What is branding really about?

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where you can find your brandThis posting by Kathya Andresen, Where you can find your brand, reminds us that your brand — that is clients’ and potential clients’ trust in your organization, is built on the human interactions and live experiences of actual customers. All of the advertising, and “brand imaging” efforts you attempt will flame out if the experience doesn’t satisfy expectations — in fact, the experience needs to be more than the expectations to really leave a positive impression.

To say the least, because branding therefore involves every employee who in any way interacts with actual clients, businesses have a genuine management challenge. You can’t achieve the spontaneous, positive and wonderfully creative human responses that inspire incredible positive word of mouth by hiring the wrong people, nor can you structure everything in a complex rulebook which denies employees the freedom to take appropriate actions. Yet details count.

Consider this observation from another post from Dianne Brogan, describing her experience at a hotel chain (I’ll remove the name in line with my policy not to speak negatively about individual businesses or organizations in this blog):

We stayed at (hotel brand) as we traveled across America. As Miss Dazey pointed out, if you stay at the same chain, you get to sleep in the same type of bed and usually have a consistent night’s sleep. That proved true for us. The amenities are also the same.

One day we stayed at a (related hotel brand. different name,but part of same umbrella organization) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is part of the (name removed) family, but it is not a (name removed). It looked the same and had the same promises, but did not deliver.

(Hotel chain)  have a free breakfast that have been consistently good. At the (another hotel grouping within the organization)  there was no hot breakfast prepared.

When we got there people were milling around. Most all of the packaged muffins and cereal was gone and there were no servers to supply hot food. People were unsure of what they were supposed to do. The orange juice machine spit out juice unbidden and made a mess. One take charge lady found some bread and bagels in the next room and brought the trophies to the toaster.

Finally some hotel attendant came and turned off the juice machine, but no announcement about breakfast was made. He then disappeared.

As we milled around, we met Jet and Cindy Briggs from Farmington, NM. They were just passing through Albuquerque after having buried his father. They are very nice people. We chatted and they wished us well in Las Vegas.

Steve had already decided we should go in search of a Golden Corral Buffet so missing the (hotel) FREE breakfast was no big deal. BUT what about the other folks.

Jet and Cindy Briggs were grieving. There were parents with little children in tow. There were people from all walks of life. They were all hungry. They all expected to have breakfast. They all had a been promised something and that promise had been broken.

Funny how the FREE breakfast didn’t seem like a big deal to me until I saw all the hungry people.

Do you consider a FREE breakfast a promise?

Now, while I’ve removed the hotel name from my blog positing, it hasn’t been removed from the original site — and the posting is probably circulating like a virus around the Internet.

So here is the problem. Perhaps the hotel generally gets it right, but that day, one staff member was away, or something wasn’t quite right, and that particular location failed to provide the breakfast that people expected to receive. ‘NEWS FLASH’ around the Internet, and incredible brand damage to the entire chain. Worse, in this case, the brand of one part of the chain, perhaps with totally different line and executive management, has been negatively affected by another, affiliated brand, presumably with its own management.

At your job site you have a couple of guys who fail to clean up properly, or perhaps they are a bit hung over from the previous night and are really loudly expressing the expletives. Or your regular receptionist is away and someone who doesn’t usually deal with clients is thrust into answering the phone — and doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what to say. Accidents happen, screw ups occur, and we all have our less-than-perfect days.

These can be brand destroyers to the individual client, and worse, if you happen to have someone of influence or someone within a circle of influence of someone with influence on social media, the bad news spreads far and wide. Worse, if the whole thing is recorded on video.

social media book coverYou have three lines of defence for these rather messy branding mishaps.

  1. Hire the right people. Your best defence is to make sure your staff are selected for competence, personality, intelligence, responsiveness, and whatever other skills are required to achieve the best results. Be careful about who you select to work with.
  2. Train and lead by example in the basics of great customer service and responsiveness. Allow your employees discretionary budgets (perhaps upwards of several hundred dollars) to make things right, without the need for bureaucratic approvals, if clients are in any way  dissatisfied. Provide instruction on creative client relationships; social skills and the like. And practice what you preach. I don’t think it hurts for a CEO to sit in at the reception desk, answer the phone for a few hours, or be a front-line server for a few days a year. You’ll see eye to eye with your clients, your front line employees and you’ll appreciate your systems and where they can and should be improved.
  3. Finally, you should have excellent social media management protocols, so that if a problem appears in social media you can respond effectively and responsively. Here, I’ll make a gentle plug for my social media e-book and invite you to spend $4.95 to learn more.

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