips that can help any business find and deliver an effective and differentiated positioning in the minds of their customers. Following these steps will help keep promises made to customers, and the reward will be repeat purchases as well as vital, peer group recommendation.
It all relates to the fact that it is vital to understand all touch points with customers, and crucially what experience they get each time they make contact on their customer journey. This is where alignment really makes the difference as a team will not only know what a good ‘on’ brand should look like, but also how to improve things when they are wrong.
Keeping brand promises and placing customers at the centre of everything done is crucial in the world of modern business because, whether you like it or not, the bad brand behaviours of a company and its people will always find a way of leaking out.
Starting out, it is crucial to make sure everyone within a company understands the commercial pressures to get ‘on’ brand, and that a sense of urgency is created. Most of these pressures will be identified in customer insight work.
The onus is to create an inspiring and motivating vision of how things could be improved, and for what reasons. The insight gained, and the experience of the senior management team, can then be used to develop a stimulating vision for a brand that includes the space it is going to own in the mind of customer, how a brand should interact with its customers and the central differentiating proposition that will provide the focal point for a whole business and help everyone know what is expected of them and their colleagues.
Next it is what we call ‘brand critical’, to ensure that the top team on board are totally brought into the programme of brand alignment. If the top team are not engaged and inspired with the brand vision and what needs to be delivered, a business probably shouldn’t start this sort of work. After all, the whole thing can either be enriched or destroyed by the behaviours of senior managers. If they don’t believe then why should any other member of the team? In highly undifferentiated sectors where customer service and relationship can make all the difference, it is about leadership and showing an example.
The pressure to improve the brand experience must also come from a sense of real urgency from the top of the organisation, otherwise the whole alignment process will drift and lose impact. Without this pressure the ‘the tyranny of the urgent’ takes over. A celebration when milestones are reached can also help build the momentum.
Outside looking in
Throughout the process it is important to make sure progress is measured outside the business, not just inside it. Too many companies develop key performance indicators that focus on internal efficiency and not external effectiveness. In the modern world of brand building, both internal and external perspectives on brand, and how well it is aligned to its vision, must be considered.
They must involve the customer, competition, team and business performance. In other words, a brand’s progress must be monitored in the way that replicates how it is built through the impact of all these influences.
Lastly, decision makers must ensure that the planning process is used as a bonding tool.
In planning the critical activities to deliver an aligned brand, businesses must engage with those people who deliver it day in, day out with the customers - they know what the real customer experience looks like. They know which processes help and hinder them in building the brand and can walk senior management through the customer experience.
It may have been a long time since senior management have had direct customer contact right at the sharp end, but it is amazing what can be learned and how energising this will be for the whole team.
Further reading on branding and building a brand: