We all intuitively recognize that there is value in brands. Yet many businesses—with the exception of fast moving consumer goods companies—pay only lip service to considering brand strategy as a key driver of growth and success. For creating business value, this is a lost opportunity.
What we do know is that brands help shape customer experiences through products offered, services provided, and spaces or environments in which transactions take place. In an era when many products are standardized, businesses often use branding to differentiate themselves and their service offerings. A brand’s attributes become important in these situations, influencing how customers feel about a purchase or service, and affecting how employees should deliver on the brand.
The employee-customer nexus
Smart companies understand the relationship between brand, customer, and employee. Their entire organizations are structured around a coherent brand offering—and their businesses are forging ahead as a result. A strong brand helps lay the foundation for a well-defined business culture. This typically includes a set of beliefs that motivates, rewards, and recognizes employee behavior, as well as individual employees who provide clear-cut customer experiences. Not only does this lead to more consistent service delivery, it also creates a business that is recognized externally for its performance. This in turn translates into loyal customers and a more steady stream of revenue.
The employee-customer nexus is therefore one of the most important creators of value in any organization, along with product innovation and process improvement. Employees are the core influencers who fuel brand value in any customer-facing business, whether it’s hotels, hospitals, retailers, restaurants, or even B2B industries like software development and parts manufacturing.
Defining a brand’s beliefs and building a cross-organizational culture that motivates and directs employees—while also providing customers with clear vision of what to expect—is a significant value-add that businesses can create for themselves. Throughout a business’ growth, definition of brand and culture can be the basis for unique, strong customer bonds that go beyond the start-up phase of an entrepreneur or CEO’s original business concept.
But establishing these relationships is not easy. The strategy for doing so should not be relegated to simply developing a catchy slogan. It requires an extensive and in-depth understanding of the category in which the company operates, along with definition of the brand idea in a manner that supports the business. To establish this alignment, the critical step is a detailed identification of key revenue drivers in the business category.
Defining key revenue drivers
Both qualitative and quantitative market research are required to identify key business drivers. Once established, these drivers must be further explored to discern how they can help define the brand. This process also requires a competitive scan, which allows the organization to determine attributes untapped by competitors that can help it differentiate.
Based on the identified drivers, a brand can establish unique positioning and articulate its brand meaning. These elements can help motivate employees while also fulfilling customer aspirations. The result: a strong brand—and sustained revenue and value creation for the company.
Synching drivers, positioning, and the employee-customer nexus
Once the drivers have been determined and the positioning established, the employee-customer nexus becomes the key element requiring support from senior management. The organization may need to implement training to help employees deliver an on-brand experience. Developing employees’ soft skills, measuring performance, and implementing reward systems can reinforce beliefs that are important to the brand, while deemphasizing others that are irrelevant. This strengthens an employee’s ability to deliver on the brand’s promise, improving customers’ experiences with the brand and resulting in increased brand strength. Senior management may also have to consider new product or channel innovations to reinforce the brand experience, or adapt other initiatives in the day-to-day running of the business to further bolster the brand. Together, the impact of these efforts can be measured and tracked over time through an increase or decrease in brand value.
Transitioning to a brand-led business model
Brand positioning should be a company’s bedrock. By focusing all initiatives around this, significant value can be unleashed. The brand plays a central role in the entire process of driving the business forward, transforming it from an unbranded entity to a brand-led business.
At Landor and Brand Finance, when we lead a business through the brand-led transformation process, we rely on a combination of fact-based logic and creativity. We closely study the customer to determine the expectations and needs (both expressed and hidden) that influence their many and varied purchase considerations (both major and minor) within the decision-making process. The outcomes from this research can be measured and quantified, with the attributes weighted from most important to least important as considerations or purchase drivers for the customer. In this way we identify the levers that can be pulled to drive greater brand loyalty or to minimize lapses in consumer engagement with the brand.
One final area of analysis that we always consider is the ability of the business to follow through on its promise to consumers. Essentially we ask, “Can the company deliver on the high standards for the brand attributes it intends to use?” This analysis helps us identify, narrow down, and bundle the most important elements of the brand. At this point, creativity and design begin to take over: our designers explore and flesh out concepts to help ground the brand and bring it to life.
Brand-led business transformation in action
At Landor, we use a specific conceptual framework to describe why the brand exists, what its personality should be like, what it believes, and what’s at the core of its brand idea. We then succinctly express this through a verbal description of what the brand is all about, using layman’s terms and appropriate supporting visuals from the brand’s look and feel system to create a prototype.
By overlaying this framework with the realities of the market—what competitors are doing and which spaces they occupy—we begin to see the opportunities for the brand and the areas where it should focus.
When considered this way, brand-led business is about seamlessly defining and creating a brand, anchoring it in revenue drivers and eloquently bringing it to life in a way easily understood by employees across the business. The brand may have functional elements that appeal to customers’ rational minds, but it will also likely have emotional elements that are vital to building human relationships between the company and the customer.
Many international businesses, including several Sri Lankan companies, have embarked on this brand-led business transformation process to move from an unbranded entity to a brand-centric business. Brand-led business transformation provides a powerful tool for creating value, stability, and future promise for a company.
A version of this piece was originally published by the Financial Times (14 September 2016).
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