Emotional Brand Principle No.1 put forward the importance of having a clear and compelling brand positioning. This second principle is about committing to the positioning.
There is absolutely no point in strategically investing in building your brand if, after going through the process of researching, identifying and creating a powerful positioning, the management of it is delegated solely to the marketing team and internal designers. As Rita Clifton, (Chairman of Interbrand) states:
“This is not to cast aspersions on the specialist skills and contribution that the marketing department brings to the day-to-day operations – their role is crucial in maintaining the currency and aesthetics of the brand; however, unless the Chief Executive of the organisation is perceived to be the brand champion, the brand will remain a departmental province rather than the driving purpose of everyone in the organisation”.
This point is absolutely critical in building a great brand. It’s only when the business places the brand positioning at the centre of the organisation and builds everything else around it; product development, recruitment, process, environments, culture, marketing, etc – that the brand has any chance of emotionally connecting with its audience (internal and external). If it’s seen to be a peripheral component to the business I’d go as far as to say that it’s role is pretty much meaningless (and that means your brand is meaningless to your customers, your clients and your employees – its just business fluff; an empty statement, a logo, a strapline, a shoulder-shrug!). Harsh? Maybe, but in order for your brand to mean anything to anyone – you’ve got to commit to it, you got to live it, breathe it, be passionate about it! People need to feel it and experience it.
This considered, I believe there are four core areas that underpin the brand positioning and form the spine of the brand experience: People, Process, Product and Communications. The following considers each of these four areas in the context of Emotional Brand Principle No.2.
Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between the way employees feel about the brand and the way customers view it. A great example of this that I experienced first hand is Virgin Atlantic where my wife worked for several years. I recall comments such as:
“…everyone I know loves working for Virgin…I guess we’re proud of the fact that we work for them…it’s an ethos, a way of doing things that is kind of…cool to be part of.”
Why did she say these things? It wasn’t anything to do money or salary (Virgin Atlantic staff got paid a standard salary for the roles they did). The answer would seem to be that the employees at Virgin Atlantic actually experienced the brand. They felt it! Consequently they became part of it; the uniforms, the environments, the way things were done, the culture etc. They were all things that contributed to what Virgin stood for – an alternative way of doing things that is fun (stylish, cheeky), good- value and quality. The brand was alive, it was being felt and it wasn’t just ‘corporate-talk’.
When this happens, (i.e when employees consistently have first-hand and tangible experiences around the brand) employees start to see that the brand is ‘real’, it becomes believable. It becomes more than just words and colours and moves more towards a way of being. The brand becomes the thing that informs them of the way they should go about doing their job. If you take a minute to consider what that means and how powerful that would be to any organisation that has any aspirations to be a great brand, you begin see how valuable people are in the branding process. Think about it, an entire workforce working together, in line with, and towards the brand positioning. Everything they do, be it customer service, sales, marketing, product development, recruitment, training and development, or operations, they do it in line with the brand.
Internally, the impact this has on the business is that the brand is championed amongst employees – the brand quite literally serves as an extension of who they are (e.g. ‘If the brand is perceived as fun and cool, by me working here and being part of it, I am fun and cool?’). Externally, it manifests as tangible examples of the brand experience for consumers – and so begins a perpetual cycle where both consumers and employees sub-consciously ‘work-together’ to drive a deeper more meaningful connection to the brand.
(Now, the sceptics out there, I know you’re thinking, ‘this is all seems a bit idealistic’. To some extent I accept that it is! In reality, of course there are many things that can get in the way of this picture-perfect scenario where everyone works together hand-in-hand and in complete harmony towards the brand. Absolutely, there are external factors that will influence things – we only have to look at the economic climate of the last few years to see examples of how difficult things can be for businesses. Of course, questions such as “How do you stop people from just ignoring the brand?” need to be addressed. Furthermore, we can’t ignore the guys in the room that think that all this brand-malarkey is just B.S. There is always going to be ‘that-person’ (certainly in larger corporate organisations) who thinks its madness to invest in doing things one way (which is “on-brand”) when there are other cheaper and quicker ways of doing things. There will always be ‘that-person’ who is looking purely at the bottom-line and the financial impact in the short-term, taking the view that ‘product’ is king and it’s that and that alone, that will make the business successful or not. That person who rolls their eyes in response to positioning-statements and strap-lines taking the view that they aren’t anything to take too seriously ‘because our clients don’t care about brand’. These people, these questions and the external influences surrounding any organisation can’t be ignored, and they need to be factored into any brand strategy and planning process.
And that leads us on nicely to the importance of processes in branding and the influence they can have on people, behaviour, consistency, and strategic direction.)
For a brand to mean something different to customers it must behave differently internally, and that includes its processes. I like the quote from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo who said:
“It has always seemed to me that your brand is formed, primarily not by what your company says about itself, but by what the company does.”
To be honest, whilst there are clearly some ‘rules’ around making sure ‘what’ the company does is in line with the brand, I think this statement hits the nail on the head with respect to branding. It seems to bring everything down to a common-sense level. The sentiment acknowledges that ‘brand’ is not a tangible thing and is more an ethos, or a way of being. Therefore, an organisation that puts processes in place that enables the intangible, to become tangible is more likely to produce outputs (be it product, communications, environments, culture, or services) that act as a physical embodiment of this ethos.
Take Innocent, for example, and the way things are done over at Fruit Towers in London. They’ve gone to great lengths to make sure processes are in place that ensure employees live the brand and work in a way that fundamentally underpins what the business stands for (i.e. to ‘Make Food Good’).
Meetings are held on picnic tables situated on ‘grass-carpet’ which runs throughout the office. The kitchen where all recipes get invented and tested, sits right in the middle of the office. The innocent vans are painted in the style of a friesian cow and are fitted with horns on the roof that emit a loud ‘moo’! The ‘innocent minimum standards’ ensure that all their suppliers adhere to strict levels of quality that fit with the innocent values. The business doesn’t employ a customer call centre and instead has championed the origins of their ‘innocent banana phone’ (the very first ‘innocent’ office phone, which apparently now sits on a plinth in the office with its own special velvet cushion!). When the banana phone rings it means a customer is calling and the call is diverted to every phone in the office, meaning that any employee (regardless of their role) could pick it up. The call may be a customer complaint, some praise, a question, or anything, but this process keeps things personal and anyone in the business could end up having a chat with an ‘innocent’ drinker. It reminds the employees of the reason why and ultimately for whom they are doing their jobs.
I also love the story of how in Feb 2008 Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz closed every Starbucks restaurant across the U.S. in order to retrain 135,000 baristas on how to make the perfect espresso. Shultz had become concerned that Starbucks had started to lose its way during years of hyper-growth and that standards had slipped. Although Starbucks lost $6 million that day, closing the stores was a statement and a symbolic act both internally and externally that sub-standard processes had no place at Starbucks.
It’s these processes, these ways of doing things, that help create scenarios such as the one I mentioned in the ‘People’ section of this text. It’s these processes that enables the brand to become so deeply rooted into the organisation, it stops it becoming just a logo and a strap-line and makes it difficult for the sceptics and the snipers to roll-their-eyes when the subject of ‘the-brand’ comes up. ‘The brand’ is the way things are done – it is quite literally what the business is, and the business is an embodiment of an ethos. (And ‘Branding’ or ‘Brand’ is what brings that ethos alive.)
With all the points made in this article, the term ‘product’ becomes difficult to define. For example, in the case of Starbucks it doesn’t seem accurate to say that the product is the simply the coffee. What about the service experience? What about the environment in which the coffee is served and consumed? In the case of Virgin Atlantic, is the product simply the flight? Or again, is that definition too narrow? What about pre-flight, in-flight, after-flight? During these key stages of customer engagement, the brand-experience is (or should be) in action. What about Apple? At what point do we as consumers draw the line at ‘the product’? Is it the device you have just bought? Or, would you include the experience of being in the Apple Store? The way you were treated? The on-going service and support? The supporting apps and equipment?
The answer is that in the context of this expanded view of brand, ‘the product’ has to be the totality of the experience. The ‘product’ has to be every touchpoint in which the customer/or client is exposed to the brand. Scott Bedbury captures this sentiment perfectly:
“We must recognise that a great product by itself is just one more chit, one more token, one more piece of currency in the relationship between consumer and brand.”
Brand communications, when done correctly, absolutely should feel like part of the experience. The use of language, the creative way in which it’s delivered, the look and feel – of course all contribute to the way we feel about a brand. For me, the key to successful brand communications centres on the ability to build on the emotional connection. Strong brand communication should make you feel something, they should communicate a belief thus serving as further tangible examples of what you believe in (not just what you do!). And whilst it absolutely can feature your ‘product’, one thing for sure, they shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to ram what you do down the throat of the audience shouting ‘BUY ME, BUY ME, BUY ME!!!!’.
A few personal favourites of brand communication done well can be seen below:
Doves 2006 – ‘Real-Beauty’
Apple 1997 – ‘Think Different’
Benetton 1989 – ‘United Colours’
Honda 2010 – ‘The Power of Dreams II’
Virgin Atlantic 2011 – ‘You’ve either got it or you haven’t’