By the early 1960s—as America’s economy was becoming more service-based—the restaurant chain McDonald’s had proved that services could be branded by successfully delivering on promises about service quality. The company’s staff was trained to be friendly, polite and courteous in a way that was completely in alignment with the brand’s promise. In the process, the restaurant chain demonstrated that the trademark, name and design were just elements of the brand that also included an experience.
As the number of service brands grew, expectations about what could be packaged began to shift. Hine said in 2005, “The people who are doing the design aspect of packaging have all in the last 15 years or so tried to cast themselves—recast themselves, as brand experts because they realized that an awful lot of what had to be packaged was in many cases not the physical product.” According to Hine, this included services.
Richard Westendorf, executive creative director at Landor Associates in Cincinnati, shared the following anecdote: “A few years ago, we had a local wireless company [as a client]. When you’re selling services with wireless, there is nothing to sell. All the switching is going on over the wire. But you have to have something tangible to scan. They literally sold it in a box on a peg in a store. It’s an opportunity to express some kind of brand promise in a structure of some kind. It feels like people have that innate desire for [that]—rather than simply enjoying the service. There are all kinds of different ways a package can manifest itself.”
Service Brand Promise
The financial crisis that erupted in the US raised lasting questions about our ability to trust financial service institutions. Buckingham explains, “Reflect on how many financial service brands project brand values like integrity, trust, heritage, customer service and professionalism. Employees understand that this is a marketing stance. Too many, however, also understand that the prevailing internal culture is increasingly characterized by winning, eliminating competition, survival of the fittest and short-termism.”
In his book, Buckingham draws on Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? to illustrate how people can successfully change outmoded behavior. Johnson’s book tells the story of four personable critters who have to navigate a maze to find a new supply of cheese when their old source vanishes. The tale underscores the notion that brand engagement is about changing behavior. According to Buckingham, the CEO and local line managers are responsible for teaching their employees these new behaviors.
Herb Meyers, co-founder of Gerstman+Meyers (now Interbrand) and the co-author of two books on package design, apparently agrees. “It’s really the leadership that sets the tone and thereby selects how their ‘brand’ is perceived by the public,” he says. “Employees follow only what they are instructed to do by the company leaders. If the leaders teach them to be honest and ethical, they will ‘fit into that box’ or they will be fired. If the leaders are not following an orthodox behavior pattern, the employees will not ‘fit into that box’ either.” Meyers, however, does not rule out outside help in getting people on-brand. “It could be a psychologist, or someone trained in behavioral counseling, who develops a ‘package’ to translate the corporate philosophy to the staff,” he adds.
Brand value, after all, begins at home.