The Brand Promise Should Put People First

In the modern day of countless choices, customers’ loyalty is not a given anymore—it has to be earned. Start this process by engaging your employees.

The Brand Promise Should Put People First

Transformation is imperative in a world where change is the new normal, but how can your brand be your most important tool for success?

In the good old days, as long as brands continued to deliver the same products at the right price, they could expect continued customer loyalty.

But things have changed and we now have so much choice. New competitors dart in from the most unexpected places, challenging conventional wisdom and in the blink of an eye making traditional businesses seem irrelevant.

To compound the issue, there is the tsunami of reviews from an ever-growing number of sources, such as people sharing stories about what brands do wrong, about bad service, and about what they have done badly in the past. Even worse, there are glowing reviews of competitor products and services.

All of this makes it increasingly hard to win and maintain customers. We can no longer expect loyalty. We have to work for it.

Customer Is Queen

The people who buy products and services are connected and sophisticated. They expect the very best treatment wherever and whenever they touch a brand, whether that’s in call centres, shops, online, or on their mobile. They expect to feel special, valued, looked after, and nothing else will do.

Not only does each point of contact have to be good, the journey has to be seamless and frictionless. There is a reason why Uber has shaken the transport market so profoundly. Removing that irritating point of payment from the picture has made getting home so much easier for the time-poor information-swamped urbanite.

Keeping up with young, agile disruptive competitors is not easy for companies designed for a very different world.

Computer Says No

Just one shoddy experience can shatter even a long-standing customer relationship.

Let me share a recent example. I bank with Lloyds. I went to pay for a service to find my card was blocked. On phoning, one “helper” informed me it was due to unusual spending activity. I assured her I had used the service multiple times before. On checking my records, she reluctantly accepted this to be true, before passing me on to “helper” number two in another department (needing more security details), and then another. After a 30-minute wait, “helper” number three agreed to unblock my card.

The first was embarrassed, the second apologetic, the third grumpy and officious.

This experience did not make me feel good. But it did make me check out reviews to look for another service provider.

Keep Your Promises

So what is Lloyds brand promise? “We expect our people to put customers’ needs at the heart of everything we do …”

This is easy to say but more difficult to do; and we know how important it is to keep promises.

Most companies are now jumping on the “customer-centric” wagon, but be careful what you communicate. Good relationships are built on trust. A gap between promise and experience will alienate customers.

Do I blame the three disgruntled girls? No.

The challenge clearly stemmed from fragmented and inward-focused processes, systems, and enforced ways of working.

Do I intend to single out Lloyds? Absolutely not.

This is an all-too-familiar customer service scenario.

The vast majority of older companies are battling with the challenge of operating across disconnected silos. They are struggling to harness the power of their people and data to build that precious customer loyalty.

They know they have to change or face becoming irrelevant in the connected age.

Change Is Hard

Companies can either hide their head in the sand and hope for a magical return to the status quo or start to build real relationships with customers.

But embedding change in risk-averse and change-resistant organisations is tough.

Over 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their aims. The usual drivers of mandate and fear do not work. They just exacerbate resistance. The constant round of badly handled change initiatives leads to one of the biggest global challenges, employee disengagement.

Where To Start

Start with your people! Employee engagement drives customer loyalty and sales more than traditional marketing spend.

Customers have twice the amount of loyalty to companies with high employee engagement.

Become People First

Richard Branson has proved “the people first” approach. He flouts conventional business wisdom. Virgin does not put the customer first. It focuses on employee loyalty.

“If the person who works at your company is 100% proud of the brand […] and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy. Put your staff first, customers second, and shareholders third.” Richard Branson

Virgin is in the top 20 of most brand rankings. The strategy appears to work for them—and not surprisingly so. It’s hardly rocket science.

Disengaged, demotivated, disenfranchised employees are hardly likely to go out of their way to help a customer. Employee behaviours at all levels have to echo customer expectations.

Justifiably proud people are a company’s most important asset.

Why, then, is employee engagement something most companies pay lip service to, while they continue to focus on short-term shareholder value?

Brands Radiate From The Heart

Brands should radiate from the very heart of a company: in the way a company behaves, makes decisions, trains, respects, and rewards its employees, who they hire and how, and how employees are welcomed. The brand is weaved into all of the company’s stories, its rituals, how meetings are held, how they behave at events.

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign.” Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks

Starbucks is number two in the worldwide fast food brands. Its strategy appears to work.

Brands need to be understood and believed by all employees—not just marketing, branding, or customer-facing departments.

To develop a powerful brand that will drive change, you need to design the very best solution for your company: designed and owned by your people. The best rebrands are designed through cross-organisational design processes

Branding Is Not A Sticking Plaster

Customers expect their favourite brands to share their values, so be careful.

Do not make the classic mistake of hiring a branding agency and hoping they will deliver a solution lock, stock, and barrel. Rebranding can’t be used as a sticking plaster. It is not a new logo, new colour palette, new fonts. A new lick of gloss will not hide shoddy products and services.

Your brand is not what your company says or how it says it, but how you act.

Authenticity Is All

Attempting to fool employees or customers is a dangerous game.

The connected customer can sniff out deception easily. Superficial changes are doomed to failure.

In a networked world where information travels at warp speed, a company’s reputation, its brand can be decimated in the blink of an eye.

If the CMO has to pick one strategic fight, they should fight tooth and nail at the highest levels for authenticity … and authenticity cannot be manufactured or helicoptered in.