Without the delivery of deeply emotional, connecting experiences between the customer and the brand (read: as conveyed by the company’s brand ambassadors, namely each employee who interacts with the consumer), the attempt to position the brand as merely differentiated fails miserably. After all, people bring brands to life. How can the consumer perceive a truly “differentiated” brand if employees can’t?
Hence, the overriding need for ongoing internal branding in every organization. Getting everyone within a company to buy into, believe in and live the brand is one of the most essential components of marketing. Yet, this is surprisingly a hit or miss proposition in most companies.
The Customer Experience Factor
Companies continually emphasize the need to deliver satisfying customer experiences, yet basic customer service continues to be an issue. University of Michigan Ross School of Business Professor Claes Fornell: “The strength of a firm’s customer relationships is not only an important economic asset, it represents the sum total of the firm’s all other assets.”
Now, realizing this, how important is it to make certain the brand is authentic? How crucial is it to make certain that brand is aligned with the company culture? And finally, how meaningful is it to deliver stellar customer service and compelling experiences to the customer? Answer: this should be the primary focus of not only Marketing, Human Resources and their departments, but from the CEO or president through the entire company flow chart.
Internal branding effort isn’t a “one and done” deal, either. It’s an ongoing campaign. Otherwise, the brand’s full potential will never be realized.
Just stop a moment and reflect on some of the brands that truly lead:
Motorcycles are ingrained in our culture: freedom, the open road, the lure of adventure. There are numerous motorcycle brands, and then there is Harley-Davidson.
MP3 players are a phenomenon. There are numerous brands, and then there is Apple’s iPod.
Java is a necessity of life for most of us. There are lots of chic coffee houses and gathering spots, and then there is Starbucks.
Athletic shoes are sported by everybody. There are sneaker brands and then there is Nike.
Video game systems are more popular than ever. There are many video machine brands, but only one Sony and its Playstation.
There are many theme parks and entertainment venues, and then there is Disney World.
Not only are these brands’ adherents loyal customers; they are brand evangelists for the most part. And we all know the power of WOM (word of mouth) marketing. Distinctive communities have formed around brands like these.
This offers us proof that brands transcend their categories when they:
Deliver great customer service thanks to passionate brand ambassadors
Deliver customer experiences that form connections on a deeply emotional level
Consistently deliver on the brand promise
Remain authentic and true to their core
Question: Does a brand have to have the visibility, revenue stream and global presence of an Apple or Starbucks to be a leader? No, it doesn’t.
Much smaller corporate brands like Trader Joe’s natural/organic grocery stores with a mere 270+/- stores in roughly half the country; Chico’s, the casual clothing retailer for mature women with selected locations across the US; Umpqua Bank doing business regionally in the Pacific Northwest and California; Jones Soda with its unorthodox, early approach to product placement, followed by more mainstream distribution; all are extremely authentic and unique.
These are all brands that inspire incredible brand passion and loyalty, even cult-like devotion from their customers. Yet, none of them have the reach of brands like Nike or Sony.
Caution: These brands shouldn’t be a blueprint for entrepreneurs. They’re all one of a kind. What they can do: inspire more trail blazing brands filled with authenticity, passion, and uniqueness. The next truly differentiated brand is just waiting to be born.