Much of my time and much of what I enjoy doing, is helping enterprises to define their brand promise. I used to do it specifically to inform advertising campaigns, but now my interest is more in the organisation’s ability to deliver. As I often say, if you cannot express your brand promise in a way your most junior employee can understand and internalise, you have no hope of sustaining brand equity.
I am fortunate to be connected with professor Nader Tavassoli at London Business School, who is both my chairman and a promoter of highly original thought on the space where brands and people connect. Nader is about to conduct a massive open online course about aligning employees to deliver brands. Below I share details of how you can participate in this MOOC for free. Before I do, here are some of the Professor’s latest thoughts on brands:
“Customers do not buy brand promises, at least not indefinitely. What customers do buy are experiences that span the journey of considering, acquiring and consuming products and services that satisfy their needs and desires better than alternatives. These experiences are directly or indirectly provided by people. They can positively differentiate a brand and deepen the customer relationship, miss the opportunity to do so, or undermine it.
As such, brand differentiation is now a far cry from what is traditionally referred to as a Unique Selling Proposition.
A USP is an exceedingly rare and short-lived exception for a simple reason: most organisations target the same customers and consumers as their competitors. All competitors will have carefully studied their attitudes, goals, needs, desires and motivational drivers. They will have benchmarked each other’s performance. As a result, the customer value proposition will necessarily be similar. Indeed, it must be, in order to compete. This is particularly true for the more functional product and service benefits that are at the core of most value propositions. These are most easily ascertained and replicated, and end up as hygiene factors. Brands must offer them to be considered, but they do not form the basis of choice.
Put differently, sustainable differentiation is rarely based on design. Instead, differentiation emerges from delivery; from being “simply better” at delivering the same strategy and brand promises made by competitors and doing so across the entire customer journey. Intellectually, some brand managers know this. But, in reality, most only create and communicate 'brand promises' to customers, while having little influence over how these are fulfilled.
Conversely, human resource processes tend to operate in a brand void, offering 'vanilla' administrative support. Even so called 'employer branding' projects are generically about creating a great place to work in the generic sense, rather than creating a differentiated brand culture. This creates a design-delivery gap, where organisations have created a Cartesian-like separation of mind and body, between thinking and doing.
In the future, building brands will increasingly be about bridging this design-delivery gap by embedding the brand into daily employee behaviour – spanning the employee journey from hiring, landing, developing, rewarding, and exiting – and doing so in partnership with HR. Building strong brands will be about achieving sustainable differentiation by delivering the often same strategy and brand promise in a way that creates a superior customer experience.
This is especially critical for services that account for over 60 per cent of the world economy. And for most brands, the lines between product and service are increasingly becoming blurred in any case.
Brand thinking is in desperate need of catching up with this reality. The history of and writing on branding has come mainly from consumer product markets, with scant attention given to B2B or service industries. This has led to an exaggerated focus on the 4Ps – product, price, place and promotion – at the expense of the ‘P’ that stands for people. The new 4Ps of branding – people, people, people, and people – require coordinating an internal brand engagement process across company silos, one that recognizes that an external brand positioning ultimately lives and dies by the actions of people, actions that are shaped by and reflected in organisational culture.”
I hope that many of you will join me in professor Nader Tavassoli’s 5-week open-access online course about brands being built by people and not ads. This massive open online course is entirely free or you can obtain a certificate of completion for a nominal fee.
Learn more about the course by visiting the course webpage where sign up is now open for an October 7 start – https://www.coursera.org/course/brand
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Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people. www.thebrandinside.com
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