Many brand owners think of their brands as logos or labels. Their discussions on branding revolve around colors, fonts, layouts, designs, sizes, and locations of the logo on various touchpoints. Seen through this traditional and limited lens, branding is equated with producing advertisements to build equity in the brand.
While logos and labels are one aspect of what a brand is, this view is extremely narrow. This approach to brand management severely limits the potential of the brand when it is being financially evaluated as an asset that is adding value to the business. Yet, most brands in Sri Lanka are being built this way.
Brand is a strategic platform
To realize the full potential of your brand, you must be able to conceptualize it as a strategic platform that drives your business. Brands as diverse as IBM and Coca-Cola define the brand promise through key values and attributes. They then relentlessly deliver this brand promise for customers and employees alike.
For customers, the brand promise helps to shape their experience through the product and services offered across various channels. For employees, the brand promise helps to shape the culture they work in and the values that guide their behaviors with customers, partners, and each other. All of this creates strong relationships with stakeholders and enhances brand perceptions, which get captured in the intangible value of the brand.
Brand is a value-creating asset
When viewed in this way, a brand becomes a value-creating asset that, if deployed correctly across the business, can generate financial value, just as you would deploy land, building, and machinery to create a product that generates revenue.
Building a brand is a long-term commitment that businesses need to make: The objective of reaping rewards in the future is two to three years out. This is because it takes time to establish relevant meaning throughout the business system that leads to the generation of returns from a coherent and well-articulated brand.
This value can be financially quantified through a brand valuation. Current accounting practices do not allow you to incorporate your own brand value in the balance sheet. However, in the event of a sale, the acquiring company is now required to consider it.
Companies such as Google have massive valuations in large part based on intangible assets like brand value. There is an opportunity for businesses to realize the full financial potential of their brand—by looking beyond the brand as a logo or design.
Opportunities to enhance brand value
In this context, it is worth taking a closer look at SriLankan Airlines, which is one of Sri Lanka’s most valuable brands (with a brand value of Rs. 16.8 billion) and primed to be restructured under the new government’s plans to stem its losses. How might SriLankan Airlines adopt this brand-as-a-value-creating-asset mindset to increase its brand value in the restructuring process?
Brand-led customer experience
The SriLankan Airlines brand is built in a customer’s mind by the experience they have at every single touchpoint, from check-in at the airport to the in-flight entertainment system. The airline must view every consumer contact with the brand as an occasion that could either enhance the brand’s value or undermine it. The cabins’ interiors matter as much as the tone of email communications.
The customer impact of the brand is based on SriLankan’s ability to have a sustainable point of differentiation relative to competitors and the company’s ability to provide relevance through its product or service offerings, sometimes way beyond what the customer can even imagine. This leads to establishing a closer and longer-term relationship with customers. It is this close, ongoing relationship that leads to increased frequency of interactions, purchases, and greater price elasticity. British Airways, for example, was recently named the number one super brand in the United Kingdom because of its track record of delivering outstanding service at every touchpoint.
In order to strengthen the brand, SriLankan Airlines needs to be able to define its brand in a manner that will accelerate innovation, eventually placing it in the league of top global airline brands. This requires benchmarking against airlines that are providing the highest standards of what passengers have determined to be the most important attributes of flying, and diligently working to enhance these aspects. The biggest challenge to this is obtaining the involvement and commitment of employees to deliver the essence of the defined brand, which can vary from one airline to another.
Brand-led employee engagement
The employee relationship and level of commitment and motivation is key for service organizations. Employees need to have a clear understanding of what the brand is all about if they are to consistently deliver the brand promise every single day. The brand is essentially in the hands of the employees who exert enormous power through how they deliver the defined experience. So, the more they understand the brand, the better motivated they may be to deliver the defined service.
It’s hard to discuss employee engagement without mentioning Southwest Airlines. Southwest has managed to create a culture where employees feel motivated and charged to carry out their responsibilities. Their CEO described it like this: “If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.”
Through well-designed internal initiatives, Southwest consistently reminds employees of its vision and purpose. Vision: to become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline. Brand purpose: “We exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”
Mastering the agility paradox
Customer experience and employee engagement are critical to increasing brand value, but to truly become one of the leading global brands, SriLankan Airlines must master the agility paradox.
Landor’s global research shows that the most successful brands across industries are demonstrating a remarkable willingness to change and bring innovations to the market while staying true to their brand. Whether it is Samsung or Disney, these brands are managing to be quick and nimble, without wavering on the core tenets of what their brands mean.
The strongest brands possess two seemingly contradictory dimensions, which are leading and true. Leading is about being visionary and innovative. True relates to authenticity and excellence in performance.
Emirates—the world’s most valuable brand according to the Brand Finance Airlines 2015 Study—beautifully embraces this paradox. Emirates continues to reinforce its positioning of enabling discovery through new campaigns like Hello Tomorrow, while constantly innovating its experience for business and economy-class travelers.
The role of the modern brand manager
Thought of this way, brand is the quest to constantly find new ways to deliver what a brand stands for in different parts of the customer experience. A brand manager at Delta Airlines would spend much less time today on a promotional campaign or on making sure the company logo is consistently reproduced. They would instead spend much more time collaborating with HR team members to verify how new initiatives can be introduced to the cabin staff’s training module to enhance the customer experience even more.
The focus of the modern day brand manager is no longer on just creating awareness or communicating with consumers; it’s all about driving relevance with both customers and employees in a holistic way.
The old rigidity in the construct of brands has given way to newfound agility in how brands are being managed every day—taking branding way beyond the logo.
This blog was originally published by Daily FT (December 2015).