What or who in an organization has the greatest control over your brand?
I’ve sat in board meetings as the EVP of marketing listening to board members pronounce their views on the company’s brand and how it should change to meet changing market conditions.
From the 21st floor, they declare what brand position best serves the organization in terms of the current business plan and the environment as they see it.
Yes, board members should have influence on brand positioning, as should people further down the line in marketing, advertising and public relations — not to mention a plethora of others in the organization who want to join the brand party because it’s fun to be involved.
But let’s be clear: the brand work done by these folks is at best aspirational and bears little resemblance to the impact felt by the brand when implemented and experienced by customers and other stakeholders.
The brand developed by marketing, for example, represents the value proposition that they want communicated in order to meet the marketing objectives involving competitive differentiation and customer value considerations.
Whether it’s declared by the board or marketing, it’s a paper brand position at this stage — a brave brand only.
Because at the end of the day, if an organization can’t deliver on its brand promise, the promise is useless and and is seen as a lie by all who witness it.
The brand stays in the ‘dream’ stage until it’s edited, filtered and tested by all of the practical, operational factors that impact the brand’s efficacy.
In my experience, these are the factors that either reinforce the brand dream or kill it.
- The frontline of the organization who engage with demanding customers day-in and day-out with aggressive competitors must believe the brand promise.
- They must feel that they can deliver on the promise 24X7, because if they don’t believe, the dream dies;
- Operating processes that impact the way customers engage with the organization must support the brand promise. If, for example, the brand promises a friendly future but the internal policies make it cumbersome and difficult for customers to transact with the organization, the promise and delivery collide and the brand lie is borne over and over again. And the dream dies;
- Internal rules and policies affecting the customer experience must be in harmony with the brand promise. If the brand promises amazing customer experiences but internal rules force the customer through hoops they don’t like, customers are pissed off, they tell their friends what horrific service is being delivered and the dream dies;
- Frontline people must have the personal attitude, life experience and competence to deliver the brand promise day-in and day-out. Rude and uncaring treatment of a customer renders an organization as self-serving and narcissistic with utter disregard for the needs and wants of the people they serve. And the dream dies;
- The organization must be cleansed if the grunge and CRAP that gets in the way of employees delivering the brand promise. If frontline people are constantly fighting unnecessary internal roadblocks that get in the way of delivering what customers crave, again, the customer experience suffers and once loyal customers leave for a more friendly environment. And the dream dies;
- Frontline emotion and proclivity to serve others must be a huge component in the engagement process if the organization is to maximize the value of the customer experience, and this requires that people with a high EQ - emotional quotient - are recruited into frontline positions. If frontliners don’t illicit goosebumps during the interview process then the wrong person is being hired. And the dream dies.
- There are many organizations that decide to rebrand themselves without addressing the alignment factors discussed in the previous points — and nothing changes. They create a new identity with a flashy new logo and tag line but the essence of the organization carries on the way it always has. For these organizations, leadership seems to believe that the new logo will miraculously change their performance, but it doesn’t.
They overhaul their web sites with a new look and feel. Advertising messages change stressing an aspect of the organization they feel is now important and nothing changes.
The same operations problems persist; the same employee morale issues remain and competitive vulnerabilities continue despite the fact that how the organization is visually presented to the market has been morphed into something different. And the dream dies.
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
A brand begins as a dream, conjured up by people intent on finding the best solution to the market challenge they face in a crazy changing environment. And it stays as a dream until leadership creates the infrastructure — the support systems — that makes the brand real.
If they’re not up to the task, the dream dies.