Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Achieving Brand Integrity

For the last couple of years, I've been fully engaged in the top social media platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+), but recently I added Pinterest to my list of social media addictions. And I've become obsessed with infographics! As you can imagine, the infographics that I've pinned all relate to customer experience, customer service, and employee engagement. Any time I find one that's worth saving and sharing, I pin it.

A couple of months ago, I came across an infographic that really spoke to me. It highlighted the 10 Truths to Managing the Brand Experience, and it was a different, yet insightful, approach to looking at the customer experience. I was so grateful to connect with the folks who created it: a small software and consulting company that specializes in culture change and customer experience design out of Rochester, NY, called Brand Integrity. (Make no mistake; they may be small right now, but they pack a powerful punch! They do great work!)  What I found was a group of genuine, smart, and fabulous people with the same passions that I have. And, they love Red Bull, too! Now that can't be a bad thing! (OK, occasionally I indulge in Monster Zero, but it's all good!)

A few years ago, Gregg Lederman, who is the CEO of Brand Integrity, published Achieve Brand Integrity: Ten Truths You Must Know to Enhance Employee Performance and Increase Company Profits. If you haven't read this book yet, you must; it's a great read! This isn't just another marketing or branding book; it is so much more than that. It's written in a fun style in which business books often aren't written, and it is packed with a ton of tips and a roadmap on how to, well, achieve brand integrity. The book devotes one chapter to each of the 10 Truths, and it really is a fresh way of thinking about customer experience, from the inside out.

What follows are some key ideas and learnings from this book. If you've been following this blog, you'll see very quickly why I love this book and the people behind it.

What is Brand Integrity?
This is key to what follows. I think Gregg hits the nail on the head when he says that Brand Integrity is both the journey and the destination.
"The journey is a strategy-building exercise for business leaders and their teams. The destination is a powerful brand."
"Brand Integrity happens when your company is who and what it says it is."
Are We Talking About Branding?
This is not branding in the traditional sense. Gregg compares two different types of branding, product and organizational. This book focuses on the latter.
"In product branding, your product does the talking with the way it operates and the benefits it delivers. Your people make organizational branding happen. Employees are the driving force behind the execution of a successful brand strategy."
The book highlights the importance of employees to achieving brand integrity. We know that engaged employees deliver exceptional customer experiences and produce results for the company. It's all about the people. But you need to set up your people for success, to create success for your company.

 The 10 Truths
Let's take a look at the 10 Truths. I know I won't do them justice in a short blog; after all, Gregg wrote an entire book about them! But I'll get you started... then go read the book.

Truth #1: A brand strategy is the ultimate business strategy. 
To understand that, you must first know what a brand is. Gregg defines it as "the sum total of all the experiences a customer has with your company." A brand strategy is "the process of aligning what we say with what we do, to positively influence what customers think." There's no better way to ensure that alignment than by hiring the right people, people who align with what you say, what you do, your purpose.

Truth #2: True branding is about being different, not saying different things. 
Your marketing message may be that you are the best at X, Y, or Z. But if your actions don't match your words, you are not believable or trusted. Your brand strategy needs to include a component of differentiation; just saying you are different doesn't make you different. Gregg outlines an exercise that you can do to help you uncover your points of difference.

(By the way, if you haven't read my last post, How Do You Test on Forgettability, go read that now.)

Truth #3: If you think you know your brand image, you are probably wrong. 
Do you know what your customers and employees really think about your brand? If not, then ask! Remember, perception is reality. What is your reality? Conduct brand image assessments to understand what employees and customers think about your company today. Gregg defines the four areas that influence what they think (attributes and associations, competitive strengths, concerns and weaknesses, and work culture) and says exploring these will help leaders prioritize their focus and the experiences the company delivers.

"If you don’t optimally define what your brand is and should be in the future, your customers will do it for you. And you might not like what they come up with!"

Truth #4: Only wimps and egomaniacs are afraid to investigate their company's reality.
Remember what I said above: "Perception is reality." Find out what your reality is. Ask. Internally. Leaders need to ask themselves and employees the tough questions.

"Powerful thinking occurs when you have the opportunity to explore various viewpoints."

Get those viewpoints in the form of internal interviews conducted by trained interviewers who can probe and drive the discussions to meet the objectives. You need to uncover insights on these seven realities of brand building within your organization. Are you...
  1. Achieving desired business results?
  2. Driving the desired culture?
  3. Knowing your target customers?
  4. Understanding employee and customer experiences?
  5. Recognizing the company's brand positioning?
  6. Implementing important initiatives?
  7. Marketing effectively to customers?
Getting input from every level within the organization is key. "No one is as smart as all of us."

Truth #5: Marketing and advertising can kill your brand.
This one is pretty simple: say what you do, do what you say. End of story. If you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. You know what that means. Dress it up any way you like, but if the product doesn't work, your service is awful, and the experience sucks, it's just that. Nothing more, nothing less. You must have the right people, the right processes, the right tools, the right culture, etc. to deliver the best experience.

"Branding is built from the inside out by people who use systems and follow processes to deliver amazing customer experiences."

Truth #6: Behaviors and experiences make the invisible visible.
So that your employees can live the brand, the brand beliefs must be communicated. Brand beliefs are the invisible, but (employee) behaviors turn those beliefs into reality. If employees are to act accordingly and be held accountable, they must know what is expected of them. If they don't know the beliefs, and their behavior hasn't been defined, they cannot operationalize the brand. Defining the concepts and the behavior drives the work culture and ultimately impacts the customer experience.

Beliefs drive attitudes --> Attitudes drive behaviors --> Behaviors drive (employee and customer) experiences --> Experiences lead to company success.

Truth #7: Employees Are NOT Your Greatest Asset
If you've read my recent posts about employee experience, you'll know that I loved this chapter. Employees should be the focus of your brand-building efforts. Gregg uses a bit of semantics here, but I have to agree with him: "The right employees who have the passion and knowledge to do the right things at work are your greatest asset." Not every employee... just the right employees. He calls out that there are typically three types of employees:
  1. The Good (your star performers), who account for 20%
  2. The Bad (your mediocre folks), who account for 60%
  3. The Ugly (your poor performers), who account for 20%
Don't settle for mediocrity. You want your business to thrive. Hire the right people. To help hire the right people, create an employer brand, which outlines what you want your company, as an employer, to be known for to (potential) employees.

Truth #8: Gaining Buy-in Is the Only Way to Execute a Brand Strategy 
Without buy-in from the entire organization, top to bottom, you will not achieve brand integrity. Gregg defines buy-in as Understanding x Commitment x Action. Employees must understand, commit to, and act accordingly to your brand concepts. A "duh moment" but a key to getting buy-in is ensuring that the brand concept, promise, and strategy are clearly communicated to employees. If leaders don't define what success looks like, employees can't be expected to deliver it.


Truth #9: Most Companies Suck at Capturing Successes and Recognizing People 
Rewards programs alone stink. They don't really work. They can be subjective and manipulated. In many companies, employees view them as a joke. Gregg advocates (1) acknowledging and rewarding employees for delivering great experiences; (2) using peer-to-peer recognition to motivate, retain, and empower; and (3) capturing and replicating the experience in action. I love the idea of the "I Caught You Living the Brand" recognition program that he outlines.

"Appreciation is the strongest currency in your corporate culture."

Truth #10: Only Leadership Has the Power to Ensure Brand Success
Communicate the "why" behind the brand, processes, actions, etc. Build alignment to the brand strategy through constant communication. Educate and inspire; teach employees how their actions impact the experience. Be patient and take a long-term view; remember, it's a journey. And maintain extreme focus. Focus on the destination!

The CEO is the ultimate brand champion! The CEO leads the brand. The CEO drives the communication and the culture. The CEO sets the tone. The buck stops at the CEO when the business fails.

***

Throughout the book, Gregg provides links to worksheets, assessments, and other documents on the Brand Integrity website to guide you on your journey. The book provides a framework for you to follow to deliver on each of the 10 Truths and, ultimately, to achieve brand integrity. Enjoy the journey and the destination!

Note: If you'd like me to introduce you to the folks at Brand Integrity, send me a note. I'm happy to make the connection.

6 comments:

  1. Love it! Your enthusiasm is contagious. I work at Brand Integrity, so I see this stuff played out in real companies and can honestly say that the impact of TRUE behavior branding has a real effect on customer loyalty and satisfaction. Thanks for posting this, Annette!

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    1. Hi Stephen! Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. It was my pleasure to write about the book and Brand Integrity.

      Annette :-)

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  2. Dear Annette,
    On behalf of everyone at Brand Integrity, thank you so much! We greatly admire your work as well as your expertise in this industry so it was truly honor to read this post and the amazing endorsement you've provided for our work.

    As we forge ahead in our quest to dramatically improve people's lives at work while helping their companies be more profitable, we look forward to continuing this conversation with you and others - as we are all passionately dedicated to the CX Journey.

    With sincere appreciation,
    Charee

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    1. Charee, you are so very welcome! And thank you. As you can tell, I enjoyed reading the book, and I've enjoyed meeting such a great group of people who, as you say, are all passionately dedicated to the CX Journey!

      Annette :-)

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  3. I like to put these types of discussions through what I think of as "the real estate filter". Where I live (Singapore) every weekend our newspaper fills with ads for the launch of new condominium (apartment block) developments. Probably the same where you live too. Basically, when you think about what the product really is... a concrete box in the sky with a door... and compare it with how it is marketed (your gateway to family happiness, popularity and the lifestyle to which you have always aspired), you see branding of a slightly differentiated commodity (because they're all much the same product) at its traditional finest. It's pretty obvious what the developers are doing, which makes it fun to look at.

    So, can the developer, through marketing, successfully "create the brand"? I think they can and do. Does the brand have to align with the reality of the product? In this case it's pretty certain that it never will, but that probably isn't going to be a problem. Truth number 2 above isn't the all encompassing "truth" it's made out to be.

    I was in a supermarket yesterday and I bought jam. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but jam has become branded to within an inch of its life these days. I bought some with a handwriting font on the front that promised it was "handmade", even though it was imported from England and I know the label was designed by a designer and printed in bulk.

    In this case, do I think Truths 6 to 10 really mattered to this company? Not really. On the supermarket shelf, all that mattered was the "branding" (in the traditional sense of the word). If the product is crap then I probably won't buy it again, so it's important that they deliver a good product, but my memories of other jams is pretty low... they're not a high-involvement decision for me... so I'm not the most discerning customer.

    I think each of these Truths is good, and every business will benefit from a mix-and-match of the ones that are relevant to them. But some ("hire the right people"... like anyone deliberately hires the wrong people) are kind of twee and overall, to look at them like commandments handed down on the mount is to give them a bit more gravitas than they deserve. They're valid pieces of advice... hardly "truths".

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and for commenting. I appreciate your analogy and your perspective.

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