The chasm between company values (which are generally human resource driven) and brand values (which are generally communicated externally to customers) accounts for much of the scepticism with which consumers view brands and the messages and values they are trying to portray. Many consumers justifiably believe that the ‘ad gloss’ provided by external communications will not be matched by the actual performance of the company. This belief arises from a simple comparison of the message sent out through advertising and promotions and the ‘coal face’ consumer experience.
Although Living the Brand sounds dangerously like the theme for another motivational conference, companies have to realise that the brand is simply the outward manifestation of the organisation’s business strategy.
The brand is the company - and as such brand values must match the company’s operational performance.
The bottom line is that adopting a brand driven approach to business, both internally and externally, fosters the sort of customer loyalty that ultimately translates into increased profitability - and a sustainable competitive advantage. In an age of extreme global competitiveness, Living the Brand could not only be the difference between making money and going broke, but could prove an enduring competitive differentiator.
Fostering executive buy in for a Living the Brand programme is a significant challenge. Although the above business rationale makes compelling bottom line sense, the fact that a Living the Brand programme is likely to be driven by the marketing department is a problem, not least because marketing departments across the world have developed reputations (often justifiably) for blowing the budget on brochures, cocktail parties and dysfunctional web sites.
This ‘executive challenge’ can best be met by dispelling notions that Living the Brand is an abstract creative construct, developed by the marketing department in order to sell the product.
Your brand is a component of everything your company does. Although it is nurtured and managed by the marketing department, your brand is represented by the entire organisation. That’s why a strong brand requires that everyone in the organisation has a complete understanding of, and ability to express, the brand promise and brand values.
As markets become more competitive and customers become more demanding, companies have to secure long term relationships with consumers that will fuel their business growth. The difference between an average brand and a great brand is that the great brand will not only capture your imagination with their advertising – they will deliver on the dream when you walk into the store, or when you call their hot line.
Great brands have employees that ‘live’ the brand values in their day-to-day interactions. Average brands have employees that are vaguely aware of the message the company advert is trying to portray. Great brands make money. Average brands struggle to survive.
For the brand to come to life with customers (and create a bond based on values that are backed up by performance), it needs to form the backbone of the organisational culture. Brand values need to become the invisible glue of the organisation, and in so doing project a culture of oneness -
providing direction and clarifying expectations for customers, employees and the organisation.
The development of a successful and structured Living the Brand programme will ensure that employees:
1. are aware of the company’s core values
2. understand the relevance of the core values to the business and the customer
3. are able to determine behaviour that reflects the core values
4. accept the behavioural changes required to ‘live’ the core values If the above goals can be achieved across the organisation, the rewards (in strict Rands and cents terms) are significant.
Firstly, customers will be greeted with clear, consistent and co-ordinated communications and service – a coal face experience that matches the advert they saw on telly last night.
Secondly, a clear understanding of the brand values from all employees translates into the ability to make strategic decisions as to what is ‘on-brand’ and what is ‘off-brand’. These sorts of decisions are required on a daily basis from all employees, and the ability to make them confidently translates directly into greater company performance, driven by increased employee satisfaction thanks to the ability to take real responsibility and effective action.
It must be noted that employee satisfaction rests heavily on the creation (and delivery) of performance objectives, true career advancement channels and rewards systems. Implementing a Living the Brand programme can potentially turn your entire organisation into a team of brand advocates.
But this will only happen if your employees actually believe in the brand, its values and its commitment to its values, especially when it comes to the internal functioning of the company.
And this is where the make or break challenge lies for decision makers. In order for the company to be competitive, executives have to live the brand values too. Paying cynical lip service (as many executives still do) to rewards, integrity and operational ethics will undermine everything the company is trying to achieve, and the result will be a gradual brand meltdown. Internal combustion, if you will.
The choice seems easy enough, but walking the talk is tougher than most executives will admit. The challenge is worth it, however. Through Living the Brand your company will not only have significantly happier employees –it will also be a cut throat competitor in an increasingly aggressive global market.
With 20 years of marketing, sales and advertising experience, Janice Spark has directed the marketing efforts of leading global organisations. Before co-founding Idea Engineers, Spark was the Director of Aramis South Africa where she introduced Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY to South Africa; entrenched Aramis as a market leader and led Estee Lauder’s most profitable division in the international market.