Multiple components beyond just your logo encompass branding your practice and include your internal and external communication, mission, vision and more.
Branding goes well beyond marketing. It will not be successful without ensuring that all aspects of your business reflect and support your intended brand. One of your most valuable assets—your people—must be well-trained in articulating and delivering on your brand. This step is particularly important for the service side of your business in which your offerings are soft assets such as knowledge, experience and people.
BRAND: THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
Despite what many believe, brand isn’t about your logo, tagline and glossy brochure. Instead, a strong brand integrates multiple components, all of them necessary, including customer interactions, employee communications, corporate philosophy and advertising/marketing efforts. Your brand extends to your employees, customers, the media and even the general population.
If these components don’t consistently reinforce your brand, customers will become dissatisfied. The negative impact of their perception, should they voice their opinions to other potential customers or even the media, could have a ripple effect on your business. This can erode your brand equity and create misperceptions about your practice in the marketplace that in turn could lead prospective customers, employees and investors to pass on your organization.
On the other hand, brand consistency throughout all levels of the organization helps drive an organization to grow and prosper. Strong brands can drive an increase in sales. The company is better suited to attract and retain the best employees. Vendors can see value in your brand and look to establish partnerships with your business, while investors will see the business and your brand equity as a valuable commodity.
BRANDING THROUGH EMPLOYEES
Your employees are one of the most critical touch points for your customer. Here are four steps to ensure that they are representing your brand in the best light possible:
1. DEVELOP A COMPANY PHILOSOPHY
A thoughtfully planned philosophy that guides how your practice operates is the first step to reinforcing your brand among your workforce. The prestigious Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is an excellent example. It has created the following five “Gold Standards” for business operations that reinforce the brand and detail an employee’s role in delivering on it:
A vision to revolutionize hospitality in America by creating a luxury setting for guests and a credo that states the company’s commitment to the genuine care and comfort of its guests.
A motto that exemplifies the level of service for its guests: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
Three steps of service: (1) A warm and sincere greeting that uses the guest name, if and when possible, (2) Anticipation and compliance with guest needs, and (3) A fond farewell that uses a guest’s name, if and when possible.
The “20 Basics” that outline the responsibilities and expectations for how the company delivers on its service (including #13-Never Lose a Guest).
The employee promise: “At The Ritz-Carlton, our ladies and gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests.”
2. MAINTAIN BRAND CONSISTENCY
This step is essential to building a strong brand. However, it is often one of the first steps to unravel. You must establish consistency throughout all aspects of your organization. Just setting standards is not enough. You must constantly evaluate your actions. Establish checkpoints for each aspect of the business that interacts with customers and the general public. Ensure that each employee is empowered to identify and address inconsistencies in your brand. Fail to deliver on brand with one customer, and he or she might forget. Fail to do so for another, and he or she might not be so forgiving. It only takes a scant few to dispel the brand you are touting.
3. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
The best way to lead is by example. If your brand projects your organization as one that supports its employees and then reneges on that promise, your brand (and sales) will suffer. Case in point: Walmart, which says, “We believe that one of the keys to our success is our people and how we treat them.” However, the retail chain has been the subject of unfair employee wage practice lawsuits. Moreover, though the company says it values its target customer (the hardworking middle class), its actions aren’t necessarily consistent with the rhetoric.
4. IMPLEMENT BRAND GUIDELINES
In order to ensure brand consistency, your organization must establish a framework or set of brand guidelines for all to follow. We’re not merely talking about logo or corporate identity guidelines but actual brand guidelines that communicate the company’s brand positioning statement, key messages, core values, brand attributes, measures of success and processes for handling customer issues or feedback.
Federal Express was an early pioneer of this idea. The international shipper utilizes an internet-based program that outlines the company’s brand guidelines. This detailed approach provides guidance on everything from the graphic standards for use of the company logo to how cultural differences affect brand (particularly important for global companies). Establishing brand guidelines leaves no room for misinterpretation and helps maintain consistency throughout all levels of the organization.
Brand extends well beyond your marketing efforts. Your brand is only as good as the people behind it . . . and the people in front of your customer. Take the time to effectively build a corporate culture that mirrors your brand. Train your employees to represent that brand. Evaluate your consistency in delivering your brand across all aspects of your business. In doing so, you will strengthen your brand equity and position your practice for greater success.
Laura Pasternak is principal/chief brand strategist of MarketPoint, LLC, a brand management firm that helps businesses improve results by identifying, integrating and managing customer-driven brand equities and strategies. YourMarketPoint.com.