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Is Your Brand an Empty Promise?

When TD Bank proclaims during its TV advertisements that it is “America’s Most Convenient Bank,” does that make it so? No. But if it runs its banks in a way that customers perceive as being convenient then it will become a valuable marketing campaign. As it turns out, TD Bank is one of the top-ranked banks in the 2012 Temkin Experience Ratings, so it might be a successful campaign.

As Howard Shultz, president and CEO of Starbucks, once said: “Customers must recognize that you stand for something.”

What does your company stand for? I mean, truly stand for?

The essence of true brands

True brands are more than just advertising slogans and marketing campaigns; they’re the fabric that aligns all employees with customers in the pursuit of a common cause. There’s a very important implication in my definition: Companies don’t own their brands. Let me say that in another way: You don’t own your own brand!

True brands are an asset that is jointly owned by organizations and their customers… and it’s a fragile relationship. You need to continually nurture it. Even if your brand represents something today, there’s no guarantee that it will continue to be perceived in the same way or have the same impact in the future.

How do you create compelling brands? With promises. It takes three steps:

Make promises. Companies must make explicit the promises that they’re making (and intend to keep) with their brands. TNT, a European transportation leader, has identified 10 specific promises to customers that include “We promise a friendly voice at the end of the phone” and “We promise to resolve problems promptly.” Each of these promises has specific elements, such as “Your calls will be answered professionally and promptly, with our aim to answer at least 85% of calls within 10 seconds.”

Embrace promises. Brands need to be understood and “owned” by the entire organization. That’s why it’s critical for companies to invest heavily in communicating the brand value to everyone in the company. When launching its new brand, BMO Financial provided all employees with a brand book that covered its new brand positioning—including a breakdown of what will be different “tomorrow from today” along with the “Our Way” model that defined the employee behaviors of how to work together to deliver on the customer commitments.

Keep promises. Having a solid understanding of your brand promises isn’t enough; you need to live up to those promises every time you interact with customers. It starts with measuring yourself against your promise. When Merck promises “honest communications with doctors,” for instance, it should create a system for doctors to directly rate its honesty. This type of insight must drive changes when you’re not living up to the promise. Several years ago when Staples launched its “That Was Easy Campaign,” the retailer examined all of its interactions with customers to see if they lived up to the promise of being easy. Not all did. Staples found that its rebate process was not easy, so the company completely redesigned it.

Six questions that every brand must ask

A small drift in your brand can cause myriads of inconsistent decisions within your company and create opportunities for competitors to takeover your previously controlled market position. That’s why every company should reassess its brand every 18-24 months. This effort should assess the following six questions:

1.      What does the executive team think the brand currently stands for?

2.      What does the executive team think the brand should stand for?

3.      What do employees think the brand stands for?

4.      To what degree have employees embraced the brand?

5.      What do customers think the brand stands for?

6.      To what degree does the brand resonate with customers?

The bottom line: Don’t make any brand promises you can’t keep.

  Bruce Temkin, managing partner and customer experience transformist at Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting company. He is widely viewed as a leading expert in customer experience.

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