Internal Alignment: The Whole Experience

17 May 2007|Added Value

The problem with really great advertising is that it tells you what to expect.  You see a bunch of efficient and knowledgeable people engaging in a great, sexy brand and you think “I want that!”  I want to feel smart and ahead of the game, so that brand must be the one for me.

Then, when you wander into the brand’s store or call its help line, you expect, at the very least, some efficient and knowledgeable people to be waiting there to help you.  Cue a chorus of “yeah, right’s!” and some judicious eye rolling!

This is exactly where the majority of brand disconnect occurs; companies happily spend vast sums on traditional brand-building exercises, including any number of “rah-rah” events, but they are not investing in helping their employees keep the promises their brands make.  You’re only as good as your last event experience.

Think about the last time you stood in a shop, waiting patiently for the yob on the phone to stop picking his spots and deal with your problem.  I bet you didn’t think “poor guy, just broke up with his first girlfriend and clearly his acne is suffering”.  You’re thinking, “I’m never coming here again! Why does this great, sexy brand employee such imbeciles?”  No matter how good the ads are, if your brand is not delivering on the ground your communications efforts are wasted.

The power of great brands lies in how they make consumers feel.  Brand delivery should make your consumers feel like they are actually important to you, it should ignite their desire for your brand and give them that “ah ha” moment of a truly great on-brand experience.  But this requires making it possible for employees to develop a feel for what the brand stands for and how to deliver it – consistently. 

Clearly this takes more than a single induction video or a “star of the month club”. Companies need to help their employees understand how the brand’s promise and values translate into behaviours that are in keeping with the brand’s promise. Think Kulula.com and their cheeky, irreverent, jeans and t-shirt clad crew. 

Once employees embrace what is required, they need to be inspired to make a commitment to acting in ways that build the brand, consistently.  Sustainability can only be achieved through appropriate, ongoing internal campaigns.  This doesn’t necessarily require additional budget, but rather a redirect of money that is already being spent.  In fact, in most cases, less actually means more.  All too often “living the brand” just means trying to find louder ways to say the same thing.  Employees rarely talk of being understimulated.  It’s sometimes just as important to simply remove negative experiences as it is to add new positive ones.

A big pipe dream?  I don’t think so!  Experts from Harvard Business School have gathered evidence that directly links profit and growth not only to customer loyalty and satisfaction, but also to employee loyalty and satisfaction.  The research shows that more consumers defect through the indifference of staff than because of the quality of the product.

So, if it works, why aren’t more companies making this investment?  Firstly, it’s not a simple exercise and it requires significant effort and engagement.  Almost more importantly, it requires the focus and commitment from a company’s senior people.  Internal turf battles between marketing, HR and internal communications departments can also get in the way.  But these problems are not insurmountable and companies that can get down and commit to actually delivering their brand experience are going to be the likely leaders of the future.

Ultimately, as much as I enjoy ranting about how brands let me down and mocking those yobs behind the counter, as a consumer, I still get a genuine thrill from finding brands that keep their word; all they way through their advertising, product and service.  Like Swatch for example.  I was recently in Hong Kong and needed a new strap for my watch.  Not only did they fix the strap, they polished the watch till it looked like new (now if only they could get their South African counterparts to do the same).  If more brands actually delivered on their promises – like Swatch in Hong Kong – I’d not only be one happy camper, but maybe I’d start believing their advertising again.

By Dave Blackshaw
Added Value South Africa

Originally written for the Sunday Times

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