Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability
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Dr. Anitha Ramachander
Professor of Management, Director AIMIT, Bengaluru, India
Dr. Anitha has more than two decades of academic experience. She is the Director of a leading B-School in India.
A regular columnist at Deccan Herald, Dr. Anitha has published over 100 publications including books, book chapters, international journal articles and conference papers for publishers.
She has been conferred the PAUL HARRIS FELLOWSHIP, the highest award of Rotary International, in recognition to the outstanding participation in the Group Study Exchange program in Kentucky, USA. She is also a recipient of International Achievers’ Award 2010-2011 for Education Excellence. The Award was conferred on the occasion of 4th International Achievers’ Summit on “Global Business Opportunities” in Singapore. Indian Achievers Forum in association with Singapore Indian chamber of commerce and Industry (SICCI) and India-Thai Chamber of Commerce honours the outstanding achievers from all over the country and abroad.
The spectacular growth of business markets over the past two decades has resulted in substantial interest in the study and positioning of various brands in the minds of the consumers. Yet, precious little is known about how best to market and monitor the promises made by brands. Competition and consumer brand attitudes render the introduction of a new brand both risky and expensive; enhancing the attractiveness of brand extensions successfully and in turn out-branding the competitors is a continuous battle waged to capture the imagination and hearts of the customers.
Brand strategy renders the brand compelling, attractive and unique amongst competitive offerings. The proposition must also be consistently reinforced throughout all phases of an organization, from senior executives to customer service, research and development, business development and even business partners. The truth however is that many companies fail to deliver on the promise that their brand, implicitly or explicitly, make to customers. They promise relevant differentiated benefits. Well thought-out branding increases the likelihood that the attributes chosen are relevant, believable, compelling, and are customer benefits that motivate purchase. Brands are also the source of promises to customers. As companies mislay the ability to differentiate their brands based on functional attributes, they must focus on process and relationship benefits, such as ease of ordering or responsiveness to customer requests. Thus, frontline employees must understand and deliver the right brand promise to the customer. Keeping up the promise means the company is able to consistently deliver the products, services and experiences promised. When this happens over time, customers realize the consistent upkeep of the company’s promise and they benefit from easier shopping, reduced risk, greater perceived value and increased satisfaction.
This paper discusses the importance of delivering the promises of a brand and retaining the customers by virtue of the power built by the brand.
Brand Promise is one that communicates that the brand intends to own in the target consumer’s mind. A brand promise must be understandable, believable, unique/differentiating, compelling, admirable and endearing. The ideal benefit to claim in a brand promise has the following qualities:
The brand’s organization is uniquely suited to delivering it and The brand’s promise should drive everything an organization does and be manifest at each point of contact the brand makes with the consumer.
Numerous surveys have shown that existing and prospective customers will turn to competitors if companies render poor quality service or fail to deliver service on promised levels. In fact, inferior service can damage brand equity - sometimes the only brand differentiator in many industries. Hence brand promise must be aligned with their true institutional characteristics. The brand statement, often called the brand promise or proposition, which is a derivative of branding research, states the benefit of buying and using the company’s products or services. One example of an effective brand promise is that of Lakme`. Having used the product for well over three decades, the writer can personally vouch for the product. The product has patrons right through every age group, appeals to every segment of women transgressing economic backgrounds as Lakme` offers products from basic to chic which can be used by women with varying skin types across geographical locations. Such versatility is seldom seen in brands. Women patrons often feel assured with the credibility that a brand like Lakme` offers.When company’s products and service fail to live up to their brand promise, leave aside new customers, loyal customers might leave, too. Mere mention of the brand, product or service should kindle the desire for the product. Positive emotional associations are built over time through good branding practice and a time-tested relationship between the company and the customer based on intrigue, trust, understanding and support.
To create a brand promise that creates such emotional connections, it should :
Be grounded in the brand’s core values.
Adapt to the business climate.
Reinforce the promise continuously.
Strong brands are built over time. Yet many compelling ad campaigns come to a naught and corporate brands are tarnished when a customer encounters a brusque or surly employee or is trapped in the voice-mail maze of customer service.
Leading companies fully understand the value of continually engaging employees as their "brand ambassadors." They can identify the points where employee behavior has a profound impact on brand perception. They can also identify organizational barriers that hinder employee support. Most importantly, they have developed processes that enable employees to "deliver the brand" effectively and consistently. The right employee behavior can translate the brand's promise into a positive customer experience. Today, it is crucial that employees "live the brand."
Most companies have no problem with supporting the brand through conventional advertising and other marketing channels. However, many do not easily understand that brand communication alone does not suffice. They overlook the fact that the brand must be integrated into every facet of their operations if it is to fully deliver on its promise to customers. As companies lose the ability to differentiate their brands based on functional attributes, they must focus on process and relationship benefits, such as ease of ordering or responsiveness to customer requests. Thus, frontline employees must understand and deliver the right brand promise to the customer.
Today, over 60 percent of a company’s value is in its intangibles assets. Accordingly, brand plays an ever-increasing role in helping companies realize value from those assets. New products and services need to be positioned and launched, and redundant brands need to be revitalized. Brand is a promise made to the consumers by the company. Brand, besides a Functional and Mental dimension also has a Social and Spiritual dimension. The needs of the customers today are experiences and not just the products. Organizations have to concentrate on delivering the experiences to the customers eventually leading to satisfaction and association with all the dimensions of the brand. Using novel methods of communication and branding can ensure comprehensive participation. The Profit and Sustainability of Brands will depend on how efficiently and quickly the organization can adapt to these new demands of the customers.
Spending millions on branding is pointless if this creates a mismatch between the customers’ expectations and the actual experiences.
Brands clearly have a value to the companies, which own them; the business is worth more because of the position of the brand in its market. In recent years, some major consumer brands have been capitalised - a value has been placed on the brand and included as a balance sheet asset of the company owning the brand. Various approaches to measure brand value have developed; however they are yet to be standardised. Problems remain, including that brand worth can fluctuate rapidly (e.g. as the result of some marketing disaster). We have seen that in many industrial markets an additional complication to valuing brands exist, namely the brand and the company name are often the same. It shouldn’t however, stop us from building those brands and keep adding value (irrespective of what that may be).
The starting point of a brand strategy is to work out what the company stands for. It is important to understand the single most important value that the company presents to the world and gauge if the response that a company makes to a customer or prospect, fits with the position it thinks it holds. It is important for companies to compete on value not empty promises .There is always a temptation to hype the brand through exaggerated claims and put a glossier sheen on the product than it is , knowing fully well that it will result in building the brand's reputation faster than it takes through actual performance and delivered promises. However, it is always better to check the temptation and build the brand by delivering promises and ensure customer satisfaction slowly but surely. This builds a credible brand that can be sustained over a long duration. Moreover, the brand is defined with attributes, characteristics and a reputation. The opportunity to build the brand distinctively is based upon trust and credibility. It is always important to shield the band reputation and make it known that the brand exists for factors other than monetary considerations. Transparency communicates beyond the government's rules and reflects a brand characteristic that is above-board. More effective communications must be targeted to kindle customer interests. In addition, seeking feedback from customers on company’s performance in meeting their expectations, is a trust-builder.
It is important to define your brand identity and deliver on your brand promise. First, it will ensure that all communications are focused on brand building as defined. Second, customer expectations will be set on what the brand promises. Aligning the brand promise with what your operations can deliver will ensure that your customers' expectations are managed and achieved. The franchise is the brand essence. Linking brand identity to social responsibility and corporate citizenship adds value to a brand.
Associating the brand with a social cause will certainly create better vibes amongst customers. Customers invariably seek credibility and trust. Critical to effective brand management is the clear definition of the brand's audience and the objectives that the brand seeks to achieve. The brand should be comprised of the company personality, image, core competencies and characteristics.
A strong brand helps build credibility, greater influence in the market, and motivates customers and clients to purchase. On the contrary, a broken promise can, potentially, permanently sour a relationship, especially so with a brand.
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