The Company, the Brand and the Contact Council
The purpose of brand contact management is to achieve an integrated brand identity, a state in which all of the points of contact between a brand and its target audiences communicate what the brand stands for.
The integration of a brand’s points of contact ensures that the brand acts meaningfully, that it is consistent in the delivery of its promise and that it grows into an attractive, credible and trustworthy brand.
The value and intent of contact management is generally understood in today’s branding community. It however remains a grand organisational challenge to implement to full effect, because brand and marketing managers battle to find an effective vehicle through which to direct, guide and implement the brand identity.
Effective brand contact management essentially consists of four layers of planning and management:
• Brand Contact Inventory
The first layer of brand contact planning requires that a brand contact inventory is conducted to expose the many points of contact that a brand has with its target audiences. The process moves from the consumer view, in other words from the outside-in, to identify every point at which the brand interacts with its consumers.
The search for the brand’s points of contact is all inclusive because every point of contact communicates something about the brand and therefore influences what people think, feel and believe about the brand.
• Brand Contact Audit
Subsequently an audit of all of the identified points of contact is undertaken to reveal and prioritise fields and layers of brand contact influence. Certain points of contact play a more powerful role in shaping peoples’ experience and perception of the brand than others. By applying strategic concepts such as frequency of contact, impact of contact, first and last moments of contact and points of competitive differentiation, brand contact points are prioritised and the contacts that play a key role in building the brand are highlighted.
• Contact Management Vehicle
The third layer of activity requires that a brand contact planning and management vehicle is created to direct and support the brand’s contact fields and in particular the contact fields that represent key points of consumer interaction with the brand.
For example, a brand contact audit of a particular insurance company may reveal that a key point of contact is its call centre. Consequently a brand management vehicle is needed to ensure that call centre management and staff are guided and supported in the delivery of the brand promise.
• Implementation & Contact Integration
In the fourth layer of brand contact management an organisation-wide brand building philosophy is created and contact management vehicles are activated to achieve brand contact integration, to ensure the brand promise is delivered at every point of contact with target audiences. It is evident that the link between the purpose and value of brand contact management and the real world implementation thereof, is the vehicle through which it is directed. The development of a vehicle that is dedicated to the planning and management of brand contact integration is essential to effective brand building. Strategic thinkers such as David Aaker and Tom Duncan believe that the solution lies in the design and introduction of a team dedicated to the planning and management of brand contact points. A Brand Contact Council comes into being and is tasked to ensure brand contact integration is achieved in the daily life of the company.
The design of the Brand Contact Council
A company has, at any point in time, a myriad of active contacts influencing consumers’ experience and perceptions of the brand. These contacts stem from all over the company – the marketing department, call centre, PR managers, points of purchase and service delivery, distribution processes and outlets, information and reception desks, accounting systems, etc.
It is imperative that the formation of the Brand Contact Council be guided by the Brand Contact Audit. The council must be designed to reflect the brand contact nature of the company, its key fields of contact with its consumer markets and target audiences. If the Brand Contact Audit for example identifies front-line service support as a key contact area, HR and front-line management must be active on council to the full prominence and weight of the contact field.
The role of the company’s professionally appointed brand builders namely the marketing, brand and PR managers and the communications agency, is to fulfill, over and above management of their brand contact fields, the glue-and-guidance function on the Brand Contact Council. The professionally appointed brand builders of the company play the role of advocates of the nature, purpose and process of brand contact management and act as a sounding board in the process of contact integration across the many contact fields of the company.
The purpose and value of the Brand Contact Council
The primary purpose of the Brand Contact Council is to ensure that the brand’s points of contact deliver on the brand promise. The primary value of the Brand Contact Council is that a rooted brand ethos is created and implemented naturally, with vision and passion, at all times and in all places.
The introduction and formation of a Brand Contact Council, based on the results of a company specific brand contact inventory and audit, ensures that key contact areas are given the brand and management prominence and attention that they deserve. The brand identity and contact management message and process is instilled and supported by field specific managers respected within their contact territory. A natural, company relevant process of contact integration is implemented with the potential to sustain and fuel itself over time.
Further Brand Contact Council value points to be considered and debated are:
• The meaning, purpose and value of investing in brand building and brand contact management is more widely understood and supported throughout the organisation as the Brand Contact Council carries the brand message through an authentic contact management process across contact fields.
• Internal brand building campaigns are positively received and the impetus of internal brand communications increases as brand meaning and credibility grows throughout the company, with the support of the Brand Contact Council.
• Brand Manuals in which the brand identity and visual and verbal language of the brand is codified are carried and implemented by all the members of the Brand Contact Council, across the many contact fields of the company.
Consequently, the value and application of the Brand Manual is not only upheld, but also continuously assessed by all.
• Brand integration challenges encountered in specific contact fields are more widely discussed and interrogated. Cross-functional brand learnings gain depth and consequently, brand contact solutions can be developed with greater insight, rigueur and creativity.
• Finally, the company’s strategic management, brand architecture, brand identity, new product and service development and brand communication reviews and planning cycles are better informed as the company’s Brand Contact Council presents organisation-wide, cross-functional insights into the target markets perception of the brand and experience of its points of contact.
A brand building company believes in and is committed to its brand contact management. It plans and designs every point of contact to deliver on the brand promise. It recognises the need for a Brand Contact Council to achieve company-wide brand contact integration. It invests in processes of brand contact auditing and shapes its council to reflect its brand nature. A brand building company is guided by and trusts upon its Brand Contact Council to achieve brand contact integration, to live the brand promise meaningfully at all points, at all times.
• Aaker DA & Joachimsthaler E 2000. Brand Leadership. New York: The Free Press
• Duncan T 2002. IMC Using Advertising & Promotion to Build Brands. New York
Doctor Carla Enslin is one of the founding members of Vega The Brand Communications School and heads the school’s campus in Greenpoint, Cape Town. She is the navigator of Vega’s honours programmes in Brand Leadership and is involved in a scope of Vega corporate training and consulting projects.
Carla received her Doctorate from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria. Her passion is branding and working with her students in stimulating creative strategic thinking.