Just as creating a personal brand has become a key component in managing individual careers, building a brand-centric business -- from startups to Fortune 500 -- has become a non-negotiable factor in company success. Simply having a good product is no longer enough. According to a 2012 report from Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, 87 percent of corporate executives believe that having a strong corporate brand is as important as having strong product brands.
But getting to this state of organization-wide brand focus requires creating a culture where your brand promise is woven into the fabric of how your company does business. Truly brand-centric organizations express their brand promise in five important ways that ensure a culture of alignment between the brand and the everyday way the organization behaves and functions.
1. Customer experience
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First and foremost, being a brand-centric company requires being a customer-focused one. Much has been written and said about being customer-focused over the past few decades. A Google search alone on the term brings up more than 35 million results, but fundamentally, a customer-focused company is one that pays attention to the impact its actions have on the customer experience, endeavors to proactively fulfill customer needs and responds quickly when those needs aren’t met or customer expectations are not fulfilled. Being a customer-focused company requires managing three specific dimensions of the customer’s experience.
The Interpersonal Dimension
This is the dimension of your customer experience that relates to the attitudes and actions your customers will encounter in dealing with your staff. The communication styles and social interactions customers have shape their experience of your brand at an interpersonal level. We’ve all taken an airline flight where the flight itself went as planned -- it left on time, arrived on schedule, and our seat reclined properly -- but the flight attendants were snarly. When this happens, our overall experience of the flight -- and the airline’s brand -- is usually poor, despite the airline delivering us to our destination as promised.
The Product Dimension
This is the dimension of your customer experience that relates to the physical quality of the products you sell or, in the case of a service business, any tangible assets you bring to the table. Let’s go back to our airline analogy. If the service on the flight is friendly, but your seat’s recliner function is broken and they run out of peanuts before they get to you, you’re likely to have a negative impression of the carrier’s brand.
One note: The product dimension of your brand experience includes your website and other marketing collateral. Since these are physical assets your customer interacts with, they impact your overall brand reputation.
The Process Dimension
This is the dimension of your customer experience that relates to how easy (or hard) it is to do business with your company. Qualities such as efficiency, speed, effectiveness and effortlessness impact how a customer feels about your brand. An airline flight where the attendants are pleasant and you get your peanuts, but the plane leaves three hours late due to mechanical failure will likely leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.
The bottom line is that for your company to be customer-focused, you need to align all three dimensions of a customer’s experience with your brand promise. Only then will you have the foundation necessary to create a brand-centric business.
2. Management commitment
Most startup founders, entrepreneurs and executives will readily and cheerfully tell you that a strong brand is everything to business success. The problem is that they don’t always “walk what they talk” when it comes to being brand-focused. In the final analysis, it’s not what leaders say about living the brand but how they actually live it that matters. The actions they take indicate to their organization (and the world at large) what is really important and valued within the company.
3. Employee engagement
The greatest opportunity a company has to make its brand promise a reality is through engaging all its employees in the brand promise. This requires recognizing that living the brand is a job not just for the front-line staff who interact daily with customers but for everyone. From the sales department to accounting and product development to human resources, your staff are the brand ambassadors who shape your customers’ (internal or external) experience.
Ironically, however, these are the people who often get the least exposure to the tenets of the brand promise and frequently get little or no training on how to fulfill their role as brand ambassadors. Brand-centric organizations recognize the critical importance of engaging their employees and providing them with the education, encouragement and support they need to live the brand.
4. Processes, procedures, systems and standards
In many ways, the alignment of your organization’s processes, procedures, systems, and standards with your brand promise is the fulcrum on which creating a brand-centric company rests.
Unfortunately, too many companies ignore (at the peril of their brand’s reputation) the inherent process and system problems that are negatively impacting their brand. No matter how well-intentioned, no company can achieve true brand-centricity without addressing the structural functions that work solely in the company’s favor -- and not in favor of the customers or employees. Being brand-centric means being willing to review and revise the ways in which your processes, procedures, systems and standards do not line up with the brand promise.
5. Organizational infrastructure
How does your company approach the people side of your business? How you define roles and responsibilities, the way you practice control and reward, the quality of recognition and the specificity of job descriptions all have a deep impact on the brand-centric nature of your company. In order to live the brand, your business must delineate the way people in your organization work as individuals and as a team, both structurally and behaviorally.