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The Importance Of Branding On The Inside

Advertising Vs. Experience My cable TV company has spent millions on brand advertising in recent years. For my family, and for other cable customers we know, the advertising was a waste of money.
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Why? Because a different brand image of that company had been burned into our heads by the company's billing department. Yes, the billing department. It happened some time ago when we failed to pay our monthly bill for the first time in 18 years. We don't know why it happened at our house, but the bill just didn't get paid. The very first action taken by the cable company was to tape a threatening letter to our front door. "Pay up within 72 hours", said the letter, "or we will terminate your service." We sprang into action, fearing that we might be exiled to network television.
But the cable company's billing department wasn't finished. On our next monthly bill, they charged us an extra $25 for the service of placing the threatening letter on our door. I wasn't very happy, and called to ask a customer service supervisor whether anyone had bothered to check our payment history. "We have been at the same address," I explained, "paying your bill for 18 years. You might take a wild chance and just roll the unpaid balance forward."
Brand Disconnects Sadly, stories like this are legion. Marketing departments and advertising agencies toil in isolation from other parts of the business. Internal departments get focused on internal problems and forget they have a powerful impact on external brand perceptions. The result is brand inconsistency or perhaps brand demolition.
Brands are valuable to companies because they function as a powerful decision-making tool for customers. At SDR Consulting, we define a brand as an intangible asset composed of expectations developed over time. If people get what they expect from a brand, the brand is reinforced and the successful decision-making behavior is likely to be repeated. If people don't get what they expect, brand equity is diminished. At best, customers receive notice that the brand may give them another surprise the next time they encounter it. At worst, customers begin to expect something they don't want.
Strong brands are built by consistent delivery across organizational units. The billing department must be "on board" regardless of its connection with organizational units traditionally charged with brand building. That's the concept we call brand development at SDR consulting. In a brand development organization, everyone understands that they are responsible for brand building.
Brand Development Brand development is the process of aligning the behavior of every component of the organization with the brand strategy. Obviously, it's a big concept. It reaches far beyond traditional brand management centers like marketing and advertising to include areas such as product design, packaging, customer service, sales, the distribution channel, and yes, the billing department. It may represent a "sea change" in the leadership focus of an organization.
I believe that brand development can be a more effective rallying point for employee behavior than traditional tools such as "mission statements" or "company values". Too often, mission statements provide only a vague notion of achieving greatness without really saying how it is to be accomplished. Management withholds that information because business strategy is, well, confidential. Statements of company values often sound like the Boy Scout Oath to employees, who know full well that the company exists to make money and not to advance "respect for the individual".
Brand strategy, or at least brand delivery, is not confidential. In fact, you want to shout it from the rooftop. A good brand strategy is also specific enough to guide organizational behavior. Like a good positioning statement, it should describe what the organization is in business to accomplish, who it wishes to attract as customers, and how it plans to distinguish itself from competitors by its actions and by its character.
Given the opportunity, most people can begin to relate what they do on the job to successful delivery of the company's brand strategy. Given the proper rewards and personal encouragement, most people will adopt their behavior to support a positive brand promise. That's the process of brand development in a nutshell. At The Coca-Cola Company, where I worked for several years, we understood that the brand was about refreshment. It wasn't a cure for cancer, but it was positive and honest. We took great pride in doing a simple thing better than anyone else.
SDR Consulting Approach Helping clients implement brand development is a core service of SDR Consulting. Early in our process, we work with clients to identify the "touch points" their brands have with key audiences. We classify each touch point as a "promise-maker" or a "promise-keeper" to clarify its role in the brand relationship. Then we work with the managers and employees in the touch point to define "what winning looks like" for the customer and the company. Finally, we help the client describe the employee behaviors needed to produce the brand win, and how to instill them in the organization.
Like most powerful ideas, brand development is not overly complex. But neither is it easy to accomplish. It is really a management philosophy, and it requires the involvement and support of top management to gain the participation of diverse areas of the company who may not agree-initially-that branding is their business.
Client Benefits In our experience, the payoff for management as well as the rest of the organization can be huge. In addition to the classic benefits of a strong brand such as pricing power and customer loyalty, brand development organizations typically enjoy:
  • Greater employee cohesiveness
  • Easier decision-making
  • Lower system-wide marketing costs
  • More success in attracting desirable employees
  • Better employee retention
Think about it the next time you encounter one of your favorite brands. Did you get what you expected? Were you pleased or disappointed? How was your perception of that brand affected? And what are the customers of your organization experiencing as you read these words?