Brand Owners Need to get Their Hands Dirty
At the most senior level of the business brand integration needs to be a priority one KPA for all senior executives, no exceptions.
AdFocus 2006 revealed that South Africa’s top 100 advertisers spent in excess of R6.5 billion on positioning and building their brands in 2005. Moreover, some individual companies spent upwards of R200 million to drive their brands into the hearts and minds of the South African public.
In theory, the singular purpose of this spend is to get the consumer off their butts and onto the phone or into the store, in other words make a sale. Thus one assumes that this significant investment pays dividends. But alas this is not always the case.
Legendary management consultant Peter Drucker reminds us that “The purpose of business is not to make a sale, but to make and keep a customer.” In many cases the advertising does the selling but many other facets of the brand engagement process conspire to in effect “un-sell” the customer. This is one of the great tragedies of the industry. The management of the brand experience beyond the initial call to action remains largely undefined, ill managed and poorly controlled. Quite simply put, brand owners need to get their hands dirty.
In the words of former Chairman & CEO of Nestlé Timm F Crull, “Long-term brand equity and growth depends on our ability to successfully integrate and implement all elements of a comprehensive marketing program.” And Nestlé should know, they spend as much on brand building as South Africa does on RDP housing.
If nothing else, defining and managing the customers brand experience beyond the point of first engagement should be seen as a risk management tool. A recent survey done at South African airports revealed that “for every visitor that comes to our country and has a good experience three more people are likely to come. For every visitor that comes to our country and has a bad experience 10 more people are likely not to come.” It pays to deliver a consistent brand experience that measures up to promises made in the market place. As different economic categories become more competitive, companies cannot go on forever refusing to deal with the customer experience in a meaningful and holistic manner.
Surely the bigger companies know this? Sadly not so, larger companies suffer this affliction worse than most, where the size of the business is inversely proportional to its ability to integrate all of its brand touch points, in other words, the larger the marketing budget the less sophisticated the strategy. Thus we end up in a predicament, where many of today’s so called top brand’s continually default to a highly one dimensional above-the-line approach, choosing to ignore the many other options available to them to woo and keep the customer.
This is further compounded by the fact that a considerable number of organizational brand leaders hail from an FMCG school of thought where increased brand recognition equals more sales or worse still these brand leaders are poached from the Ad agencies themselves. Thus, we end up with a plethora of managers who see their organisational brands in an exclusively parochial manner and end up positioning highly involved experiential brands in the same manner as washing detergent.
Those that choose to move beyond the washing detergent syndrome can look forward to a satisfying and financially rewarding relationship with their customers. Often, even the vaguest promise of something tangible is enough to sway the ever fickle consumer in search of a better deal.
A case in point, Virgin Mobile has arrived to the South African market with a value proposition that seems not solely based on ad spend. Rumor has it they are actually interested in providing the customer with a value adding brand experience, well good luck to them! Whether they achieve this or not remains to be seen, but the potential lure of genuine service is enough to make me want to test out number portability. Sad as it may be, in the absence of absolutely any compelling value proposition whatsoever from my existing cellular service provider I’m ready to sign up. I have been a loyal customer (to my existing provider) and spent approx R250 000 in the last 10 years and in return I have received handsets which I subsidize, a significant number of dropped calls and the inability to send SMSs on weekends. In the simple but immortal words of Warren Buffett; “Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.”
So to those with the title of brand executive, marketing director or communications manager, while you’re spending hundreds of millions of rands each year on “brand building” please give some thought as to how that spend contributes to creating a holistic brand experience for the consumer. Thirty second commercials may be sufficient to sell washing detergent but contributes very little towards creating a memorable brand experience.
In many cases the above-the-line process just doesn’t address the communications challenge at hand, or the need to protect hard earned brand equity through delivering a complete brand experience. In fact in many instances, the sleek and sexy campaigns project an image that leaves the trusting South African citizen with the dubious impression that the brand in question is capable of delivering on their promises.
Yet, “why bother with integrating our brands, we are making money, we are delivering shareholder value” I hear you retort! True, but in an economic up-cycle, such as this one, you could put your Labrador up for sale and someone would probably make an offer for it! The question is not one of revenue generation but rather of strategic and effective long term brand delivery.
Economists would identify the type of experience we obtain from many brands as “discounting the future”. In other words, I’m doing ok now, why worry what’s going to happen in 24 months time.
Well start worrying because the consumer is fickle, will love your advertising and positioning, but feel complete disillusionment if you don’t keep your brand promise. To this the critics often respond with the cliché “Rome wasn’t built in a day” Fair enough, but remember it burnt to the ground in less than 24 hours!
However, brand owners themselves are not solely at fault, organisational structures and the people that manage them regularly disrupt the consistency that experiential brands require for them to be effective when interfacing with the consumer. Horror stories abound in the corridors of agencies and clients alike. “Did you hear the one about the product that wasn’t available in-store after the much vaunted and successful campaign that launched it”. Moreover, company boards are filled with directors uniformly focused on the numbers, while forgetting what creates the numbers in the first place.
The good news is that brands that get this integration right, brand managers that role up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, those that have successfully mapped all the contact points of their brands and are managing them appropriately can and will beat the competition hands down. Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Chairman of EasyJet the enormously successful European low-cost airline recons “Your brand is created out of customer contact and the experience your customers have of you.” Stelios, as he prefers to be called, has grown a multi-billion dollar empire on this premise. How many companies do you know that go to the trouble of publishing their brand manuals on their website?
EasyJet, which forms part of the EasyGroup takes this kind of stuff seriously. Along with hard working local companies like Outsurance and Woolworths, a handful set themselves apart from the competition by integrating all the internal and external elements of their brand. So whether you respond to their advertising or engage with the brand directly, there is no disconnect. The proof is in the proverbial pudding, your half-chicken costs almost 50 percent more at Woolworths than it does at other leading convenience retailers. Outsurance’s pricing is not dissimilar to that of some of its competitors, yet it has taken market share away from other more established insurance companies and justifiably so. Ultimately whichever way you cut it, investing in your brand’s holistic development pays dividends financially and boosts sustainable brand equity.
For those that are not getting it right, how does one remedy the situation; it’s simple in concept but requires an enormous amount of hard work (don’t let the sweet talking consultants fool you). At the most senior level of the business brand integration needs to be a priority one KPA for all senior executives, no exceptions. It cannot be outsourced or delegated downwards to some junior manager. This KPA must be mercilessly driven by the highest office bearer in the organization; most importantly there must be consequences to non compliance. After all if our institutions’ senior executives don’t get it, then how can you expect your business to support the brand and make it happen!
Terry Behan is CEO of The Fearless Executive, a brand agency that specializes in internal brand development and designing the customer experience. He is a fellow of The African Leadership Initiative and co-owns a struggling professional football team that has aspirations of making it to the PSL by 2010.