How to make your brand live and breathe throughout the company
Horst Schulze knows a thing or two about great customer service. As co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, he had a vision to create the finest hotel company in the world by providing a level of service that surpassed his competitors. And yet, he doesn’t believe in the customer service desk.
Schulze believes that it sends the wrong message, not just to the customer but to employees. He believes it silently tells all other employees that you don’t need to worry about customer service because it’s someone else’s responsibility. Schulze built his brand by ensuring that every employee across the organisation understood their role in delivering excellent customer service, whether that be in person, on the telephone or through the web experience.
In using the thing his brand was most known for, customer service, he was able to supercharge the performance of all parts of the organisation. There’s a lesson in that for all of us who work in marketing. The power of your brand goes far beyond the external-facing expression it delivers through advertising channels. To allow that to happen there are three things to consider.
1. Learning lessons from finance and HR
In any organisation, the finance department is responsible for the budget. It’s not that it’s solely on their shoulders to deliver it, but they own it. Finance works with other departments across the business to make sure the budget is delivered. It ensures everyone is clear on what they need to do to contribute to the overall profit number. It dictates the decisions departments make on how they manage their affairs – to the extent that it’s not uncommon to hear managers say, “we can’t do that – it’s not in the budget.”
It’s something similar with culture. HR – or, as it’s more commonly known now, the people department – is responsible for the culture within the business. Again, it’s not solely down to that one individual department to deliver it, but it works with all aspects of the business to make sure culture is aligned and lives in every employee. It informs the types of people each department hires, L&D programmes and staff engagement, amongst a host of other things.
So, why is it different with the marketing department? The marketing department is responsible for developing the brand, but in fact, in a lot of organisations, the brand is siloed within the marketing department. You never hear someone from outside the marketing department saying, “we can’t do that – its off-brand.”
And yet the impact of not having an aligned brand story across the business can be incredibly damaging. Research by Ipsos and Medallia highlights the importance of frontline employees to how the brand is perceived – to the extent that 64 per cent of customers have avoided brands after having a bad experience. Think of the positive impact it would make to the bottom line of the business if you could reduce that percentage by having a sales team delivering a message that is consistent with the brand proposition. The brand should influence every touchpoint the organisation has with a customer. Yes, the marketing department needs to own the brand, but everyone else needs buy in to it and be true to it.
2. Brands don’t just live in communications
All marketing departments are obsessed with the customer. But at times that obsession is to the detriment of what they’re trying to achieve. There is such a desire to put a positive message in front of the customer that at times it doesn’t stack up to reality. There are countless examples of brands saying one thing to the customer in communications, but then being unable to stand behind it.
At the root of it is the need for a clear brand strategy that is designed to support the organisation in achieving its objectives, while at the same time making sure it’s achievable for the customer. For example, what is said in communications needs to be aligned with the web experience, the in-store experience, how the sales team sell, etc. The challenge for marketing departments, particularly where they are not responsible for the website, or involved in sales, is to engage those teams in a positive way that drives brand alignment. Making sure that what is communicated is clear, the experience is consistent, and that everything is on-brand.
It’s not enough to bring them through a PowerPoint presentation on brand meaning. That gets forgotten. As do email communications. Marketing teams need to develop a fluid engagement programme for all aspects of the business that have customer interaction. It’s no longer enough for marketing teams to focus purely on customer engagement through comms in the traditional sense, but across any touchpoint a customer might have with the business, and by extension the brand.
3. The conversation needs to change to value
Marketing departments have increasingly seen success in dealing with the CFO by shifting the conversation from cost to investment. This has undoubtedly been aided by more measurable metrics. Although there are short-term pressures on marketing budgets right now, if you look at a 10-year trend the overall picture is a positive one. However, CFOs now see investment as a dressed-up word for cost. It’s not enough for marketing teams to be talking in terms of investment anymore. Although it’s an investment, not a cost, it’s still an ask the marketing department is making of the business. The conversation needs to be flipped to the value marketing brings to the entire business, rather than purely talking about the return on investment from the upcoming ad campaign.
Marketing’s value goes much further than that. It just needs to be captured and demonstrated in a more compelling way for the CFO. For example, by creating a strong brand that employees can rally around and believe in, marketing can address the high costs of staff attrition, such as loss of productivity and talent acquisition. If marketing can demonstrate how a clear brand proposition, that impacts all aspects of the business, can have a profound impact on the things that matter most to the CFO, then investment will follow. The important thing to note is that the value the brand brings to the business goes significantly further than what it can achieve through communications.
Live your promise
Let your brand live across the entire organisation. Yes, it needs to be owned by marketing, but it shouldn’t be confined to the marketing department. The brand can be the thing that connects the organisation’s objectives to all stakeholders, internal and external. It can help forge closer ties to the CEO and CFO. The brand can improve sales, help with retaining the best people, give a consistent picture to consumers to improve conversion, provide a clearer story that the investor community can get behind, amongst many other things. To quote Horst Schulze, “A name is not a brand. If the name makes a promise and lives up to that promise anywhere in the world it becomes a brand.”
Conor Murphy is chief executive of Dentsu Consult