Strong brands make credible, relevant, and distinctive brand promises. Even more importantly, they fulfill these every day.
Developments in social media and other digital innovations have changed the world of brands. It has become a zillion-channel place where anyone can express his opinion about your brand and broadcast that opinion to many.
So how can you manage this? The answer is simple: with trust. The execution, however, is far more complex.
People need to be able to trust your brand, and this includes your employees. Building trust requires a shift in those that steward brands within organizations. We have learned that it is important to “Promise and Prove” on your core purpose at the same time.
Trust is the lever here. Your market has to trust your brand. Who would you trust more than your own family and friends who have just told you how amazing an experience was that they had at Starbucks, for instance? Within the multichannel world in which we live, an objective, positive message is easily spread. And a negative message probably spreads even more easily. So keep your brand promise in focus, and map how your brand delivers on it.
With this as our starting point, let’s review our definition of a brand promise.
The brand promise clarifies what the brand stands for, and it is one of the most important reasons for stakeholders to choose a particular brand. Often this promise is communicated explicitly through a slogan or tagline, but it can also be conveyed implicitly via communication with and behavior towards stakeholders.
Brand success results from a relevant brand promise that is proven throughout the organization. Every single day it is visible as the DNA of the organization. This was addressed in 1997 by Steve Jobs: “To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world; it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
So what it boils down to is that for every moment your brand is in contact with stakeholders, you want to give them the correct look and feel of your brand. This means that you have to strive for coherence in your promise.
Brand Proof Points
The least a customer should expect from a brand is that the experience with the brand lives up to the promise made. The brand proof should at least be equal to the brand promise to avoid disappointing the customer. To prove the brand promise, everything has to be in place. Customers have to experience the brand promise through all the different channels: via the telephone, in all the stores/locations, on the website, other digital channels, and in face-to-face contact.
Social and technological developments now make it necessary to prove what you promise in your communication. Consumers are becoming more assertive and, with the launch of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, they are able to broadcast their opinions to many followers and friends. If a brand promise is not in harmony with the brand proof, this can be communicated in an instant to large groups of people located all over the world. The result is that the credibility of the brand is eroded.
For many years, a brand was supposed to have an attractive exterior. These days, the promise is regarded as the core driver of behavior. The external focus of the brand—supported by attractive television commercials and eye-catching ad campaigns—has given way to seeing the brand as the guiding principle for the entire organization. A brand touchpoint is any place (online and offline) a brand interacts with customers, employees, partners, and other stakeholders. When brand touchpoints demonstrate the brand promise, we refer to them as brand proof points.
One Example: Starbucks
A good example of a brand with a consistent brand promise and brand proof is Starbucks. Employees are friendly and quick, and the atmosphere is inviting with modern furniture, relaxed music, and pleasant aromas. Moreover, their range of products is the same all over the world. The company is likely to behave responsibly towards people and the environment. Most notably, they communicate their brand promise everywhere in exactly the same manner—not just in the stores, but also on Twitter, Facebook, the corporate website, everywhere. They are welcoming, provide a fast service, and it’s clear they are passionate about coffee.
From New Brand Positioning To Implementation
A strong brand position is the foundation of a successful organization. For example, how an organization portrays itself to the market is most commonly determined by its brand personality, brand values and brand promise. These characteristics define how the brand will be perceived.
Brand changes require a significant amount of time. Time and energy are needed to come to a consensus about which characteristics of the organization are most relevant; will fit the best; resonate with employees; and are the most distinctive compared to the competition.
After the brand positioning has been defined, it must be implemented across the organization. This is a much harder task than the development of the positioning. Where do you start? Merely expressing your brand’s positioning in your communication is no longer sufficient to gain trust from your marketplace, employees, and various audiences. A strong brand lives and breathes its positioning, not only in its marketing and communications, but in everything it does.
It is about the characteristics of all the products and services and the experience around the brand at every touchpoint, in every way. If you want to do this the right way, then it pays to get the whole organization involved and not limit yourself to only involving the marketing communications, or brand management departments.
There are a number of steps that will help you to successfully implement your new brand position across your organization.
A successful brand position implementation starts with smart planning and preparation. The positioning is an outline of what the brand stands for. In most cases, it is still too complex and abstract to be immediately applied in all the parts of the organization. Make the brand positioning concrete: what can customers expect from the brand at every brand touchpoint? To get prepared for the actual implementation, follow these five steps:
1. Determine the most important contact moments and/or channels
Start by determining which categories of contact moments or points are the most relevant for your organization. Select a maximum of five. Unsure which channels to select? Find out what your moments of truth are in the customer journey by asking your customers about their experiences. Doing so should help you gather sufficient evidence to choose the best channels. For each of these channels you’ll determine (Step 5) what the positioning will mean for the experience in that specific channel.
2. Summarize the brand positioning in concise promises
A strong brand positioning consists of multiple elements. In most cases we see a brand personality and values, but we also regularly see elements like target groups, essence, promises and benefits. It is important that the positioning is translated into a few concise descriptions that represent the brand. Ideally, these are a focus on, or an explanation of, the central brand promise. Choose a maximum of four in order to be able to create an unambiguous view of your organization.
3. Examine the gap between promise and proof
The next step is to determine the extent to which the recently formulated promises are being proven. Any gap between promises and proof needs to be examined and closed. Start with collecting this information from internal stakeholders. Select a diverse group of stakeholders who can function as brand ambassadors at a later stage and who can also play an important role in carrying out and improving the brand positioning.
4. Map the needs and expectations of customers and prospects
With the input of these brand ambassadors, you’ll have a good base to map the experiences, expectations and needs from your customers. How do customers experience the brand at the moment? Is this in line with your promises? And with these promises in mind, what do customers think the brand can bring them? What do they hope for? This information is valuable input to make the brand positioning more specific.
5. Determine the ways the positioning is brought to life at the most important contact moments
With your prior research of employees and customers, a large amount of information has already been gathered. Give priority to the best ideas. Incorporate them into a guide for translating the positioning into concrete characteristics of the most important contact moments and/or channels of the organization. With a group of decision-making colleagues who are also involved with the most important contact moments (Step 1), you now can determine how each promise is proven in each channel by identifying global starting points. This can then be specified further in the actual implementation for your various departments and colleagues.
The Actual Implementation
The positioning affects everyone in the organization, so we recommend implementing it in a cascading fashion: top-down from business units to departments to individual employees. Each department within the organization writes down what the positioning means for their tasks and responsibilities and makes sure the changes are implemented. By letting your colleagues actually work with the positioning and by showing them what it means in their day-to-day activities, they will be understood and accepted within the whole organization.
It is important to remain in control of this cascade, so that you keep the original idea intact. This is an important task for the brand manager and people responsible for important customer contact moments who are involved from the first phase of the project. They should be available for questions, and to be involved in continued testing to ensure that the ideas generated are in line with the original goals.
Careful Monitoring And Continual Evaluation
The implementation is not a snapshot; it is a continuous process. That is why it is important to keep monitoring the brand performance. Is the brand positioning visible at all brand touchpoints? If that is not the case, why not? By carefully monitoring the brand, small adjustments can be made to make the experience optimal for your customers and colleagues. This is how you develop a strong brand, as well as a successful organization. It is also how you will be better prepared for more revolutionary brand change when the time comes.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Marc Cloosterman, CEO, VIM Group. Excerpted and adapted from his book Future Proof Your Brand.
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