maximising the value of your business

Maximising the value of the business is surely a primary goal for all business owners and leaders. It is ultimately the value of the business that determines the return to shareholders.

This IDEA addresses strategies that can help maximise the value of a business. Those strategies are addressed under headings relating to:

  • The customer – leveraging empathy to develop engaged relationships.
  • The product – and developing an offering the customer will buy again and again.
  • The brand -and building margins and the value of the brand and business.

FIVE TIPS FOR LEVERAGING EMPATHY TO GET CLOSER TO THE CUSTOMER – PART 1 

High profile venture capitalist Mark Cuban once noted the importance to him of three factors in assessing the attractiveness of a business for investment. Those three factors were:

  • The size of the market.
  • The competitive advantage
  • The management understanding the ‘customer owns their ass’.

Like Pay-Pal co-founder Peter Theil, Cuban highlights the importance of targeting the smallest possible market – a market you can truly understand and own. Like Michael Porter from Harvard Business School, Cuban stresses the critical role of a strategic competitive advantage in driving revenue up and costs down. Understanding that the business’s success is intimately tied up with the capacity to meet and exceed consumer expectations is well recognised.

Ultimately, it focuses on understanding, and addressing the needs, wants, and expectations of consumers that drive the success and value of a business. Being truly client-focused is central to maximising the value of all businesses. Critical factors in this regard include:

  • Identifying the smallest possible market and owning it.
  • Understanding the evolving needs of the target market.
  • Determining the optimum sustainable competitive advantage.
  • Defining the optimum customer experience.

Factors like these are best addressed by way of an ‘empathy-based approach to marketing. The key to developing a true customer focus can be developing and maintaining a high level of empathy for the target audience and implement strategies that reflect that empathy. Empathy-based marketing involves:

  • COGNITIVE EMPATHY

Cognitive empathy involves understanding the emotional state of the target audience. This most often requires listening and market research. This equates to UNDERSTANDING – an issue discussed in more detail later in this article.

  • EMOTIONAL EMPATHY

Emotional empathy involves connecting with the target audience emotionally – engaging with the target audience and sharing emotions. This equates to ENGAGEMENT – an issue discussed in more detail later in this article.

  • COMPASSIONATE EMPATHY

Compassionate empathy involves taking action to address the emotional state of members of the target audience. It involves encouraging action from the audience. This equates to MANAGEMENT– an issue discussed in more detail later in this article.

  1. To maximise lifetime value – focus on the customer.

Convert a prospect, and you will achieve a sale. Convert a human being and deliver as promised (or perhaps even exceed expectations). You can develop a relationship that will secure an initial sale and drive repeat sales and referrals. Stop looking at sales and start looking at relationships and the resulting the lifetime value of each customer. Consider:

  • Repeat customers spend67% more in months 31-36 of a relationship than in months 0-6.
  • Repeat customers spend 300 timesmore than first-time customers.
  • Referred customers are four timesmore likely to purchase.
  • Referred customers have a 37%higher retention rate.

Central to maximising the lifetime value of a customer is establishing a solid relationship with each customer. According to recent articles in Forbes, developing long-term solid relationships requires:

  • Being a credible resource and source of information.
  • Being seen to be open, honest, and transparent.
  • Delivering as promised at every touchpoint.
  • Eliminating surprises and delivering certainty.

The Forbes article also highlights the importance of:

  • Treating clients as ‘more than clients.’
  • Rewarding loyalty.
  • Delivering the vision of a partnership.

The last three factors are all about empathy. Getting close enough to the customer to deliver these three factors will go a long way towards delivering the other antecedents of a long-term relationship. Developing a long-term relationship with each customer is central to maximising the lifetime value of each customer.

INSIGHT – Maximising the value of each customer is central to maximising performance. Maximise the value of each customer requires getting close to customers and establishing relationships. 

  1. To maximise lifetime value – develop an empathy mindset.

Empathy-based marketing can deliver significant benefits to a business or brand—some of these benefits. Empathy-based marketing is not, however, a simple marketing tool. It is a complex marketing approach, and the benefits will only follow if implemented over an extended period. Moreover, empathy-based marketing involves more than new skills. It requires a specific and sustained mindset.

Empathy-based marketing involves the long-term implementation of strategies (some of which are discussed in the last section of this article) that can deliver and maintain a connection between the business and its target audiences. It involves a long-term commitment to understanding, engaging with, and managing the behaviour of the target audience. It most certainly requires a commitment to this cause by all customer-facing staff.

The mindset required to establish an empathy-based approach to marketing involves:

  • An absolute orientation to putting the customer first and the benefits this offers.
  • A total commitment to understanding consumer behaviour.
  • An absolute commitment to engaging with the target audience and genuinely listening.
  • An absolute commitment to customising and personalising all marketing.

 

As has been suggested by Mark Cuban, the first step in developing an empathy=based approach to marketing involves understanding that the ‘customer owns your ass’. Once a business embraces this concept, its executives will be better placed to:

  • Develop a product the market wants to buy.
  • Presenting it in an environment in which the customer wants to shop.
  • Pricing it at a level the customer will ultimately pay.
  • Selling it in a manner that will establish a relationship.

This approach will inevitably generate superior sales and reduce the cost of marketing.

INSIGHT – Take a longer-term view. Put the client first. Listen as closely as possible and develop a product, service and experience that will cause them to purchase, repurchase and refer. 

  1. To maximise lifetime value – walk a mile in their shoes.

According to the National Autistic Society, 99% of people in the UK have heard of autism, but only 16% understand the condition in a meaningful way. I suspect it is no different in Australia.

To increase the understanding of autism among the broader population, The National Autism Society developed a VR-driven campaign. The campaign and resulting VR experience enabled users to experience what it is like for a child with autism to navigate a busy shopping centre. Showing flickering lights and overwhelming sound effectively highlights the sensory overload in busy and stressful environments.

Unlike other charity strategies that raise sympathy or compassion, this approach puts the viewer in someone else’s shoes – shocking them with the disarming reality of dealing with autism. It enables the consumer to gain a greater insight into how the autistic child feels in a shopping centre. This, in turn, creates a more profound sense of connection. Even watching somebody else have the VR experience provides enough insight to evoke genuine empathy and emotion.

Empathy is all about connection, getting closer to an audience, feeling what it feels and enabling more informed decision making. While this example is different from that facing most businesses, the point is clear. If businesspeople can better understand their customers and walk a mile in their shoes – they will be better able and more inclined to develop products the customer engages with.

Walking a mile in your customer’s shoes, using research, observation or experimentation can ensure you understand them and have the empathy required to develop the optimum product, service, and customer experience. Walking a mile in your customer’s shoes needs to address more than just cognition. It also needs to involve understanding what customer feels. This, in turn, facilitates the customisation of strategies.

INSIGHT – Study the customer and the customer journey well enough to understand what the customer thinks and what the customer feels. 

  1. To maximise lifetime value – be authentic and honest.

Academic Brene’ Brown defines empathy as – ‘communicating that incredibly healing message of – you are not alone.’ Offering a more practical definition, the Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as – ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’ In essence, empathy is ‘feeling what others are feeling’. It involves much more than understanding what others are feeling, and unlike sympathy, it does not include feeling sorry for someone. Empathy brings a business much closer to its customer than understanding ever will. It is all about getting closer to your customer.

Central to developing and maintaining empathy are:

  • Authenticity
  • Honesty

Research highlights the importance of authenticity in marketing and, more specifically, in developing empathy. In 2021 authenticity and empathy are central to effective marketing. Research has also highlighted the importance of honesty in developing empathy and in marketing more generally. Research suggests that 90% of millennials believe authenticity is important when supporting a brand, compared to 85% of Gen X and 80% of Baby Boomers.

Research has also highlighted the importance of empathy in marketing and branding while reporting that only 30% of marketers were proficient in experiencing the world from someone else’s. One study found that ‘18% of consumers had stopped using a brand in the last 12 months because of the gap between marketing and experience, with 32% believe the gap is widening. Another study found that 59% of shoppers prefer to buy from the brands they trust, honestly being a key driver of trust.

Overall, this gap represents a fundamental empathy deficit among brands out of touch with what it feels like to use the brand.’ Empathy is important in marketing and in life – but what is it? Over my 30 years in marketing, I have constantly confronted marketers with little regard for authenticity, honesty or empathy. Almost without exception, all of them have performed at a sub-optimal level. Certainly, a lack of empathy, authenticity and honesty has been a sign that the business is not playing the long game of maximising the lifetime value of each customer.

INSIGHT – Place the highest possible priority on developing empathy for your customer’s needs, wants, and expectations, prioritising authenticity, and honesty. 

  1. To maximise lifetime value – embrace marketing automation.

Empathy-based marketing understanding the thinking and feelings of members of the primary target audiences. It also involves customising the marketing to these target audiences. Customisation and personalisation are in turn facilitated by marketing automation. In this regard, it is worth pondering these statistics these statistics:

  • 75% of marketers report using at least one marketing automation tool.
  • 9% of marketers use automation tools to improve the customer experience.
  • 77% of marketing automation users report increased conversion rates.

These findings point to the growing popularity of marketing automation, its value as a research tool and the capacity of the data collected to facilitate higher sales. Businesses can collect and may collect huge amounts of data about customers and potential customers that can be used to develop a more comprehensive understanding of:

  • The customer.
  • The customer journey and touchpoints.
  • Customer needs and expectations.

Data of value might include:

  • Instore traffic flows.
  • Website traffic and dwell times.
  • Email opening rates and click-throughs.

Purchase, repeat purchase, and referral behaviour. There is real merit in bringing this data together into a central database and then using it to:

  • Fine-tune marketing strategies.
  • Fine-tune media and messaging.
  • Customise all aspects of marketing.

All three facilitate empathy and while the third is a powerful demonstration of the power of marketing automation. Marketing automation can reduce marketing costs and increase results for a relatively modest outlay on software and hardware.

INSIGHT – Every business in 2021 should use marketing automation to gather and collate customer data and then use that data to customise strategies and implementation.

The closer a marketer gets to his or her audience, the better understanding, how the customer thinks and feels and what they want, need, and expect, helps the marketer customise the marketing strategy that drives down marketing costs and drives up sales. Empathy-based marketing will maximise conversion rates, margins, the average sale per customer, repeat business rates and referral rates.

FIVE TIPS FOR LEVERAGING EMPATHY TO GET CLOSER TO THE CUSTOMER – PART 2 

The last article in this series highlighted the importance of getting closer to the customer and the value of empathy-based marketing. This second article highlights five more tips for leveraging empathy-based marketing and its capacity to drive costs down while driving revenue up.

Empathy-based marketing can be the key to establishing brand loyalty. Research suggests that the three most important considerations for consumers buying a brand for the first time are:

  • Quality – 85%
  • Convenience – 84%
  • Value – 84%

There is perhaps no surprise here. But knowing this is not enough. We also need to know:

  • What constitutes quality?
  • What delivers convenience?
  • What delivers value?

In the absence of an empathy-based approach to marketing – these are very difficult questions to answer accurately and with any certainty. The closer a business gets to its customers, the more capable it can become to answer these questions and others like them – without relying on unreliable intuition.

  1. To maximise lifetime value – build the trust that builds loyalty.

Research suggests that 81% of consumers need to trust a brand before buying it. Other research suggests that the factors driving trust in a brand include:

  • The customer experience.
  • Social media commentary.
  • Brand authenticity.
  • Brand transparency.
  • Social responsibility.
  • Brand consistency.

This same research suggests that central to addressing these factors and being able to build trust is a requirement for businesses to:

  • Understand customer sentiment.
  • Understand customer behaviour.

Understanding customer sentiment and behaviour is enhanced by getting as close as possible to the customer. The capacity to build trust in a brand is enhanced by having the empathy for customers and potential customers that delivers an understanding of their sentiment and behaviour. This, in turn, can facilitate building trust in the brand and, therefore, sales and loyalty.

Empathy-based marketing can be a key to developing trust and therefore building loyalty. The more empathy is demonstrated, the more customers think the business understands them, and the more likely it is to be trusted. This is especially so if empathy is supported by authenticity and honesty.

INSIGHT – Leverage empathy-based marketing, supported by authenticity and honesty to develop consumer trust and in turn, customer loyalty based on that trust. 

  1. To maximise lifetime value – establish a partnership. 

In its simplest form, ’empathy-based marketing’ involves ‘walking in your customer’s shoes.’ It involves going beyond a basic description of your target audience actually to understand how they think and feel. Empathy based marketing is ‘state of the art’ thinking when it comes to connecting with the target audience, involving:

  • Embracing the customer’s experiences.
  • Thinking like the target audience.
  • Looking for ways to make customers lives better.
  • Understanding what motivates the audience.
  • Helping audiences solve problems.

Empathy based marketing is often manifested in:

  • The content is published and provided to audiences.
  • The customisation of marketing messages.
  • The nature of the customer experience.
  • Empowering employees to touch customers directly.

Empathy-based marketing involves truly connecting with customers and potential customers – on an intellectual and emotional level. In its ultimate form, empathy-based marketing involves entering into a partnership with the target audience – whereby the parties work together to exchange maximum value. It is a genuine recognition that marketing is or should be all about the customer.

Partnership delivers value to all parties. Empathy-based marketing helps to ensure that value is delivered consistently over time, thus maximising the lifetime value of each customer.

INSIGHT – Get close enough to your customers to establish a mutually beneficial partnership that can deliver value to all parties over an extended period. 

  1. To maximise lifetime value – embrace co-creation.

Recent research found that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer. Another study found that while the profitability of a new customer is 5 – 20% on average, the profitability of an existing customer is 60 – 70% – and a big part of the additional profitability is related to a lower cost of sales. Returning customers require less effort and a smaller investment.

This highlights the link between customer loyalty and marketing costs. In contrast, the previous missive in this series has highlighted the link between customer loyalty and relationships inspired by empathy-based marketing. The greater the level of empathy, the better the relationship and, the better the relationship, the higher the customer’s lifetime value.

Empathy can reduce the cost of marketing.

Empathy can also reduce the cost of research and development and production. A powerful approach to empathy-based marketing involves a co-creation approach to product development and the development of the optimal customer experience. Co-creation involves – business insiders (staff and consultants) working together with business outsiders (customers and stakeholders) to develop the optimum product and or customer experience.

Co-creation is a form of collaboration and innovation that can effectively develop products and customer experiences that will minimise failures and the cost of production and marketing – while maximising conversion rates, margins, and the average sales per customer.

Effective marketers have a growing trend to work with customers to develop the optimal product, service, and customer experience. This facilitates empathy-based marketing.

INSIGHT – Use co-creation to develop the empathy with customers to reduce the cost of production and marketing while increasing immediate and medium-term income. 

  1. To maximise lifetime value – watch your customer use your product.

An increasingly popular tool for understanding customers and developing empathy is observational research. Observational research is – a qualitative method of collecting and analysing information obtained through directly or indirectly watching and observing others in natural or planned environments.’ Zoho describes observational research as the first essential step in developing a marketing strategy.

Observational research techniques include:

  • Covert – where the researchers do not identify themselves – and stand back and watch.
  • Overt – where the researchers identify themselves and explain the purpose of their work.

Both approaches are used to:

  • Observe shopping behaviour in-store.
  • Study the customer journey and identify touchpoints.
  • Identify the purchase options considered by consumers.
  • See how consumers use or apply products.
  • Uncover new product opportunities.
  • Test and validate ideas.

A business developing a new home improvement product talked to 35 participants to find out what they were struggling with within their yards. Each participant narrated a video tour of their yards using their smartphone. They specifically discussed what they liked and disliked about various products – in the content of their own backyard and their requirements.

The research team then reviewed the transcripts focusing on what consumers thought of products while seeing them active in their yards. The process enabled the research team and, ultimately, the business to gain critical insights into how participants were thinking and identifying opportunities.

A video analysis tool (Digsite) facilitated the process, making the analysis relatively straightforward. With instant transcriptions, teams were able to create video clips and share them with colleagues enabling everyone to begin developing empathy for their target audience.

This example highlights the value of observing your customer interacting with and or using your product in the customer’s context – providing insights that market research might not be able to identify.

INSIGHT – To understand the behaviour of members of the target audience – watch your customer using your product in their context. Understand how they interact and engage with the product.

  1. To maximise lifetime value – commit to research.

 

Henry Ford is reported to have said – ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.’ He said this in an attempt to question the value of market research. More recently, Steve Jobs is reported to have derided market research – ‘…because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.’

I am far convinced that either man uttered either statement. However, both innovators question the value of market research – at least so far as it might be used to identify consumer needs. I agree with them and along these lines would argue that:

  • Market research is not an effective way of identifying what consumers want because they generally do not know or cannot articulate what they want.
  • However, market research is a potentially effective tool for identifying the problems that consumers’ problems or have had.

It is the role of marketers and innovators to understand consumer problems identified in market research and identify a commercially viable solution.

On the last pint, it is reported that Steve Jobs commented – ‘Give customers what they want. But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.’ Research might then help determine the likely response to our solution.

Market research has many limitations. Consider recent political polling. Response rates to quantitative research are now so low and so skewed that many are questioning its value. The effects of groupthink and ego cast considerable doubt on the value of focus groups. That said, market research remains a useful tool for understanding customers – given that you have appropriate expectations, use the right method, and ask the right questions.

I am a fan of market research and view it as a valuable tool for developing an understanding of customers that can build empathy, especially where it:

  • It examines the past and the present.
  • Involves one to one in-depth interviews.
  • Tests tangible propositions.

Research undertaken at Columbia University found that when presented with a choice of 24 jam flavours, 3% of subjects made a purchase. By contrast, when presented with just six flavours, 30% made a purchase.

While intuition might tell us that the more choice we offer, the better – this is just one of the hundreds of studies that demonstrates that purchases are higher when the number of options is fewer. Research suggests that the optimal number of choices for most products is between three and seven, depending on the product category. This research suggests two critical points:

  • The power of experimentation.
  • The power of consumer insights.

There are now volumes of research demonstrating the weaknesses associated with intuition and the fact that intuition is almost the anathema of empathy.

Businesses, including relatively small businesses, can readily carry out experiments of this nature. Where such research is not possible, for whatever reason, there is now a growing catalogue of experiments from universities around the world, which can provide the data without the need for another experiment.

There is also a growing catalogue of neuro-psychology research. Consumer responses do not rely on observation or consumer reports but rather on brain activity, making it more reliable. Such research is beyond the capability of most businesses but can be readily accessed through journals and books. Neuroscience is the new frontier for experimental research in marketing.

INSIGHT – While recognising its limitations, use market research and experimentation to understand customers and potential customers.

Empathy-based marketing is a key to cost-effective marketing. It is undoubtedly a key to maximising revenue while driving costs down. It is also the key to maximising conversion rates, the average sale per customer, repeat business rates, referrals – and ultimately the lifetime value of each customer.

 FIVE INSIGHTS INTO WHAT CONSUMERS WANT. 

Needs vary from customer to customer and from time to time. Most needs are specific. However, more general needs are common to most human beings, and that impact most purchase decisions.

Following is a discussion of five theories addressing the drivers of purchase behaviour. These theories have their deficiencies, and none provide a comprehensive account of the drivers of purchase behaviour. All are, of course, generalised and may not apply to each individual customer. That said, they all provide some valuable insights into the drivers of consumer behaviour.

  1. To drive sales – facilitate self-actualisation. 

Most readers will have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow’s paper ‘A theory of human motivation was first published in 1943. It remains a pillar of modern psychology and sociology. This theory proposes five levels of need:

  • Physiological – food, clothing, and shelter
  • Safety – including personal security
  • Love and belonging – relationships and connection
  • Esteem – accomplishment and prestige
  • Self-actualisation – realising one’s full potential

Maslow proposed that individuals only address the second level of needs when the first level is fully addressed and only addresses the third when second-level needs are met, and so on. In 2021 however, there is doubt about people not addressing higher-level needs before lower-level needs are fully satisfied. It is not uncommon to see people living on the street using a mobile phone to search the Internet. It is also not unusual for people living in war zones to seek love and accomplishment.

That said, Maslow’s theory is helpful in identifying the needs that drive consumer behaviour. These are the significant needs of human beings, and they impact behaviour, although perhaps not in ‘the linear manner suggested in Maslow’s original paper. There are two aspects of the model that are of most interest:

  • The number of people still operating at the lower levels
  • The nature of self-actualisation

Even in wealthy countries like Australia and the United States, many people still do not have all of their physiological and safety needs met. In an increasingly fractured society, there is a growing number of people with a lack of love and relationships. For example, 30% of Australians now live alone, and online dating is responsible for 1/6 marriages in the USA today. It is important to remember that opportunities still exist to address these lower-level needs.

The number of people in the world who may be ‘self-actualising is undoubtedly growing. But what does a self-actualising person look like? A recent paper identified twelve features of self-actualising people. It suggested that they:

  • embrace the unknown and the ambiguous
  • accept themselves and all their flaws
  • prioritise and enjoy the journey, not just the destination
  • maybe unconventional, but do not seek to shock or disturb
  • are motivated by growth, not by the satisfaction of needs
  • have a purpose
  • are not troubled by the small things
  • are grateful
  • share deep relationships
  • are humble
  • resist enculturation
  • are not perfect, and they know it

Based on this description, it would be safe to say that very few people are truly self-actualising. Further, most people have needs at several levels of the hierarchy.

INSIGHT – While the needs might not be addressed in the prescribed order – Maslow’s Hierarchy still has much to offer in terms of understanding the drivers of consumer behaviour.

  1. To drive sales – understand the two levels of motivation.

While his research focused on employees in the workplace, Frederick Herzberg’s work in the 1950s and 1960s on the drivers of human behaviour has a great deal to offer marketers in 2020. Herzberg identified two categories of human need:

  • Hygiene
  • Motivational

According to Herzberg, hygiene needs were basic needs that, while not driving satisfaction, were very effective in driving dissatisfaction. In the consumer context, hygiene needs alone may not motivate a person to buy a product. However, the absence of a need would disqualify a product from consideration. For example, having four wheels would not make a car more appealing to a consumer, but the lack of the wheels would disqualify the vehicle from consideration – or comparison with other brands. Hygiene factors must be present for a product to be considered but will not necessarily motivate a purchase.

According to Herzberg, motivational needs can encourage specific behaviours. In marketing terms, the capacity to satisfy motivational needs can differentiate one product from another and make one more appealing to purchase. The four wheels on a car satisfy a hygiene factor (unless you are looking for a snow vehicle). By contrast, the wheels’ trim, width, and general appearance might well be motivational factors. Such factors are not essential for the product or brand to be considered for purchase, but they enable consumers to differentiate products.

This is an important distinction because:

  • Both the vendor and the purchaser need to know that the hygiene factors are adequately addressed.
  • The vendor needs to identify and leverage one or more motivational factors to differentiate their offering.
  • Marketing campaigns should be built around motivational factors – those factors that differentiate the product.

It is vital to have the best possible understanding of both hygiene and motivational factors that influence consumer purchase behaviour for each product you sell. It is essential to know the ‘must-haves’ and the ‘motivators.’

INSIGHT – Identify the hygiene and motivational needs your product satisfies, ensure that hygiene needs are fully met, and then use motivational needs as the basis for product differentiation. 

  1. To drive sales – understand six core consumer needs.

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion of six core consumer needs. It is not difficult to argue that these are among the most important needs that marketers can understand and address in 2020. They are among the most consumer-focused needs discussed in the literature and include:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Connection
  • Growth
  • Contribution

Everyone wants to know that their car will start in the morning. This reflects the need for certainty. They also want the newspaper to arrive, for the news in it to be truthful, and for the opinions it offers to be as consistent with their own as possible, thereby reinforcing their beliefs. Paradoxically, certainty is becoming more increasingly important to consumers just as they begin to realise it is largely an illusion. That said, some products deliver more certainty than others.

Unless you are five years of age, watching the same movie day after day holds little appeal. That is why Netflix continually promotes new movies to its members. 21st-century consumers want variety. They crave new experiences.

How do you feel when you walk into a store, you have visited many times before and not only do they not recognise you but they don’t really give you the time of day or treat you like a ‘credit card courier’ – how do you feel? No one appreciates such experiences because it makes them feel unimportant or insignificant. All human beings want to feel significant and will respond positively to businesses that make them feel so.

Like most western nations, Australia is becoming increasingly disconnected, with 30% of Australians living alone. This, in part, explains the growth of social media and coffee shops. Interestingly connectedness is the primary driver of longevity. It ranks above both genetics and lifestyle. Human beings want and need to feel connected, and we are drawn to products that make us feel more so.

Most human beings want to feel that they are making progress, that they are more today than they were yesterday, and will be more tomorrow than they are today. While the thing they want to improve or area of growth varies from person to person, most humans want to feel they are growing. They want to feel they are more prosperous, healthier, fitter, faster, better read or happier today than they were yesterday. They will favour products that make them feel so or make progress in this regard.

Finally, almost every human being wants to feel that the world is a better place because they are in it. They want to feel that they are contributing. This is a major driver of volunteering, making donations and playing the good Samaritan. Consumers will favour any product that can help them feel as though they are contributing.

Products that can help consumers better address these underlying needs will be more popular.

INSIGHT – Understand the six core needs of the 21st-century consumer and consider how your product can deliver added value by addressing all or some of these needs.

  1. To drive sales – address nine product-related needs considered by consumers. 

The best way to understand consumer needs is by way of well-designed primary research. Sadly, in the business environment, it seems that many businesses are inclined to waste money on advertising rather than investing in market research. It is important to consider needs that are common to all consumers, as identified by academic research. A model put forward by Hubspot suggests that consumers have nine general needs or criteria against which they assess products:

  • Functionality – what need does it address, or what problem does it solve?
  • Price – how much does it cost, and is there any added value compared with others?
  • Convenience – does it offer a convenient solution, and is it easy to buy?
  • Experience – is the product easy and fun to use?
  • Design – does the design make it easy to use and visually pleasing
  • Reliability – will the product deliver certainty and consistent performance?
  • Performance – will the product achieve the goals it is designed for?
  • Efficiency – is the process of using the product as streamlined as possible?
  • Compatibility – is the product compatible with others it will be used with?

The relative importance of each of these factors will vary from product to product, time to time, and market to market. The evidence used to assess a product will vary by product and market, as will the sources of evidence. Experience, reliability, performance, and efficiency will be judged for a first-time buyer based on information from secondary sources (increasingly social media). In contrast, functionality, price, design and compatibility can be judged based on information provided by the vendor and personal contact.

One thing that helps to market and differentiate a product vis-à-vis these needs is the tangible demonstration of their presence. Just telling consumers is no longer enough. Needs should be addressed in a tangible and demonstratable way. After all, seeing is believing.

It is preferable to undertake market research to understand the needs of the target market. In the absence of research, Hubspot’s nine factors are well worth the consideration of businesses.

INSIGHT – Understand consumers needs and how your product performs against the nine criteria for assessing the merits of a product. Ensure your product excels on as many as possible.

  1. To drive sales – embrace seven service-related factors considered by consumers.

Primary market research is almost always the best way to identify the needs of consumers and the nuances associated with each of those needs. In the absence of primary research, businesses have to rely on generalised information derived from academic research.

A recent paper suggested that in terms of customer service, the general needs of consumers might be summarised as follows:

  • Empathy – the feeling that their needs are understood
  • Fairness – a sense of equity and value for money
  • Transparency – knowing all there is to know
  • Control – feeling they are in control of the interaction
  • Options – a feeling that they have made a choice
  • Information – the ability to get the answers they seek
  • Accessibility – access to service and support

The overall and relative importance of these factors or needs will vary by market, individual, product, and timing. However, they are all factors considered by consumers when making judgements about which service provider to select. Understanding the relative importance of these needs might be determined by observational or market research. Intuition is a particularly dangerous gauge.

Identifying problems is easy for most consumers, and it provides vendors with insight into key needs. By contrast, asking people about their needs or wants rarely yields worthwhile information. People struggle to identify their underlying needs and wants but have little difficulty identifying their problems.

In terms of market research, perhaps the best questions to ask to identify customer needs are:

  • Regarding X (a product category or requirement), what problems do you most commonly experience?
  • When purchasing X (a product), what problems do you most commonly experience?

James Dyson developed a cutting-edge vacuum cleaner. In doing so, he made himself a billionaire. Dyson solved a range of problems that consumers experienced with vacuuming. He asked the question, ‘what problems do you have when vacuuming?’ He kept asking the question and refining the product based on the information elicited.

Apple developed cutting edge retail outlets after identifying what problems consumers experience (standing in line at a check-out, for example) and eliminating those problems (by removing the check-out, for example). In the process, Apple has developed one of the most popular retail concepts and customer experiences in the world today.

INSIGHT – Understand consumers needs and how your service performs against the seven criteria for assessing the merits of a service. Ensure your service excels on as many as possible.

The best route to profit maximisation is meeting or exceeding customer expectations and needs. Customer expectations and needs are both general and specific. Great marketers leverage a sound understanding of the public expectations and needs addressed in this missive while using well-designed market research to identify more specific needs.

FIVE TIPS FOR CREATING THE PRODUCT YOUR MARKET WILL BUY. 

At a conference, Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at New Your University, asked his audience –’ What do Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (the FAANG businesses) have in common?’ After a period of silence, Galloway answered his own question with the words – ‘A fucking great product.’ His point was that the starting point of any great marketing strategy and maximising the value of any business is its product. In addition to selling well, great products serve to minimise the cost of marketing, create more scope for increased margins, and maximise repeat purchasing and referral.

  1. To drive sales – define and then create a world-class product. 

In 2019, plastic blog maker Lego reported a net profit of 1.1 billion euros, up from 1.08 billion euros in 2018. Lego continues to shine in an economically challenging environment, even though its core products have been on the market since 1932. Lego is a world-class product – an observation supported by years of rising sales and profitability. Here is a summary of the Lego success story – CLICK HERE.

As evidenced by this video, one of the tools Lego has used very well in recent years is its ‘product’. The innovative development of that product addresses new generations and responds to the changing needs and expectations of a changing world. Much of Lego’s success has been due to the innovative development driven by research enabled by a strong online community. An online community facilitates research and product development through co-creation.

Other well-known brands using co-creation include – DHL, Unilever and Manchester United. Co-creation involves designing and developing your product in partnership with customers and potential customers. Research suggests that some 58% of businesses are now piloting product co-creation.

Co-creation is a compelling approach to developing products that consumers see as ideal and preferable to others available. It is central to value creation. Approaches to co-creation include:

  • Market research
  • Establishing panels
  • Brand communities

Regularly testing product innovations with market research is a rudimentary approach to co-creation. Many businesses are now establishing panels that can be accessed for research and testing of products. Perhaps the lowest direct cost and most effective approach involve establishing a brand community that regularly consults.

INSIGHT – Use co-creation to develop a world-class product and continually evolve that product to ensure it meets or exceeds customer expectations. Let the customer drive the bus.

  1. To drive sales – create the customer experience customers want. 

A recent study found that 84% of businesses that improve their customer experience also increase their revenue as a result. This is not surprising given two critical issues:

  • The importance of the customer experience to customers.
  • The importance of the customer experience to branding.

Research suggests that 73% of companies with above-average customer experience perform better than their competitors, and 83% believe it is important to make customers happy also experience growing revenue. Customer experience can be the key to maximising conversion rates, repeat business, and referrals.

It is very difficult for many businesses – for example, Coles and Woolworths to differentiate the products they sell. While there might be minor differences, they, along with Aldi and IGA, sell pretty much the same thing. For many such businesses, it is much easier to differentiate themselves from their competition by offering a unique and inviting customer experience. Indeed, many businesses have a great deal more scope to differentiate the customer experience than they realise. This is particularly so with supermarkets.

Ideally, the customer experience will be tangibly different and add real value to the customer journey. This is something that businesses like IKEA and Apple understand very well. The IKEA experience, including the channelling of customers and the sale of meatballs, is unappealing to me. However, it is embraced and enjoyed by the target market. I also dislike the Apple shop experience – but the target market loves it – as evidenced by the number of people in an Apple store on any given day.

INSIGHT – Understand your customer and capabilities well enough to create a customised, memorable, unique, and value-adding customer experience. Let the customer drive the bus.

  1. To maximise sales – prioritise all forms of innovation. 

There is much talk these days about ‘innovation’ and especially ‘disruption.’ This talk often occurs in the absence of a real understanding of what innovation and disruptive innovation are or any commitment to truly embracing innovation. This is especially true in Australia, where there appears to be little recognition of the importance of innovation to business performance.

The three more common types of innovation are:

  • Architectural – Taking an approach, technology, or methodology from one field to another.
  • Incremental innovation – a series of small and seemingly insignificant improvements culminates in large-scale change.
  • Radical innovation – The birth of new industries and the application of “revolutionary” technologies. That enables society to take substantial leaps forward.
  • Disruptive – When an innovation creates a fundamentally new value network – creating a new market or by entering an existing market and changing how consumers interact with it.

From a marketing perspective, innovation might be categorised as follows::

  • Efficiency – reducing the cost of production, something Australian businesses are considered good at. This is central to cutting costs.
  • Lifecycle – Extending the lifecycle of a product or service. This offers the potential for significant marketing savings and real increases in return on investment.
  • Disruptive – Innovations that make expensive or sophisticated products and services accessible and more affordable to a broader market. Saving can also be found here.

International businesses like Apple and Samsung are continually innovating and, in so doing, extending the life of smartphone technologies, and there is an expectation in the market that such innovation will continue to occur between major disruptions. Research suggests that all types of innovation – as reflected in budgets for research and development – are less common in Australia than elsewhere in the world. Consider:

  • In Australia, less than 9%of GDP is devoted to research and development.
  • Across the OECD, the average spending on research and development is 5%of GDP.
  • Telstra, CSL, Aristocrat Leisure, Atlassianand Cochlear are the only local names in PwC’s annual Global Innovation 1000 report, which tracks public companies’ disclosed spending on research and development (R&D).
  • Australia’s representativesspent 2.5 per cent of the total R&D investment by the top 1000 in 2015-16, down from 2.9 per cent in 2012-13.

In Australia, product innovations are less common than overseas, and service innovations are very rare indeed. Australian businesses are failing to grasp the advantages offered by innovation, including:

  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased costs
  • Increased competitiveness
  • Improved brand recognition and value
  • Increased turnover and improved profitability

Innovation can be central to reducing the cost of marketing, driving sales and increasing margins. It is a critical tool for marketers. Innovation can also build value into your brand and business.

INSIGHT – Use innovation to develop products that better meet customer expectations and demands while reducing marketing costs. Every business needs an innovation strategy.

  1. To maximise sales – create a unique selling proposition.

Few terms have been thrown around more among marketers and would-be marketers than – ‘value proposition’. Marketers also talk a great deal about positioning, differentiation, and strategic competitive advantage. Very often, these terms are used interchangeably and with little cognisance of their real meanings. This is often complicated by the range of definitions authors have given these terms.

When I use these terms, and for practical purposes, I define and use these terms as follows:

  • Differentiating – The process of reducing perceived competition.
  • Value proposition – Characteristic that makes a product attractive to customers.
  • Positioning – Defining where a product or business sit compared to competitors.
  • Competitive advantage – A tangible element that facilitates differentiation.

Differentiation is a process that is reflected in the value proposition and the positioning. Differentiation can be real or perceived. In most practical respects, the value proposition and the positioning are interchangeable. They are both central to marketing.

The power of differentiation as reflected a positioning statement of value proposition lies in the capacity to:

  • Reduce the level of perceived competition.
  • Minimise the investment in promotion.
  • Increased sales in key audiences.
  • Increased margins in key audiences.

A strategic competitive advantage is a more structural or policy-based characteristic of a business that enables it to differentiate itself consistently over time. It is sometimes called a sustainable competitive advantage. ‘Delivery on time, budget, and specification’ might be a sound positioning or value proposition. The strategic competitive advantage that ensures sustainable delivery of this value proposition or positioning might be unique staff recruitment, development and culture.’

One of the first questions I ask a business before working with them is – ‘Why should I buy your product rather than that of your number 1 competitors?’ Rarely do I receive a sound answer. Even more rarely do I get a solution that is built on a strategic competitive advantage. Even more rarely again do I get an answer that facilitates more cost-effective marketing. A strategically sound point of difference is:

  • Relevant to the audience.

A sound positioning or value proposition must address all three of these elements and be supported by a strategic competitive advantage.

INSIGHT – Establish a point of difference that is sustainable, tangible, and relevant to the target audience’s needs. Then support it with a sound strategic competitive advantage. 

  1. To maximise sales – develop a brand community. 

Central to any successful marketing campaign is understanding the customer and engaging the customer. Many successful marketers use a tool to address both understanding and engagement in the brand community, which offers the added advantages of reducing marketing costs and helping the target audience identify with the brand to foster brand loyalty.

Consider these statistics:

  • 66% of US businesses turn to brand communities for product development.
  • 71% of US businesses use customer collaborations for market research.
  • 64% of US businesses say a brand community has improved decision-making.
  • 86% of Fortune 500 companies say brand communities provide insight into customer needs.
  • 80% of marketers indicate that building brand communities have increased traffic.

A brand community certainly represents the most effective means of facilitating empathy-based marketing and maybe the most effective tool for reducing research and communication costs. Essential features of an effective brand community include:

  • A clearly identified leader and assiduous management.
  • While based online – they are reflected offline.
  • High quality, customised content that engages members.
  • Ongoing communication and interaction to foster engagement.
  • The use of language, icons, and traditions to create a personal identification.

An online brand community need not be expensive to create and can be incorporated with your website to reduce costs and increase engagement with website content. If addressed well, a brand community can:

  • Build loyalty and facilitate repeat business and referral.
  • Enhance the perception of value – increasing the average sale and margins.
  • Reduce marketing costs.
  • Reduce market research costs.

In 2021 and 2022, there is perhaps no communication tool that businesses should be embracing more than a brand community.

INSIGHT – Develop a brand community that will build empathy and relationships. Use it to facilitate cost-effective market research and marketing to increase revenue while reducing costs. 

Work with the customer to create a great product. Remember that the customer defines ‘great.’ Great a great customer experience, again remembering that the customer defines ‘great.’ Set aside a budget to enable ongoing innovation both to extend the lifecycle of your products and to disrupt the market by offering something revolutionary. Develop a strong value proposition relevant to the customer’s needs and a strong strategic competitive advantage to enable consistency. Develop and maintain a brand community that build productive relationships.

 FIVE INSIGHTS FOR CREATING A BRAND THAT ADDS VALUE – Part 1 

A brand can and should add value to a product and or a business. It can and should transform a commodity (Tea) into a distinctive quality product that can attract a premium price (Twining’s). The Apple brand causes consumers to pay $200 more for an iPhone, despite not really understanding what sets it apart from the Samsung equivalent.

  1. To create lasting value for your business – know who creates what.

What do we mean when we say that the Alphabet brand was recently valued at US$300 billion? Alphabet is the parent company of Google, one of the world’s largest corporations, but what does it mean to say that their brand is worth all this money? What is worth all of this money.

The Amazon brand has been valued at more than US$315 billion, and the Chairman of that business, Jeff Bezos, defines the term brand as follows:

  • ‘Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.’

This is my preferred definition of a brand. Central to this definition are the following principles:

  • You don’t define your brand. The audience does.
  • A brand is a construct based on perceptions.

You can define a preferred or optimal brand, but the audience defines the actual brand. You can say what it should be, but it is the audience that says what it is!

The brand should but need not align with reality. What your audience says about you is based on their perceptions, not your reality. Their perceptions are the real brand.

This definition applies equally to all categories of brand:

  • Corporate brand – the perception of an organisation
  • Product brand – the perception of a good or service
  • Personal brand – the perception of a person

The only improvement I would like to see to Bezos’ definition of a brand is to change ‘other people’ to your ‘member of the target audiences’, as follows:

  • ‘Your brand is what members of the target audience say about you when you’re not in the room.’

This modification addresses my contention that a brand should be specifically tailored and only even considered in terms of your:

Nobody else really matters!

There is a lot of bullshit in marketing and especially in branding. So many people like to look clever by offering complex definitions to simple concepts. While branding might be hard to do, the concept is a simple one. Nothing impacts more on your business than the perceptions of customers.

INSIGHT – A brand adds value to a product, a business or a person. Ultimately it is the target audience that defines the brand, while the business must influence that definition.

  1. To create lasting value to your business – separate the optimal and the actual. 

A recent survey in the United States found that some 73% of people feel attracted to and engaged with a brand that delivers ‘great customer service. Customer service is, in essence, part of the product being purchased and most certainly a determinate of brand perceptions.

Creating an optimal brand is more often than not essential first to create an optimal customer experience. It is most certainly necessary to bring the brand to life.

It was suggested previously that there are for many organisations two brands:

  • The optimal brand – defined by the business
  • The actual brand – perceived by the audiences

The optimal brand is the brand the organisation believes will maximise the likelihood of strategic objectives being achieved – especially in terms of maximising – conversion rates, the average sale, margins, referrals, repeat business, and the business’s overall value.

The actual brand, often only understood through market research, is ‘what the people say about you when you are not in the room’. The actual brand ultimately determines how members of the target audience interact and engage with the organisation and its products.

Branding is nothing more or less than:

  • The process of reducing and ultimately eliminating the gap between the optimal brand and the actual brand

Branding involves defining the optimal brand, identifying the actual brand – and then developing and implementing strategies that can ensure the actual brand, over time, becomes the optimal brand. Branding is the process of bringing the optimal brand to life.

Branding can be a long process, and it most certainly takes longer to build a brand than it does to destroy one. Approaching branding effectively certainly involves recognising that:

  • It is the business of marketing to manage consumer behaviour.
  • Few things impact more on consumer behaviour than the brand.
  • Consumers behave based on the actual brand, not the optimal brand.

It is folly, but also all too common folly, for business people to believe that their brand is what they want it to be, and there are far too few businesses where this is the case.

INSIGHT – Ensure that you understand both the optimal and actual brand and that you can also articulate the strategy you have in place the eliminate the difference.

  1. To create the optimum brand – know what a brand is and select a model.

Now the worlds second wealthiest man, following the meteoric rise of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos defined the term ‘brand” as follows:

  • What people say about you when you are not in the room.

This is perhaps the best definition of a brand that I have ever heard, in that it:

  • Recognises that it is the consumer that defines a business’s brand.
  • Points to the fact that brands are about perception ahead of reality.

A business might define the brand it wants to have, which would most appeal to its audience, but it is the audience that defines the actual brand. In an ideal would the perception of a brand and the reality of that brand will be similar, but in the real world, a brand is just a perception. The reality is secondary. More often than not, all consumers have is the perception. They just don’t know the reality.

My only concern with the Bezos definition of a brand is the use of the general term – ‘people.’ It really does not or should not matter what the broader population perceives in a brand. What matters is how the target audience and other key stakeholders perceive the brand. Indeed, research suggests that the most effective brands target a well-defined audience and ignore most other audiences.

To define a brand, it is useful to have a framework. There are several frameworks for defining the optimal brand. Simon Sinek famously advocated a model involving three elements:

  • Why – the organisation exists.
  • Now – the why will be delivered.
  • What the organisation will sell.

I prefer a model that involves elements as follows:

  • Vision – what we are trying to create.
  • Mission – why we exist.
  • Values – what we believe in.
  • Capabilities – what we are good at.
  • Personality – what we are like to deal with.
  • Positioning – what sets us apart from the competition.

This model largely holds true for a personal brand, a product brand and a corporate brand. This model can be used to:

  • Define what we want the audience to say when we are not in the room.
  • Define what the audience is saying when we are not in the room.
  • Identify the gaps we need to eliminate to create the optimum brand.

I would argue that the second model is simpler and easier to use.

INSIGHT – Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. Models can and should determine what the market does say and what you need them to say.

  1. Attract the best people – develop an attractive employer brand.

In his landmark book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins noted that while good businesses employ good people, great businesses employ the ‘right’ person. The right person is one who will excel in the role and deliver the outcomes the business needs – and nothing less. To attract the right person for a role, it is important to have a strong and attractive brand. Research suggests that businesses with a strong brand attract 50% more qualified applicants. Research also suggests that 75% of candidates will research the reputation of an organisation before applying for a job. Finally, research suggests that 80% of talent acquisition managers believe that employer branding has a significant impact on hiring great talent.

Employing the right people is central to maximising profitability. Staff with the right qualifications, the right experience and the right attitude can enhance productivity. The brand is instrumental in attracting that person. Research suggests that the brand is also central to retaining the right people. For example, 92% of people consider changing jobs if offered a job with a business with a superior reputation. Further, It has been shown that stronger employer branding reduces staff turnover by 28%.

There is also considerable research to suggest that:

  • Staff will be less demanding in terms of income when working for a brand they and their peer group hold in high regard
  • Staff will work harder and with greater enthusiasm if they feel they are working for a respected brand.

This highlights the importance of employer branding. It is crucial to develop and maintain a brand that will attract, retain, engage, and motivate the right staff. This, in turn, can impact significantly on:

  • Staff costs
  • Staff productivity
  • Staff performance

It is important to note that contrary to the advice of some in HR, no entity can have more than one credible brand. High performing businesses have just one brand – with the employer and market brands being one and the same or identical. The concept of a separate employer brand is absurd.

INSIGHT – Ensure that the brand established for your business is equally relevant to customers, potential customers, staff, and potential staff. Attract and retain the right people.

  1. Drive recognition and memorability – developing a world-class brand.

It is probably not the least bit surprising that a recent study found that 59% of consumers would prefer to buy from a brand they are familiar with worldwide. Familiar brands eliminate an element of uncertainty.

From the perspective of the enterprise, a well-constructed brand also provides a focal point around which a business can be built, maximising the recognition and awareness needed to:

  • Attract and retain the best staff
  • Attract and retain the best customers
  • Attract and retain the best stakeholders

Apple, the world’s most valuable brand, is valued at US$309 billion. It has this value partly because most human beings on the planet recognise it. Its level of familiarity is massive – as is the value that these audiences place in it. Some 37% of smartphones sold on earth each year are i-phones. Most of these people are buying a brand they recognise, are familiar with and remember.

Apple has built its marketing strategy around the Apple brand – both supporting it and leveraging this. They had done this from day 1 when they were operating out of a garage. Brands are not just for big businesses and should be established from day one. What is more, they have done this without excessive advertising. In 2020, Apple spent just US$168 million on advertising, delivering revenue of US$275 billion

While developing an optimal brand is important, brand advertising may not be. An organisation’s brand should be reflected in everything it does, including its advertising. That said, it should not be built on the back of advertising and the merits of brand advertising should always be questioned. Apple has a relatively small advertising budget, relying instead on developing a product that meets or exceeds customer expectations.

INSIGHT – Learn from Apple, the world’s most valuable brand. Drive both recognition and memorability by building a great product and a great brand from day one. 

There is arguably nothing that adds more value to a business than a product or corporate brand. Indeed. Much of the value in so many businesses, including the FAANG businesses – Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, lies in the value of the brand and its capacity to attract and retail the best people, attract and retain customers, and maximise the average sale, margins, repeat business and referrals.

FIVE INSIGHTS FOR CREATING A BRAND THAT ADDS VALUE– Part 2 

Much of the value of a business can reside in its brand. Apple has been valued at US$2.8 trillion. Estimates suggest that US$300 billion of this valuation resides with the Apple brand.

Branding is essential if an organisation is to maximise performance. Effective branding directly impacts conversions, average sales, margins, repeat business rates and referral rates and minimise marketing costs – especially in terms of reducing the need for advertising and promotion more generally.

Following are the first five tips for effective branding.

  1. To maximise customer lifetime value – create a strong brand.

Brands and branding are approaching a crossroads. This will be discussed in greater depth in a later post. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that brands, as we know them, will be less valuable in 10 years than they are today. That said, great brands will almost certainly continue to prosper, and, until that time, branding will remain a key to maximising revenue and profitability. Research found that:

  • 77%of marketing leaders say a strong brand is critical to their growth plan
  • Customers who perceived a brand positively pay up to 41%more than the median
  • 81%of consumers need to be able to trust a brand to buy from them
  • 60%of millennial consumers expect a consistent brand across all channels

Research also suggests that having a strong brand is central to attracting investors:

  • 82%of investors want the businesses they invest in to have a strong brand

Despite these well-recognised facts, research has also found that:

  • Only 60%of marketers think their brand is well aligned with their long-term goals
  • Only 55%of marketers think their internal and external brands are aligned

This would seem to suggest that many businesses still have a great deal of work to do in establishing their optimal brand, despite the established impact of the brand on:

  • Revenue
  • Margins
  • Average sale

It is not enough to define the optimal brand. That brand must also be created and delivered to consumers and staff alike.

INSIGHT – There is arguably nothing more central to maximising the lifetime value of a customer than developing a brand that boosts the average sale, margins and ultimately revenue. 

  1. To develop the optimal brand – adopt a strategic approach to branding.

recent study found that 86% of potential employees would not apply or continue to work for a company with a bad reputation with former employees or the public. Another study found that  58% of employees have left a job or would consider leaving one if they felt negative office politics permeated the culture.

It is important that the branding strategy address all audiences, including:

  • Customers and potential customers.
  • Staff and potential staff.
  • Stakeholders and potential stakeholders.

The concept of an ’employer brand’ is, in my view, absurd. It is hard enough for an organisation to create and maintain one brand, let alone two. Every organisation should have just one brand, and that brand should address all target audiences equally.

The optimal brand should also determine the optimal culture. Consistency in brand and culture is essential. Creating and maintaining the optimal brand and the optimal culture to support that brand is a feature of all great corporations. The brand as defined needs to be carried through to the following:

  • The enterprise as a whole.
  • Every product sold by the organisation.
  • The personnel representing the organisation.

Sub-brands can be useful, but they must be 100% consistent with and, in essence, a subset of the overall brand. Multiple brands or sub-brands cost more to develop and maintain, create confusion and generally contribute much less than their developers think.

An optimal brand will not be created overnight. The creation of the optimal brand will take time. Developing the brand should begin on day one of business, if not before. Branding is not the province of established businesses – it is instead a key to establishing a business.

Creating and maintaining an optimal brand, while potentially involving advertising and most certainly involving communication, is not about either. It is about developing and implementing the simplest strategy possible, creating an optimal culture, and driving that culture over time.

INSIGHT – Define the optimal brand and bring it to life through culture. Give the brand time to develop and don’t rely on advertising. Make sure you address all audiences.

  1. To maximise the value of a brand – identify who is not in your audience.

I will never go into an IKEA car park, let alone an IKEA store. I dislike just about everything about IKEA, from their product to the customer experience. I can think of nothing that would get me into an IKEA store. Of course, IKEA would not give a toss! Not only am I just one customer, but more importantly, I am not in their target market. I am not the demographic or psychographic they have chosen to target.

IKEA is one of the world’s great brands. Part of the reason it is great and, indeed, so profitable is that IKEA knows who its market is and what it wants. Equally, it knows who its market is not and ignores them – as indeed it should. Central to building a great brand is:

  • Knowing exactly what market you are going to target.
  • Understanding that market as well as possible.
  • Knowing what markets your brand is targeting.
  • Recognising that a brand trying to be all things to all people will fail.

Recent research found that 90% of consumers expect their experience to be consistent across all channels and devices. This is a common demand of consumers in 2019. But most needs or demands are not common across all or indeed several markets. Many needs are peculiar to a specific market – and it is understanding and addressing these needs that lie at the heart of a great brand.

IKEA customers like the designs of the products. I don’t. IKEA customers gain satisfaction from assembling their flat packs. I find it a waste of time. IKEA customers like meatballs. I am a vegetarian. And the list goes on. The fact is, IKEA is a great brand because it understands precisely who its market is, what they want and how its needs and wants can be best addressed in reality and reflected in its brand story.

Far too many businesses make assumptions about who their market is and what they want. Innovative businesses research these issues and then develop their offering and brand accordingly. Great brands are:

  • Defined by the business working collaboratively with the target audience.
  • Great brands reflect the needs, wants, demands and aspirations of the target audience.

INSIGHT – Specify your market precisely. Understand them and develop a brand that addresses their needs, wants, demands and aspirations. Be prepared to alienate other audiences.

  1. To develop an attractive brand – define your reason for being.

I noted a TED talk previously by Simon Sinek addressing the importance of WHY viewed more than 4 million times. I have just found another one that has more than 2 million views. And these are just two of many.

So why are these talks so popular. Indeed, while Simon Sinek expresses an all too simplistic view of the world and while he thinks he is more insightful than I think he is, Sinek is a good presenter. Along with his profile, this would partially explain the popularity of these talks. The other factor must surely be the compelling story he tells about the importance of WHY – the importance of ‘purpose’ in building a great brand and a great business. Certainly, WHY or ‘purpose’ is central to effective branding.

Indeed, the WHY or’ purpose’ is the glue that holds a great brand together. It is the primary attractor and retainer of the best people. It is certainly a key driver of performance. It also attracts and helps retain loyal customers.

Harvard University study found that Eighty-nine per cent of executives viewed collective purpose as motivating employee satisfaction. In comparison, 84 per cent linked purpose with transformation, and 80 per cent revealed that it boosts customer loyalty. Another study found that 63% of customers prefer to buy from a business with a purpose they engage with.

It is well and good to exist to maximise profitability. But rarely is that enough to sustain a business, and it is never enough to build a great brand. It will facilitate neither staff nor customer retention and potentially inhibit both.

INSIGHT – Have a clear purpose and ensure that this purpose – or reason for existing is more significant than making money. Ensure all audiences know WHY your brands exist.

  1. To develop an attractive brand – define your heart and soul.

recent study found that more than 50% of executives believe that culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, firm value, and growth rates. Another study found that only 46% of employees say they have a “great deal of trust” in their employers.

These and many other findings like them highlight the importance of two issues that lie at the heart of every great brand:

  • Values – what the business or brand stands for.
  • Personality – what the business or brand is like to deal with.

The importance of these factors is also highlighted in the book by Roy Spence – “It is not what you sell – It’s what you stand for”. This title implies that even more than a good or service – your customers are buying what you stand for – the values and personality reflected in the nature of the products and the way you do business. A recent study found that 64% of customers say they want to share the brands’ values they purchase.

Recent research suggests that as the community becomes better informed, it is also suggested that people are becoming more demanding and that values and personality are becoming more important. This, in part, explains the growth in the investment businesses are making in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

CSR is, of course, significant, and for many businesses, their investments in CSR reflect their values and personality. However, for others, CSR is engaged to help cover up their lack of core values and a personality that is palatable to their audiences. Using CSR to cover up a lack of sound core values is becoming less and less successful for these businesses.

CSR will never take the place of values and a personality that is lived day in and day out, and businesses that try to make up for a values-based approach to business with CSR will fail.

INSIGHT – Set clear core values and live them – not just in CSR but in everything you do. Determine the personality that the target audience will respond to and bring it to life in all interactions. 

Brand and branding are such important issues. Five tips can never do these critical issues justice. Further tips will be offered in the weeks that follow. It is important to approach branding strategically, addressing a well-understood audience, knowing who is not in that audience while defining – a purpose, values, a personality, and a point of difference.

FIVE INSIGHTS FOR CREATING A BRAND THAT ADDS VALUE – Part 3

There are arguably no issues more important in marketing than brand and branding. The optimal brand is a critical store of value that will help push prices and margins up while enhancing the value of the business.

Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. Branding is the process of creating the optimum brand – something which need not involve advertising. Following are five more tips on brand and branding – five more tips for adding value to your business.

  1. To develop the optimal brand – define your point of difference. 

There is no doubt that while the brands consumers are loyal to are changing, brand loyalty is alive and well. In a recent survey, 94% of customers indicated a preference for brand loyalty when the brand is absolutely honest and transparent. Seeking brand loyalty remains a reasonable target for and expectation of businesses in most product categories.

Customers can not be expected to be loyal to a product that is not perceivably and indeed tangible different from its direct competitors. However, central to that loyalty is a relevant, tangible and sustainable point of difference that sets the brand apart from its immediate and even cheaper competitors. Indeed, if the two products are not seen as distinct, it makes sense that the consumer will buy the cheaper product.

The ideal corollary of this is that if two brands are very well-differentiated, it is difficult to compare them directly. Direct price comparisons become much more difficult. The I-phone and the Samsung equivalent do essentially the same thing – but even though the I-phone is significantly more expensive, it also has a considerably higher market share. Further, the purchasers of the i-phone tend to be loyal – buying the brand over and over – despite its higher price.

Remember Seth Godin’s ‘purple cow’ – no one tells the family that they just saw a brown cow, a black cow or even a pie-ball cow. They will tell everyone the first time they see a purple cow, and if they are fans of purple, they will visit the purple cow again and again.

Unfortunately, most differentiation promoted by businesses is fabricated or less than tangible – and as such less than effective as a marketing tool. ‘Better” and even “best’ and not effective differentiators, any more than ‘high quality and ‘excellent service’. These terms are so widely used and so hard to quantify that they are meaningless and contribute nothing to effective branding.

INSIGHT – Develop a tangible and ideally quantifiable point of difference that is sustainable and will communicate a compelling edge that will make price comparison difficult and unlikely.

  1. To develop an optimal brand – develop an emotional connection.

Branding tips thus far have focused on tangible features of brands. That may or may not be the case – but that said – there is no doubt that brand connection and loyalty stems from an emotional connection with a brand.

Brand loyalty is an emotional connection, much more than a cognitive one. It isn’t easy to communicate messaging appealing to the neo-cortex until there is a connection in the limbic system.

recent survey found that 65% of people loyal to a brand feel an emotional connection with that brand, very often suggesting that the brand – ‘cares’ about them. Further, where there is an emotional connection with a brand, loyalty increases significantly and lasts significantly longer.

In building a great brand, it is important to:

  • Recognise the long-term value of emotional connection.
  • Understand and leverage the drivers of emotional connection.
  • An ongoing conversation with the audiences.

Also helpful in establishing an emotional connection are:

  • Listening closely to your audience to identify drivers.
  • Collaborating with your audience to maintain a connection.
  • Establishing and exceeding customer expectations.

Drivers of an emotional connection might include – the purpose or WHY, core values, personality, and brand differentiation. Also important are the overall customer experience, the product’s features, and the level of satisfaction generated. Most important is the purchaser feeling good about the purchase.

Establishing a logical case for the purchase of a brand is good marketing. However, it is also important to establish the emotional connection that makes consumers open to logical messaging and significantly increases the likelihood of ongoing loyalty.

INSIGHT – Prioritise not just securing sales but also winning the hearts and minds of your target audience. Find out what can and will establish an emotional connection with your brand.

  1. To maximise the value of a brand – deliver the consistency that builds trust.

A recent study that found 90% of customers expect a consistent experience across all channels and devices has already been cited. Another study found that in 2018 – 23% of revenue was attributed to brand consistency.

Not only is consistency important to branding, but there is no brand without consistency. To build a great brand, it is essential to ensure that all messaging and visual branding is consistent across:

It is also essential that brand messaging is consistent:

  • Across all marketing.
  • The behaviour of staff.
  • Right across the customer journey.

Brand messaging also needs to be consistent:

  • Between locations.
  • Across sub-brands.

Warren Buffet once commented – “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” The point is that great brands result from consistent messaging over time and that inconsistent behaviour can quickly destroy a brand (reputation).

INSIGHT – Ensure every action reflects your brand. Implement your brand consistently and have systems and guidelines necessary to ensure absolute consistency over time. 

  1. To maximise the value of a brand – deliver the consistency that delivers trust.

Warren Buffet famously noted – ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation (or brand) and only 5 minutes to ruin it. The point made here is – it takes a long time to establish a great brand or reputation and maintain that brand to ensure it is not lost. Just one slip-up could be enough to destroy considerable value. One study found that consistently presenting a brand can increase revenue by up to 23%. In contrast, another found that consistently delivering a brand promise increases revenue by 30%. Either way – the importance of consistency is clear.

Consistency is important from two perspectives:

  • Across channels and media
  • Overtime

Warren Buffet was once asked the secret to his considerable financial success. He noted three things:

  • ‘Winning the lottery of the womb’ (being born to middle-class parents who valued education in a first world country).
  • Compound interest.
  • ‘Living long enough for compound interest to pay dividends.’

Branding is a bit like compound interest. If approached consistently, the value of a brand and its contribution to the business grow over time. If a business consistently presents its brand and delivers on it over time, its contribution to revenue generation, margins, and average sales per customer will grow.

Whatever value a brand delivers today – it can provide much more in the long term if it is presented and delivered consistently. Brands must be developed with the long term in mind.

INSIGHT – Present your brand consistently across all platforms and channels. Deliver on the promise of your brand consistently over the long term.

  1. To maximise the value of a brand– create the culture – and be remarkable.

In 1999 the turnover of Zappos was US$1.6 million. In 2009 Zappos was sold to Amazon for US1.2 billion. When asked about the key to his staggering success, CEO Tony Hsieh commented – “Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will happen naturally on its own”.

Culture is central to the success of any business. In his book ‘The Excellence Dividend, Tom Peters suggested, as have many before him, that culture is more important than strategy. I agree and would add that it is nearly impossible to create a great brand without first creating a culture that supports or delivers that brand.

There is a myth well propagated by advertising agencies that brands are the result of advertising. The fact is that brands are the result of culture. Myers spends tens of millions on advertising, promises its culture does not deliver and then posts losses. On the other hand, Zara has no advertising budget, has 50 times as many stores, and reports outstanding profits. Zara also happens to have a culture that ensures staff consistently behave, and therefore, the business continually delivers in a manner consistent with its brand.

The stages in building a brand are:

  • Work and collaborate with the community to define the optimal brand
  • Work with the staff to create the culture that brings the brand to life
  • Work with staff and customers to communicate the brand.

A brand is not genuine until the audience perceives it. A brand will rarely be perceived as a result of advertising. It must also be supported by the behaviour of the staff – culture. Indeed, where the behaviour of staff and the culture they reflect in their behaviour does not reflect the messaging in advertising, the organisation’s credibility is reduced, and the brand is damaged.

INSIGHT – Work with your audience to define your brand, your staff to create a culture and all audiences to communicate a brand supported by the staff’s behaviour.

A strategic approach to branding is critical to maximising the value of your brand and business. While the value of this approach will vary by business and audience, the underlying principles apply to all businesses. This includes – B to C and B to B. Critical issues in strategic branding include – establishing an emotional connection, creating a culture that supports the brand, implementing the branding strategy, delivering consistently, and leveraging the power of social media.

FIVE INSIGHTS FOR CREATING A BRAND THAT ADDS VALUE – Part 4 

Creating the optimum culture is central to creating the optimum brand and customer experience. Establishing the optimum culture involves:

  • Defining the optimum brand.
  • Defining and employing only the optimum people.
  • Motivating staff to perform optimally.
  • Providing the required direction and training.
  • Monitoring and fine-tuning the strategy.

Following are five tips for building a culture that brings a brand to life and, in so doing, builds the value of the brand and, ultimately, the value of the business.

  1. To maximise the value of a brand – implement a branding strategy.

A recent survey found that some 77% of executives in B2B businesses view branding as being critical to growth. The other 23% of the executives surveyed are almost certainly fools. It is virtually impossible in any business B2B or B2C to attract and retain the best people, maximise productivity, attract the best customers and margins, and maximise the value of any business without effective branding.

As discussed previously, there are, for most organisations, at least two brands:

  • Actual brand.
  • Optimal brand.

The target audience determines the actual brand. It is what they ‘say about you when you are not in the room’. The optimal brand is the ‘brand’ defined by the organisation and considered to best maximise performance and profitability.

Branding is the process of bridging the gap between the actual brand (as it is now) and the optimal brand (as the business would like it to be). Given that there is a huge gap in some businesses, a bran\ding strategy to eliminate them is almost always necessary.

This, in turn, will involve:

  • Creating a reality that supports the brand.
  • Creating the optimal culture to drive the brand.
  • Communicating well-crafted messaging consistently.

It will almost certainly involve:

  • Ensuring brand consistent staff are employed
  • Ensuring staff have the skills required
  • Ensuring staff have the KPIs, incentives and monitoring

There are alas still many businesspeople who believe that brands are created through advertising or external communication. While advertising may be necessary and social media and traditional media relations can be very helpful in branding, they are the last of several critical considerations.

INSIGHT – Define your optimal brand, research the actual brand, and then document a cost-effective strategy to eliminate the gap between actual and optimal.

  1. To build a brand inexpensively – leverage social media.

Research has found that some 91% of consumers believe that social media is a good and effective way of connecting consumers – making it an effective medium for building a brand. Research also found that 78% of consumers surveyed want brands engaged with social media communities.

Research has also found that 62% of respondents believe social media can unify people, while 52% want to connect with them through social media. Again, this suggests that social media is the ideal environment for building a brand, using social media to:

  • Develop the best possible understanding of the primary target audience, enabling the identification of areas where the brand messaging and features might be fine-tuned.
  • Communicate cost-effectively with members of the primary target audience on an ongoing basis to build long term relationships and maximise customer lifetime value.

Both of these potential uses of social media, in turn, open the way for collaborative brand development. This is why – Up to 80% of businesses use social collaboration tools for enhancing business processes. Collaboration can be a powerful tool for staff and target audiences to work together to develop a brand that meets the expectations and requirements of all audiences – thus maximising brand loyalty.

Social media is an essential and powerful tool in terms of getting brand messages out to target audiences. It is, however, an even more powerful tool for developing an optimal understanding of the target audiences – and an even more powerful tool for the collaborative development of a brand.

Central to doing this effectively is, of course, identifying the optimal channels and messaging. All brand related messaging needs to be customer-focused and consistent.

INSIGHTS – Use social media to build your brand. Use it to develop a superior understanding of the audiences collaboratively and then communicate with them.

  1. Build value into your brand – by building a culture that brings it to life.

Research by Gallop in the United States found that only 51% of employees are engaged with their job and employer. Indeed, 51% represents a majority, but it also means that nearly half (49%) are not involved with their job and employer. The same organisation found that the situation is much worse in Australia, with 71% of employees not engaged with their job or employer.

My question is – how well do you think those not engaged will perform in their job? I would have thought that to remain in a job, an individual first needs to engage with that job. Very low, I would have thought. I would argue that people who are not engaged and indifferent by definition will never achieve performance maximisation. More importantly for this discussion, what is the likelihood that an employee who is disengaged from their job and employer will do what is necessary in interactions with other staff, stakeholders, and customers to live by the organisation’s values and create the optimal culture?

Investopedia defines corporate culture as:

  • The beliefs and behaviours that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.

A great culture lies at the heart of every great business. The culture is what determines how staff will interact with each other, with customers and with other stakeholders. Most importantly, the culture of an organisation is what brings the brand to life. Ideally defined by the brand, the culture makes the brand real. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, the culture of an organisation comprises or addresses:

  • The vison
  • The values
  • The practices
  • The people
  • The narrative
  • The place

There is clear alignment between these factors and the elements of the brand, including vision, values, personality, capability, and positioning. This highlights the inextricable link between brand and culture.

INSIGHT – Embrace the power of culture and the importance of staff engagement in determining the capacity to create the optimal culture which brings the brand to life. 

  1. Build value into your brand – using culture as the foundation stones. 

In 2009 Amazon purchased Zappos for US$1.2 billion. Ten years earlier, Zappos had sales of just US$1.6 million. By any measure, and even taking into account the propensity of businesses to pay over the odds for online retailers in 2009, this valuation suggests that the previous ten years had been stunningly successful for Zappos. What is more, that success has been sustained since 2009. In 2020, Zappos is the world’s largest shoe store (albeit – online). Global sales in 2019 were US$568 million.

Behind the growth of Zappos has been Tony Hsieh. On many occasions, Tony has been asked to explain the success of Zappos. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • “At Zappos, we really view culture as our No. 1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself.” -January 9, 2010, The New York Times.
  • “I made a list of the happiest periods in my life, and I realised that none of them involved money. I realised that building stuff and being creative and inventive made me happy. Connecting with a friend and talking through the entire night until the sun rose made me happy. Trick-or-treating in middle school with a group of my closest friends made me happy. Pickles made me happy.”–from his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Profits
  • “We’re willing to give up short-term profits or revenue growth to make sure we have the best culture. In fact, after orientation, we offer people $2,000 not to work at Zappos. The ones who stay are right for our culture.”–January 7, 2010, Forbes 
  • “We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”–November 15, 2010, The Huffington Post

 

In these quotes, Hsieh points to the importance of culture in developing a great business and a great brand. He is not alone in this regard:

  • “I think as a company if you can get those two things right — having a clear direction on what you are trying to do and bringing in great people who can execute on the stuff — then you can do pretty well.” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook
  • “Determine what behaviours and beliefs you value as a company and have everyone live true to them. These behaviours and beliefs should be so essential to your core that you don’t even think of it as culture.” Brittany Forsyth, VP of Human Relations, Shopify
  • “I used to believe that culture was ‘soft’ and had little bearing on our bottom line. What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.” Vern Dosch, author, Wired Differently

INSIGHT – Get your culture right, and much of the rest – including the brand will take care of itself. To build a great business – build a great culture. 

  1. Build value into your brand – only employ people who reflect the brand.

For most employees, income is a major consideration. That said, the vast majority are looking for more than that. Research suggests that 80% of potential employees are influenced by the brand of the business they are considering working for. At the same time, employers are looking for staff who will engage with the organisation and its brand. Research shows that such engagement can deliver a 21% increase in profit.

In his book ‘Good to Great’ Jim Collins highlights the importance of employing only the ‘right’ staff – not the best available – but the ‘right’ staff – those ideally suited for the job in question. He highlights the high cost of employing less than optimal staff. Further to this, Collins suggests that if a business cannot find the ‘right’ person – they should not employ anyone at all. The ‘right’ people will be attracted to the brand and will make an ongoing contribution to bringing that brand to life.

It is people and not promotion that brings a brand to life. This is evident to just about anyone walking into a Myer store and experiencing the lack of service or customer experience compared with those walking into an Apple store and experiencing the high standard of service and market appropriate customer experience. It is impossible to create the ‘optimal’ brand without the ‘right’ staff and attracting the ‘right staff’ requires an ‘optimal’ brand. Brands attract staff, and staff create brands.

Consultants and textbooks often talk about ’employer branding’ and the importance of the employee brand in attracting the ‘right’ staff. While it is important to have a brand that attracts the ‘right’ people, communicates that brand to the ‘right’ people (the employee target market), no organisation should have one brand for customers and another for potential employees. Great businesses have one brand, defined with all audiences (including potential employees) in mind. Great businesses also recognise that great brands are created by the ‘right’ staff who, in turn, are attracted by the optimum brand.

INSIGHT: When defining your brand, consider all audiences, including employees and potential employees. Then employ the ‘right’ staff to bring your brand to life.

Your brand is what target audiences say about you when you are not in the room. Branding is the business of creating the optimal brand, such that the audiences in question are saying what you want them to say. Effective branding requires a sound strategy.

FIVE INSIGHTS FOR CREATING A BRAND THAT ADDS VALUE – Part 5 

Management academic and guru Peter Drucker once noted that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast. He was right! The right strategy is of little value if the organisation lacks the culture to implement that strategy. It is only when the organisation has the right culture that it is able to develop the optimum strategy. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the advertising but the culture of a business that creates its brand.

  1. Build value into your brand – only employ people who reflect the brand. 

For most employees, income is a major consideration. That said, the vast majority are looking for more than that. Research suggests that 80% of potential employees are influenced by the brand of the business they are considering working for. At the same time, employers are looking for staff who will engage with the organisation and its brand. Research shows that such engagement can deliver a 21% increase in profit.

In his book ‘Good to Great, Jim Collins highlights the importance of employing only the ‘right’ staff – not the best available – but the ‘right’ staff – those ideally suited for the job in question. He highlights the high cost of employing less than optimal staff. Further to this, Collins suggests that if a business cannot find the ‘right’ person – they should not employ anyone at all. The ‘right’ people will be attracted to the brand and will make an ongoing contribution to bringing that brand to life.

It is people and not promotion that brings a brand to life. This is evident to just about anyone walking into a Myer store and experiencing the lack of service or customer experience compared with those walking into an Apple store and experiencing the high standard of service and market appropriate customer experience. It is impossible to create the ‘optimal’ brand without the ‘right’ staff and attracting the ‘right staff’ requires an ‘optimal’ brand. Brands attract staff, and staff create brands.

Consultants and textbooks often talk about ‘employer branding and the importance of the employee brand in attracting the ‘right’ staff. While it is important to have a brand that attracts the ‘right’ people communicate that brand to the ‘right’ people (the employee target market), no organisation should have one brand for customers and another for potential employees. Great businesses have one brand, defined with all audiences (including potential employees) in mind. Great businesses also recognise that great brands are created by the ‘right’ staff who, in turn, are attracted by the optimum brand.

INSIGHT: When defining your brand, consider all audiences, including employees and potential employees. Then employ the ‘right’ staff to bring your brand to life.

  1. Build value into your brand – employ staff who will bring the brand to life.

If you are to bring your brand to life, you first need to recognise that your staff will do this job. The last blog in this series addressed employing the ‘right’ staff – staff who can bring your brand to life. This blog addresses the importance of engaging the ‘right’ staff, retaining them, and getting the best out of them. Research suggests that 71% of executives believe employee engagement is critical to research and has a role in:

  • Increasing productivity
  • Improving morale
  • Reducing absenteeism
  • Delivering better customer service

Engaged staff also bring the brand to life – understanding and embracing the consistent behaviours and never exhibiting behaviours that are not consistent with the brand. Only engaged staff will create your brand by bringing your brand definition to life. Engaging staff can be facilitated by:

  • Ensuring they understand the vision and the expectations it creates
  • Ensuring they understand the core values and the expectations they create
  • Ensuring they understand the brand personality and the expectations they create
  • Providing the education and training required to ensure staff have the requisite skills
  • Provide the incentives needed to ensure consistent behaviour of all staff

To live your brand, staff must first:

  • Understand the brand and its implications for their behaviour
  • Have the skills to exhibit optimal behaviour consistently
  • Be incentivised and provided with feedback

If staff are not engaged with the brand, they will not live it, and if they don’t live it, it will not exist.

INSIGHT – Employ staff who can live the brand and put in place a strategy that engages staff and begins the process of extracting full value from them – to bring the brand to life

  1. Build value into your brand – retain the staff who maximise productivity.

Great brands are built by the ‘right’ people (as suggested in previous blogs in this series) who are fully engaged with the business and its brand. More often than not, great brands are created by long term employees – the ‘right’ staff who are involved with the brand to the extent that they choose to stay with the business for the long term.

The benefits of long-term staff are numerous and include:

  • Reduced recruitment costs
  • Lower training costs
  • Retention of intellectual property

Long-term staff are also better placed to understand, embrace and live the brand – providing the customer service and customer experience promised by the brand. Retaining the best staff requires:

  • Employing the right person in the first place
  • Providing a clear and engaging vision and leadership
  • Maximising the level of engagement with the brand
  • Maintaining attractive remuneration packages
  • Monitoring staff and providing feedback and training

Critical to retaining the right staff is a brand that reflects the values, personality, and capabilities of the staff member concerned – making the working environment one they feel proud of, rewarding and a pleasure to work in. Ideally, staff members need to feel pride in their employment, and nothing will inform this pride more than the organisation’s brand – ‘what people say about it when the owners of the brand are not in the room’. Vision, values, personality and positioning are as important to staff as they are to purchasers.

Research suggests a ‘perpetual cycle’ here – with the staff bringing the brand to life by living it and -bringing the brand to life, helping to attract, extract full value from, and retain the right people.

INSIGHT – Once you have the right staff and they are fully engaged, put in place strategies that will ensure that staff who live the brand stay with you as long as possible.

  1. Build value into your brand – establish a continuum.

It has been suggested that a brand has nine broad objectives:

  • Identity
  • Recognition
  • Awareness
  • Engagement
  • Advocates
  • Equity
  • Share
  • Margins
  • Loyalty

I would argue that the first 5 of these objectives simply serve the achievement of the last four. As such, it might be argued that a brand has just four ultimate objectives:

  • Build equity in the brand and, therefore, the business
  • Facilitate and increase in market share and, therefore, sales
  • Boost margins by increasing the perceived value of a product
  • Create a loyalty that drives the lifetime value of each customer

The ‘brand-culture continuum’ is a model for demonstrating the inextricable link between brand and culture. It has but one objective:

  • To create the culture that will bring the optimum brand to life to build equity, facilitate market share, boost margins, and create the loyalty required to maximise the lifetime value of every customer.

This objective is achieved by embracing the brand definition as showing the way and the culture as ensuring the journey is completed successfully – with this one objective being achieved. This objective cannot be achieved without recognising that culture and not advertising bring a brand to life and ensure that all of the objectives listed above are achieved.

INSIGHT – Address fully using culture to bring your brand to life and maximise market share and the lifetime value of each customer and prospect.

  1. Build value into your brand – reinforce the continuum.

It has been suggested that bringing a brand to life involves eight strategies:

Realise the importance of brand

  • Take inventory
  • Funnel and simplify
  • Brand identity
  • Implement internally
  • Implement externally
  • Measure
  • Protect and maintain

I would argue that there are, in the simplest terms, two critical stages in creating a brand:

  • Defining it
  • Living it

Ideally, defining the brand involves working co-operatively or even collectively with the primary target market to define a brand that will maximise all of the objectives discussed in the last blog in this series. Living the brand involves creating a culture that can bring the brand to life.

Defining the brand involves:

  • Defining the audience
  • Understanding the audience to be targeted
  • Defining the brand according to the expectations of that audience

Living the brand involves creating a culture by:

  • Employing the ‘right’ people
  • Engaging and incentivising staff
  • Monitoring and providing feedback to staff

This is all part of one strategy – the branding strategy. The branding strategy involves defining the brand and then bringing it to life.

INSIGHT – Understand and embrace the brand culture continuum, recognising that the brand defines the culture, and the culture brings the brand to life. 

  1. Build value into your brand – Develop one team.

The key to great branding is bringing the brand to life by establishing a culture where all staff always behave in a manner that is consistent with the brand. It has been suggested that there are ten do’s and six don’ts involved in creating a great culture:

DO’s

  • Set clear goals
  • Communicate the goals
  • Promote diversity and inclusivity
  • Allow for humour
  • Prioritise respect
  • Strict zero-tolerance policy
  • Employee recognition
  • Employee feedback
  • Flexibility
  • Transparency

DON’TS

  • Encourage employees to work through lunch
  • Reschedule one-to-one-meetings
  • Retain the wrong staff
  • Limit learning opportunities
  • Hire for cultural fit
  • Tolerate poor managers

To me, creating the optimum culture involves:

  • Defining the brand
  • Bringing the brand to life

Bringing the brand to life involves:

  • Attracting the right people
  • Engaging the right people
  • Retaining the right people

It should be apparent from this that delivering the optimum brands requires the marketing team (defining the brand) working with the human resources team (creating the culture) working together as one team. While the marketing and human resources teams will have many very different responsibilities, they should ideally work as one team when it comes to branding. Making this one team approach even more important is the importance of the brand to the HR team’s efforts to attract and retain staff.

INSIGHT – To create and benefit from the optimum brand, have the marketing and human resources teams work together to define and create the optimum brand and culture 

 

The culture-brand continuum is the key to effective and sustainable branding. While management might define the brand, the culture brings the brand to life cost-effectively. The Culture – brand continuum is the most effective pathway to building a sustainable brand the consistently adds value to the brand and the organisation more generally.

 

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