A Fresh Look at Branding – Part 2:
Read Part 1: Brand Identity
Most everyone has heard of Starbucks. Under the guidance of Howard Schultz, Starbucks sought to create wider appreciation for a better cup of coffee through education, ambiance, and the customer experience. While there are places today with better coffee, Starbucks raised the bar across America with the quality of their coffee beans and how the cup of coffee was prepared. Rather than advertising, they focused on the experience. Brand management is largely about the customer experience.
Starbucks, like many companies, has a mission, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” One person, upon reading that, said, “It’s just coffee.” Yes, it is a bit grandiose for a coffee shop, but as Schultz said, “We’re in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people.” Their product is an important part of their brand, but how they serve the coffee is even more important to who they are. As part of their published mission statement, they have six guiding principles that go along with it. Once you have a brand strategy, you have to flesh it out in specific terms so your employees know what to do.
There are many articles and books written on brand identity and strategy, but not so many about actually implementing that strategy and managing it over time. Why is that? As important as strategy is, it’s really the easy part. While taking the time to define your brand takes effort and focus, it’s also an exciting and energizing activity. However, implementing a brand strategy across your business so that customers have a consistent experience is hard work—that’s brand management.
In many ways, brand management is just “management,” but with the added challenge of communicating and reinforcing core values to influence customer perceptions. And it’s not simply about making sure tasks get checked off a list; it's about ‘how’ tasks are done. Unlike managing a project, which has a finite set of tasks, branding never ends. It’s an ongoing activity and it needs to be a company-wide priority.
How people perceive your brand is partly a result of how you implement your brand strategy, including your logo, marketing materials, Internet presence, and customer interactions. Customers are major players in brand definition. It’s what they think that ultimately matters. You must manage the perception of your brand through business activities and interactions with your customers.
Figure 1. The Brand Management Cycle.
Strategy is Central. Management is Ongoing.
What is the gap between how you see your business and how customers see you? To start with, you need to determine the current and potential issues that affect peoples’ attitudes and expectations of your brand. Then, you have to monitor, measure, evaluate, and act to close the gap, continually. This is a circular activity where you apply the feedback you gain back into the loop.
As we stated in Part 1 of “A Fresh Look at Branding,” one reason companies suffer with brand issues is that they don't give branding enough importance in their overall business activities. Brand management is about paying attention to the details every day and making sure employees and partners are fulfilling the core elements of the company’s brand strategy.
One way this plays out is through consistency of presentation and messaging. Make sure your logos and taglines are consistent across all your advertising, online and offline. Define your standards. Check message consistency between in-house promotions and packaging. Consider what tone you want to convey. Identify places where your business identity becomes vague or confusing, paying especially close attention to who notices it. It’s important to continually refine and reinforce your brand to your customers. Once you start to move branding up on your list of priorities, those formerly invisible quirks and foibles become clear, giving you the chance to address and correct them.
Forester Research recently reported that companies rarely tie their brand strategy into their strategy for interacting with customers. It’s a lot easier to draft guidelines for logo usage than it is to disseminate values, train staff, monitor customer experiences, get feedback, and implement changes to these interactions. Also, many companies don’t place enough value on the customer experience. Every point where there is an interaction matters. We refer to these as touchpoints. An advertisement is a touchpoint, but so is customer service, and there are more variables with the latter. Starbucks places a high value on the customer experience throughout their organization. They even have an internal mantra of “everything matters.” Does every touchpoint matter equally? No. However, it’s all the little details that make up the overall customer experience.
The image that people have of you, then, is made up both of how you present your brand and how people experience your brand, both on a personal and impersonal level. While you can’t ultimately control a person’s experience, you can greatly influence it. There are a number of ways you can do so. Care about peoples’ needs. Offer a product or service that has value to them. Ask for feedback and listen to it. Test the customer interaction process and fix any problems you find. A customer experience in person, like at a restaurant, will look different than a customer experience on a website.
Promotion and Awareness
The pervasiveness of your brand is also important. This is the fundamental logic of mass advertising and why some companies spend a fortune on Super Bowl commercials. The theory is that if more people know the name of a company or recognize its logo, then it will make more money. While this may work for many large, national and international companies, it is a tough battle these days as the Internet has fractured marketing into many local and niche audiences.
Brand awareness is also about creating memorable impressions that easily come to mind. This can be done on a smaller level, in terms of how you interact with each individual customer. For businesses in the service industry—restaurants, hotels, repair shops and professional services—your service IS, in many respects, your brand. Retail is different because products persist beyond the point of sale.
How do you know what people think of your brand? Actively listen and observe what people say and do. All feedback is potentially helpful. While Yelp reviews are sometimes unfair, even those give insight into what people think of your business and what the potential areas of improvement might be. Sometimes you should solicit feedback, which can be done through online forms, surveys, or even in a conversation. In an age of social media, it’s not an option to ignore what people think of our brand. Your brand is probably being talked about. Do you know what people are saying, both positively and negatively? Successful companies know how to listen and when to join in the conversation. You should, too.
Know what you are going to monitor and how you are going to measure the value of it. This includes both qualitative information and quantitative data. Qualitative information can be gleaned from reviews and conversations. This could result in line items like quality perception and value perception. Quantitative information may be acquired from software tools or research, and may include website traffic (easy to measure) and market share (harder to measure).
Managing your brand requires consistent effort and a commitment to monitoring and maintenance. For this to happen, you have to implement an achievable strategy and make adjustments based on data. Some brand feedback is informative, but necessitates no action. Other feedback may clue you in to a gap in your brand that needs to be addressed. Know what your brand is, what you want it to be, and consistently work to build it. Know what affects your particular brand image, in priority order, and keep working to close the gaps. If you have a great product or service that meets a need for your customers and potential customers, and they understand that and trust your company, then you have a successful brand.
At Crown Point Solutions, we are re-thinking brand management in the Internet age. We have developed many new insights we’d like to share. Let us know if you'd like to have a more in-depth conversation about this! We have developed many new insights we’d like to share.