Delivering Your Brand Promise
New York Times columnist William Safire observed that the word “Brand” had become a cliché, and argued that “The time has come…to unbrand the word brand.”
There is truth to this, where “commoditization” of brand “does not come from its overuse, but because we focus too much on its form and not on its function.” The value of branding is not about what a brand is, but why it matters. More specifically, it’s about “the advantages of being the brand of choice.”
Becoming the brand of choice is the result of an organization that is aligned to consistently deliver the company’s brand promise – what it’s willing and committed to do on behalf of its customers.
This mandate for brand alignment essentially becomes the central focus of management at all levels in pursuit of sustained competitive advantage. It places the brand vision and promise at the center of the organization, and requires the alignment of the company’s strategy, structure, systems, staffing, training and leadership approach to them, as well as to each other.
Specifically, such a focus entails addressing the following six (6) sets of crucial questions:
First: How well defined, known and understood are our brand vision, promise and strategy by everyone in our organization? How do we know? How can we find out to be sure?
Second: What are the demonstrated attitudes toward our brand in the different areas of our company that define our culture, and how do we know?
There are various “attitudes toward a brand” that define a culture. These attitudes are on a continuum.
At the lowest end of the continuum is “apathy,” where the employee is neither for nor against the brand vision, and has no interest or energy in delivering the brand promise. These people are clock watchers whose primary concern is getting to 5 o’clock.
At the next level there are those who are “grudgingly compliant,” who neither relate to nor value the brand, and do just enough of what’s expected because they have to keep their job.
Higher still is the attitude of “genuine compliance.” Those in the company with this attitude see the benefits of the brand and will go the extra mile to deliver the brand promise if and when asked. These are “good soldiers”.
Finally, we get to “commitment.” This is the highest attitude toward the brand vision, and also the one needed throughout the company to consistently deliver the brand promise for competitive advantage.
“Commitment” is in an entirely different category than all the other attitudes, and is a rare phenomenon. The “committed” employee personally values and relates to the brand and will do whatever is necessary or required to deliver the brand promise. Such an attitude is characterized by a high level of energy and initiative, as well as a marked willingness to responsibly take necessary risks and personally sacrifice if and as needed to deliver the brand. Such commitment requires stewardship, or ownership of the brand vision, and committed employees function as partners rather than subordinates, empowered as such to work within the “spirit of the law” or policies of the company, and to even create the necessary “laws” or policies required to deliver the brand promise.
I have personally encountered committed employees in certain companies I patronize and have worked with, but the numbers are small, and the companies that have a culture of commitment to their brand vision are unfortunately few and far between. In considering whether or not your company has such a culture, it’s important to keep in mind that to say or believe your employees are “committed” to your brand vision (as defined above) does not mean they are. Commitment cannot be confirmed by assertion, or even positive customer feedback. It can only be confirmed by objectively observed and reported action and behavior.
Moving on, the third set of questions that needs to be addressed as part of management’s focus on brand alignment is as follows: How well aligned are our company’s internal structure, policies, systems and processes with the brand vision and strategy? How do we know?
Fourth: How well aligned are the current leadership styles and practices at all levels of our organization with our brand vision and values? Do we treat our people as partners or as subordinates? Do we treat them the way our brand vision requires them to treat our customers or clients? How do we know?
Fifth: How well aligned are our internal training and development programs with staff and leadership development needs in relation to our brand vision and promise? How do we know?
And sixth and finally, what specifically needs to be done to improve brand alignment or correct brand misalignments in our company to ensure sustained competitive advantage?
The above six sets of questions essentially translate to the following 4-Step Brand-based Strategic Agenda for Competitive Advantage:
This process will not only make branding relevant as an essential strategy, but it makes your brand, whatever it is or you want it to be, capable of ensuring sustained competitive advantage for your company.
Managing the brand is the responsibility of the enterprise as a whole. Unless brand is defined in the larger enterprise context, the promise of ‘branding’ generally falls short for many organizations. Recasting the notion of brand in the context for aligning and energizing the entire organization to consistently deliver what is necessary to become brand of choice will make it relevant to virtually every organization.