A Q&A with your brand

It’s time to pour yourself a coffee, break out the custard creams and have a conversation with your brand. This is our guide to the key questions you should be asking and a few common sense opinions on the answers. 

How do you want your customers to feel about your business?

The most valuable feeling any business or organisation can generate in its customers is trust, because trust is the cornerstone of any loyal relationship. Deliver trust and you deliver customer loyalty, and ultimately that is what will make your brand (and business) stronger.

First Direct are a great example of this. A service brand that never looks its clients in the eye, never meets them, never has the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation about its service or product range but are a business brand consistently rated as one of the most trusted in the UK. Why? From the start they made a commitment ‘to pioneer amazing service’, to get the client experience right each time, over time because they understood that a repeated positive experience creates the trust, that generates the loyalty, that builds the brand, that makes the business.

And think about the tradesman you use, we rarely recommend a plumber because of the quality of the website, but we will always take note of how easy they are to get hold of, what their manner is like, if they are on time, if they were nice people, did they clean up, did they go further than you expected them to? 

Or take your local Indian Take Away. The Biryani has to be good of course, and the delivery timely, that’s the quality bit – but throw in a complimentary bhaji now and again and remember your regulars names, now that’s where the connections are made, that’s where you build the connections and the brand starts paying its way. 

In building up that sense of the personable, efficient professional we are getting the little things right that are so important to me because they are important to you. Just doing a good job. That’s how you build trust, that’s how you generate loyalty. Through the little things, the human things that we all value, and that we can all do.

I did like this too; in March 2017, The Guardian reported a story of how Le Creuset took the concept of customer service to a new level by replacing a 40-year-old casserole dish bought from a charity shop that had lost its stickiness. Possibly over and above the call l I agree but if you deliver a great product or service and in the process make your customers feel valued then you are on the right path to making them feel the right way about you, your brand and your business. 

How do you behave with your customers?

When was the last time you called your office and tried to set up an appointment? How easy was it? How personable was the reception at your reception? A business that emphasises the friendliness and approachability of its client interactions does more to build its brand than any marketing, social presence or carefully scripted blog will ever do.

Friendly and helpful staff consistently come out top of surveys into customer service, followed by good knowledge of the product or service and speed of service. The top gripes are almost always being hard to get hold of (and only being able to email not call a business), and when you do, automated telephone systems or call centres, being put on hold or passed around lots of different people just to get a simple question answered. And the best at it, First Direct (again), Lakeland and Lush were the best big brands for customer service in the UK in 2017 according to Which (3,000 customers surveyed). 

Almost invariably the clearest examples of how not to interact with your customers can be found in the telecoms sector. Do you remember many years ago how BT used to tell us “it’s good to talk.” As it would, as BT’s services were about the only way you could do this unless you were face to face. Now the company, which has suffered all sorts of mis-steps and calamities over the past few years, is trying to spread a little love with its ‘Be There’ campaign. 

Not only have BT’s broadband users long been complaining that they don’t get the service they pay for, not only have BT been consistenty fined for not connecting their rivals to their network in the agreed times but have you ever actually tried calling BT?  In a recent OfCom survey they remained the company that attracted the most complaints, overall had a level of dissatisfaction 69 per cent above the industry average and were the slowest company to answer a call, taking on average 2.51 minutes to connect to an operator. Be there? 

Sports Direct is different as they are a good example of how to, and how not to interact with your customers. Online they are excellent, with a website offering great deals, a user-friendly, neat and uncluttered shopping experience, helpful and clear purchase pipeline with no obligation to subscribe or join the club. But I don’t think you could use the words user-friendly or uncluttered about the in-store experience. Often chaotic and vary rarely personable, it’s no surprise that in the same Which survey (2017) they sat bottom in the UK customer service top 100. 

So remember, a smile isn’t just something your face does, its a state of mind, a reflection of attitude and a very underrated and valuable business tool. 

How well do you think like your customers?

Aggregating segments, demographic and psychographic mapping, getting your CX right (customer experience to you and me) – there are many ways to describe it but the value of knowing, understanding and targeting customers is not new and is very clear. But why is it so important to know your customers? Because when you know them, I mean really know them, then you may have a fighting chance of actually being able to think like them. And thinking like your customers is just about the most basic, most often forgotten but probably most important rule of marketing.

It’s usually mistaken for targeting or segmentation, which are essentially tactics derived from it, but generally and more accurately most marketers know of it as market orientation – making that conscious effort to think and see the world as your customers see it. Why is it so important? Because the good marketers can use this approach to work out how to link what they do with what their clients want much more effectively.

For your brand, start by asking yourself how your product solves or mitigates your customers problems, reduces negative emotions or undesired costs, gives them the social profile they desire or just makes their lives that bit more enjoyable. And then talk to them. Don’t be a pain, but don’t be a stranger either. Because the better informed you are of what they actually need and care about, the quicker you can find what is good in what you do and the more valuable you can be to them, because the more naturally you will be able to think like them.

Amazon are just about the best example we can think of for this. From the vision statement that challenges them “to become Earth’s most customer centric company” (a challenge they seem to be meeting if coming top of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2018 for the fifth year in a row) to their use of technology and product curation personalising our shopping experience, to innovations like the Kindle, and the fact that  every manager, every year has to spend at least one day on a customer service desk Amazon leave no stone unturned in their quest to bring value  and meaning to their customers by understanding their customers. And of course, having Jeff Bezos as a CEO who is known for being customer obsessed helps. The empty chair story being a great example. During board meetings, Bezos would leave a chair empty in the room, asking executives to assume that it belonged to the most critical and crucial member of the company – the customer. 

But lets bring this back from the big world of Amazon, to say the story of three-year-old Lily Robinson and the tiger. Sainsbury customer Lily was confused by one of Sainsbury’s products called tiger bread, so she wrote a letter to their customer service department. The letter exclaimed that the bread didn’t resemble a tiger at all, and in fact looked like a giraffe.

In response the Customer Support Manager responded like this: “It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a loooong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly! And Lily, we now think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?

The store then changed the name of the bread for a week and put signs around their stores that give a humorous nod to Lily’s original idea, learning a little bit more about their customers, making a little girl very happy and getting some very positive local publicity out of it as well. 

How well do you think you speak to your world? 

At the tactical end of brand we meet the technical end of marketing in the form of your competitive positioning and your corporate identity.

Your competitive position is the strategy you use when you are trying to be known for ‘something’ – that big idea, those USPs and key messages you bundle up and use to carve out your particular spot in the competitive landscape. It’s the big stuff the organisation wants to say about what it is and does. Some more obvious examples of positioning would be Apple’s association with innovation-tech and style, Patagonia’s social conscious, EasyJet’s value for money and Ben & Jerry’s 30 year campaign to bring to the world “the best possible ice cream in the nicest possible way”. 

Your identity is the vehicle which presents all this to the world, in words, pictures and sound. Of course we know it as logos, colours, imagery and editorial. It is the clothes and voice of your organisation and it’s role is to get across your competitive positioning as accurately, consistently and distinctively as possible. 

So, two questions: 

Are the things you are saying, working, are they getting across what you do, why you do it, and how any of that helps your customers? And how accurately, efficiently and creatively is your identity carrying those messages?

And some way to an answer:

Take your one-page elevator pitch, that piece or work we’ve all done that sums you and ‘it’ all up (if you haven’t got one, get one) and ask yourself, once I’ve read this, do I have something relevant, defendable and ideally distinctive to say to my customers? Then bundle up your collateral, your ads and newsletters, get the home page up and ask yourself, does this all fit together, is it clear, coherent .. does it jar or does it all actually fit together rather well? 

And finally, are you in it together?

We have already said that authenticity and consistency are key to any brand and every member of your organisation has a role in shaping that because logically, if your organisation doesn’t understand your brand, purpose and advantage, then at some point you’re going to go off message.

In practice this means making brand awareness a universal measure of performance, as part of your recruitment process, your review process and creative brief for your communications.

John Lewis is a great example of positive employee brand advocacy. The business calls employees partners regardless of their position, is the largest employee-owned business in the UK and for a very good reason – staff understand and trust the brand, and the John Lewis culture reflects what it wants to stand for on the outside through how it operates on the inside. 

It’s always worth remembering, the collective experience of your brand is happening whether you are there to control it or not, whether you like it or not – everything you do should reinforce your brand message and having a committed, brand-led organisation can at least mitigate against the edges.

If you’ve got here, well done … 

Great branding owns the feelings in your customers that motivates them to act in a positive and consistent way towards you and your business. That’s brand in a nutshell, not a logo, strapline or vision statement, ultimately it’s about creating positive experiences that generate the right feelings in your customers. 

So brand, how are you doing?