Why isn’t your brand bigger?
Companies want a great brand because it attracts new customers, gets current customers to spend more and keeps customers loyal. Great brands dominate the markets they compete in.
But there’s a big misconception about brands. When people think of great brands, they usually think of advertising.
If only we had a big ad budget. If only we had better search engine optimization. If only more people knew about us. In short, there’s something we don’t have or something we can’t control that is keeping us from growing bigger.
But Gallup’s workplace data suggest that the most likely cause of your brand problems is not related to marketing dollars. Consider restaurants, an industry that depends heavily on customer loyalty and brand recognition:
- 40% of employees strongly agree that they know what their organization stands for and what makes it different from competitors
- 26% of employees say they encourage family members and friends to purchase or use their restaurant’s products and services
- 35% of employees say they are extremely proud of the quality of products and services their restaurant offers
Gallup’s workplace data suggest that the most likely cause of your brand problems is not related to marketing dollars.
Why isn’t your brand bigger? Because your employees don’t know, understand or believe in what makes your organization distinctive.
- understands your unique competitive differentiator
- aligns their performance to deliver on that singular promise
And yet, in most organizations, most employees think (and therefore act) like your brand is generic.
Stop Running on the Innovation Treadmill
A brand is not a list of unique features. Many well-meaning business leaders spend their energy trying to come up with new, creative add-ons that will differentiate them from their competitors. But most of the time, this only sets off an endless arms race. You may think you struck gold with a new innovation but your competitor can easily match your offer in six months.
The result is that your business is only as good as its latest feature.
A hospitality brand spent 18 months developing the perfect breakfast for their guests. Their competitors matched it 90 days. They created an innovative shower curtain design. Everybody else copied it. They were stuck on an endless treadmill of innovation. In response, leaders focused their energy on creating a unique culture that could not be replicated by their competitors.
You may think you struck gold with a new innovation but your competitor can easily match your offer in six months. The result is that your business is only as good as its latest feature.
A truly meaningful (and valuable) brand is highly distinctive and differentiated in a way that competitors cannot replicate or beat — no matter what new features, products or services they create. An inimitable brand maintains a memorable reputation, culture and overall customer experience.
Consider brands like Walmart or Southwest Airlines. Years ago, they decided to be something different — not just in their offerings, but in their customer experience. Customers choose them because they know what they are getting. And what they are getting is a customer experience of savings, friendliness, etc. — even if those brands don’t happen to be cheapest.
It’s Not About Standardizing Service — It’s About Deepening Trust
Brand is about providing a consistent customer experience. But everybody has different needs. Ultimately, you need people to assess customers’ needs and tailor your services and offerings accordingly.
Standardized service leads to vanilla service. But when a customer feels heard, feels special, and has their needs met in a human interaction, it builds trust. And all other things being equal, customers will go with a brand they trust. Trust is what makes someone go to the same gas station every week. Or use the same lawn care service. Or choose a retail store over buying online.
When things go horribly wrong for a business, two things are almost always true:
- Someone in the company knew.
- Someone didn’t speak up.
More than likely, they didn’t speak up because they couldn’t be bothered or they feared retaliation. Unfortunately, many leaders attempt to patch over these systemic problems with policy changes when the underlying issue is cultural.
A culture that doesn’t handle problems well is especially damaging when those problems are connected to customers. Clearly, it’s better to not have any problems over the lifetime of a customer. However, Gallup has discovered that customer relationships can be saved and strengthened when customers feel heard, businesses genuinely apologize, and something is done to make things right.
The hard truth for leaders is that you likely have everything and everyone you need to become a great brand now. It’s not an external problem, it’s an internal one.
Once again, customer-facing employees make the difference. Only an in-person interaction can make a person feel truly heard. Only another person can give a genuine apology. And how to “make things right” will depend on that customer’s unique needs. A standard refund may not make that customer feel special.
And it is in that personalized response that your brand shines brightest. How that customer feels about the way their issue was handled will significantly affect their opinion of your business and their recommendations to others.
Will Your Brand Survive the Changing Consumer Marketplace?
The digital revolution has pushed many customers toward price and features, but many brands are realizing that they simply can’t compete on that endless treadmill. And these brands are also realizing that culture defines their unique brand and market position.
Here’s where to get started:
Understand what your best customers love about your brand and what frustrates them. There is nothing more credible about your brand than what your best customers think you do with excellence. It may not be a key differentiator, but it is, at least, true. Identify the thing that customers say you do best and that is unique within your category.
- Understand who you really compete against.
- Don’t spend all your efforts trying to match your competitor.
- Create clear messaging around your brand strategy to both customers and employees.
- Empower employees to deliver on your brand promise in an exceptional way.
The hard truth for leaders is that you likely have everything and everyone you need to become a great brand now. It’s not an external problem, it’s an internal one. It won’t be solved by bigger ad budgets or new features, but by empowering your employees to provide unique customer experiences.