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The End of the Broken Promise: How to Achieve a 'Living Brand'

Words by 3p Contributor
Investment & Markets
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By Seamour Rathore

How often does the promise made by a company in its marketing and advertising fail to match up to the real customer experience?

That’s the brand gap. And where one exists, the credibility and fortunes of any business are at risk. If, however, a company’s promises are delivered by its people at every touch point – in person, on the telephone and via social media, then it’s achieving a “living brand."

It’s the employees who breathe life into a brand.

To achieve a living brand, organizations should not only focus on the rational and transactional side of running a business, but they should aim to embrace the cultural, emotional and communal aspects too.

Achieving “brand balance”


Any company or organization must balance its propositions to its two key audiences: its customers and the promises it makes to them and its employees and the equal promises it makes to them.

While most organizations have brand guidelines, processes, targets and methods of working, a lot of businesses pay much less attention to creating belief in the brand amongst employees. While millions may be spent on advertising campaigns to customers, employees can be neglected, compounding the issue of unfulfilled customer expectations.

Once only the boardroom was concerned with questions such as: “What do our customers expect? What does the future look like for us? What do we stand for?” But at today’s successful businesses, they are burning questions for everyone who works there.

In an organization with a living brand employees are both confident in and inspired by their company. The culture is different too: Employees help to co-create the company’s future on an ongoing basis – they want to be part of the story.

Behavioral change


The most important way to deliver this strong "living brand" is by engaging your people with meeting your customers’ challenges. By encouraging employees to see the business from a customers’ point of view, they can identify common causes and fights. This process drives the behavioral change needed to deliver on customer promises.

At Instinctif Partners we’ve helped unleash the power of an organization’s people at many businesses.

One global company gave its people the space to use their knowledge to come up with ideas to solve a major business challenge. The leadership team said at the outset they would sponsor the best ideas and put money into piloting them for 12 to 18 months.

Effectively, the company championed the problem-solving abilities of its entire employee base. It was an example of smart leadership. Rather than relying on a few brains (leadership team), it reaches out to the collective brains of the workforce to solve the company’s challenges.

But it also created a deeper connection between its people and the brand promise, and therefore the customer.

We’ve also worked with a European company that realized when the call script was king, no one benefited – not the customer, not the call center teams, nor the bottom line.

So, what did they do? They asked their people to identify and seek solutions for their customers, which they were then empowered to action. It’s still early days, but the process is paying off with improving customer satisfaction ratings.

So, if a company wants to truly deliver on its promises to customers, it has to start doing something differently. Engage its employees in its products and services. Bring the customer to life. Encourage its people to create new strategies and solve business challenges. Just doing the rational, process-driven, nuts and bolts of running an enterprise is no longer enough. And keeping those promises will be that much harder.

Here are three interventions to consider moving toward creating a living brand:

1. Confidence in employees' customer knowledge


No one knows your customers better than your frontline staff. Of course, that doesn’t negate the need for market research, net promoter scores or customer segmentation. But the people taking the calls, serving all day or advising the public have privileged insight into what’s really going on.

Something I heard earlier this year at a meeting crammed full of managers has stuck in my mind: One manager reminded his colleagues that, decades ago, frequent guests at grand hotels were greeted by name, their particular foibles all forecast and dealt with prior to arrival, because the employees believed that providing this level of service was the essence of their jobs. They didn’t need a database to remind them (as useful as such modern innovations can be!); they were never on the back foot. If your surveys demonstrate customer dissatisfaction in one form or another, or if the experience fails to live up to the brand promise, ask your people to come up with the solutions to problems within their sphere of influence.

Give them structured time to discuss and hone their ideas, and then let them go. They’ll uncover where the real problems lie and show their commitment to creating a better customer satisfaction score.

We know from various studies from Daniel Pink’s "Drive" to a recent Harvard study that people gain satisfaction from contributing to a group goal and seeing themselves as playing a role in the broader company’s success – so let them use this intrinsic motivation.

2. Commitment by writing themselves into the brand story


Employees want to feel engaged with their brand, so they should be encouraged to write themselves into its story.

Clearly articulate your brand – what its overarching promise is, what its secondary promises are and what behaviors will allow the brand to live. Then the employees can identify what they can do in their roles and teams to live the brand every day.

Encourage them to work in cross-disciplinary teams and present their solutions back to everyone at the end of the session. The leadership team should undertake further research and set up pilots, and members of the teams should have ring-fenced time to be involved in the pilots.

The contributions of employees should be communicated at every key point. They close the loop between what the brand stands for and what they do – and that’s what will make the brand truly “live."

This is “flattening” of the organization of a company’s people and a world away from the “command and control” leadership of the past.

3. Sharing the customers’ fights


The interventions above shouldn’t be viewed as discrete happenings. In 2012, over 67 percent of Internet users around the world used social networks, and this is expected to rise to more than 75 percent by 2016. Employees should have the latest social enterprise sharing apps to be able to carry on conversations around challenges and opportunities across territories and business units in real-time.

There is a growing number of social sharing tools developed for internal-only use that enable these conversations to take place and allow compelling stories and images to be shared and collaboration to happen. It is also an internal reflection of the effect that social media has had on society. It has provided a vehicle for power – in this case broadcasting information – to transfer from the few to the many.

Often, it takes a group of individuals passionate about the same thing, but from different parts of the company, or in separate countries to do great work unasked  – because they care and it adds to their feelings of autonomy, progress and satisfaction at work. This is also a way to engage the detractors in the company – if they think things need to improve, let them share their thoughts and work towards a positive change.

Promises fulfilled


Your people are the key element in creating a “living brand." Companies keen to deliver on their promises should consider doing something differently. Whether that’s engaging their employees in the customers’ fights, letting them demonstrate their know-how or helping to develop new products.

If a company only concerns itself with the tools and processes of running a business it loses out on other valuable perspectives on the world – chiefly those of its employees. And without the shared emotional connection between customers and employees the risk of broken promises will continue to exist.

Image credit: Flickr/Flazingo Photos

Seamour Rathore is an engagement specialist with Instinctif Partners.

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