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Your Brand is really your Experience

1st December 2015

Brand is everything, isn’t it?

That is the message I’ve heard many times over the course of my career. Usually associated with an advertising campaign, a rebranding exercise or some product placement into the market. The meaning of brand seems to be evolving though. Taking on a new meaning in the marketplace. Now more than ever it seems that the old statement could be true, but for reasons very different to how it used to be expressed!

So what does a brand mean when it is seen in advertising, spoken about with your friends, or seen on social media? Is it product, placement or any of the other p’s considered marketing 101 by experts on your MBA course? Or is it that shiny new logo & brochure that has been added to your new website design?

No, your brand is much more valuable than that! Your brand is your company’s personality! One that is being shown in every product, service and experience that you create. It is judged by everyone it touches, from your customers, to your employees, through to your partners and stakeholders you associate with. More important than the shiny new marketing campaign, there is one factor more powerful than any TV ad or advertising article could deliver. The experience that you deliver to your customers and employees affects advocacy more than any other factor!

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” is the famous underlying point from Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book ‘Start with Why’. Simon explains that people buy into a purpose beyond just a product or a price as a consumer and beyond just a job for an employee. Truly great companies inspire! They do this by connecting with people as to why they exist and why you should want to associate with them. They do this because they believe what you believe! People want to connect with a company that stands for the same values that they do. One that delivers these consistently whenever they use the product or service, or interact with their people.

Employee Experience

As I mentioned in my blog post ‘Evolve or Die’, the experience that a person has will be the key differentiator on brand value, above product and price by 2020. This is already accelerating at pace as the beliefs and expectations of each generation change. 2020 is also the date when 70 million ‘Baby Boomers’ are due to retire. To be replaced by only 13 million millennials in the workplace!

The workplace therefore will become a competitive ground that places power firmly in the position of the best employees to decide where they want to work!

The expectations of Gen Y, Z and Alpha are very different to those of the ‘Boomers’, with a very different attitude to work. This generation work to live, not live to work!

And work needs to be on their terms also! Work for them has to have a purpose that they can align to. One they can follow and be part of. One that provides a match to their social beliefs and values for their own goals in life.

If you hire this generation and expect to just pay them money, then they will do a job for you for a period of time. If you can attract them at all! If you can attract this generation though with a positive ‘Why’ your brand exists though, you will gain employees that believe in what you stand for. They will give you blood, sweat and tears and many more hours of commitment than you pay them for. Because they buy in to the cause. The purpose. The mission!

Good staff turnover is seen as being 100% every 10 years. Some successful businesses though are even achieving that figure as their annual turnover! You will need to invest in your company culture so that your purpose lives in its DNA if you are to deliver customer and employee advocacy & loyalty. In order to maintain and deliver an amazing customer experience, companies have to provide a mechanism to delivering a consistent experience. One that is delivered by employees who live your brand at every touchpoint, every day! The choice of whom they work for is swinging in the favour of the employee. Recruiting and retaining the best employee’s, who give the best experience to your customers, means you need to have employee experience right at the top of your list. Therefore this approach to creating the culture of your company has to start from the top!

The CEO has to provide inspirational leadership that follows and delivers the brand experience across every decision point and through every department in the business. Supporting the message throughout the business you are serious about this. Retaining consistency and authenticity as it makes its way through the management layers. She/he has to walk the walk and talk the talk!

Every experience that doesn’t deliver on the vision and purpose set by the CEO chips away some of that authenticity in the brand whether that be for a customer or an employee. Strong leadership is required to ensure that any behaviour that doesn’t fit the culture and values set by the organisation, is openly tackled rather than ignored or swept under the carpet. As soon as the standards are dropped then the rot starts to set. The message to your customers and staff is that we don’t truly live our values, they are just corporate wallpaper!

‘Be Opening Day Ready’ is a fantastic reminder of the consistent level in which we must perform day in, day out in order for our brand association to be linked with that of the highest performing companies for experience. In Ted Matthews excellent book ‘Brand, it ain’t the logo’ he reminds us of a scenario that is all too familiar. One that we can all probably associate with.

Those standards and expectations that we set ourselves on opening day of a new building, new product launch or new initiative are generally very high and very proud. But it is all too easy to let those standards slip over time. Whether it starts with the papers left on the photocopier, or the canteen left in a mess. These things start the rot and if not contained, can be the start of a loss of direction in reinforcing a culture that the company is built on. Warren Buffett famously quoted “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”! Which is why the consistency of the employee experience is so key toward creating an amazing experience that is associated with your business.

It is then the CEO who owns the brand, not the marketing department and only by them taking on the role of the ‘Chief Brand Officer’ will the endorsement be cemented in the organisation!

Brand Experience

Building a brand then is much more than just building a product suite and a logo to go with your company. It is about building a brand foundation that explains ‘Why’ your company exists. A foundation needs to live within your company and be felt by your employees. It also needs to show externally its clear purpose to customers and potential customers.

People need to get it!

Loyalty is the Holy Grail that companies are looking for. That experience that makes customers ‘sticky’ to their products or services and where the long-term value of a customer is found. You don’t get that from a product or service. You get that because of the way you make someone feel!

Emotion isn’t always explainable. But if you want a customer to remain with your company you need to be thinking about the ‘Why’ not just ‘What’ you deliver for them. It is the reason why people are prepared to wait 24hrs outside an Apple store for a new product when it is launched. Why people remain loyal when a new product from a challenger brand comes to market. Why they are prepared to put up with those little niggles that they have to work around to use a product. But when push comes to shove they need to feel emotionally connected to your brand. They have loyalty beyond reason! In the same way that you cannot easily explain why you love the person you end up spending your life with, you can’t always explain why you connect with a brand that you choose. You can guarantee though it will feel right in your gut. And those ‘Love Brands’ are what all we aspire towards creating!

So is your brand worth talking about?

Does it stand for something that resonates with people? Does it have a social cause that people connect with? Is it authentic rather than just thrown together because some smart team member thinks it should have one? Does your culture show in the employee experience what you stand for and is your purpose translated to the external market so your customers feel it too? It needs to be personal, it needs to be different and it needs to be consistent in the way that it is delivered to your people.

Whatever your USP that differentiates you from your competition, it needs to be clear and consistent in every touchpoint of your business. The consistency in which you execute the elements of your brand foundation needs to flow through every channel you use and in every message you send to your people. It is the reason that marketers are obsessed with something being ‘On Brand’ and why agencies exist to deliver what your purpose is through your communications strategy. Otherwise if something enters your world that doesn’t fit, it confuses your customers & staff as it conflicts with your messaging. It would be the equivalent of Pret A Manger throwing away sandwiches. Or Volvo producing a car that didn’t meet the highest safety standards. These conflict with their brand foundation. They don’t feel right. Consistency then is key and every interaction will either strengthen or detract from your brand advocacy.

It’s quite a bit of effort!

Creating and protecting the brand experience is one of the most crucial tasks for companies to deliver. Getting the buy in of staff and customers to your ‘Why’ will form a huge part of that.

Stories sell the brand experience and whether it is people aspiring to work for you or customers being loyal to staying with you, the quality and consistency of those stories will be one of the most valuable things you can invest in!

The Brand Experience is therefore so much more than marketing or advertising. A brand will live or die with the actions of every employee. The employee experience and culture of the workplace is key for your leadership team to deliver.

Your brand strategy then doesn’t need to focus on products or services as its key differentiator, only the experiences will deliver the customer and employee advocacy that will create greatness!

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