Being remarkable – a service brand’s guide
Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.
What does this quote from acclaimed writer Aldous Huxley have to do with brands of today?
I think it has plenty. In this age of immediate consumption, social media explosion, and personality obsession, brands need to be remarkable to be seen, heard and accepted – and remain relevant.
They need to be intelligent, curious, have integrity and show vision. They need to live and breathe by these and other attributes – and be judged by them.
This is one of the greatest challenges facing service brands.
In most cases they don’t have a product to fall back on, a tangible widget that they can build a brand around. What they trade on is their knowledge, their experience, their service.
So how does a service brand aim to be remarkable?
Here are ten places to start:
You often here this one bandied about in speeches about the integrity of a brand, but brands that can be truly authentic and steer away from shallow promises and insincere actions are what consumers yearn for.
Take Jamie Oliver. He has put his beliefs about food at the heart of his organisation – where easy recipes, book sales and business ventures sit alongside campaigns to improve food in schools and take his healthier eating message to countries around the world. His personality is authentic, and his brand is about creating change – in mindsets, in buying habits, perceptions and preconceptions. He may not be for everyone, but you can’t question the human truth that sits behind his actions.
This should never be confused with arrogance. Confidence is about drawing a line in the sand between you and your competition and say, ‘this is what we believe in and this is what we’re going to do about it’.
It keeps you ahead of the curve.
Apple increased its research and development budget during the dot com boom when everyone else was cutting theirs. Out of this move came the iPod.
We consume media like no other generation before. That means that the brand signals an organisation sends out are being viewed, read and listened to across a myriad of channels – all cross-referencing themselves.
It’s easy for a brand to get tripped up if they don’t remain consistent in their message and the way they communicate their brand. It’s not rocket science, but think of those brands that say one thing then do another. They don’t stay around too long.
The ‘me generation’ is here and it’s screaming to get involved. You better take notice, and get on the front foot.
Facebook and Twitter have redefined how brands can interact and connect with the public on many different levels and time-zones. There’s a captive audience out there, all with an insatiable appetite for news and information. They’re waiting.
Bonds’ current ‘Birthday Project’ is brilliant. People are invited to find their birthdate and upload a photo of themselves – with one person representing ‘each of the 35,301 days that Bonds has been part of our lives’. For participating, you can receive a personalised t-shirt displaying your birthdate. In just two days over a third of the shirts on offer were claimed.
So for a remarkable brand, it’s not about building networks, it’s about building neighbourhoods that can attract like-minded people. People become everyday ambassadors of the brand by simply being given the opportunity to get involved. They are able to contribute, have their say and be rewarded for doing it.
We will always remember great brands, but remarkable brands create memorability from first contact to last because they dare to be different.
When Village Roadshow was looking at warding off the home cinema alternative diluting its market, it was one of the first to turn the cinema experience into a luxury event through creating Gold Class. It was risky and bold – and it worked. By offering the public something different they offered a new reason for people to come to the cinema. They provided a new way to enjoy it.
Most importantly, they made it memorable.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
This famous quote by TS Eliot rings true to the sense of creativity that underpins a remarkable brand.
Creativity isn’t about pretty pictures. Creativity is about exploration, curiosity and lack of fear. You have to be prepared to be wrong to come up with something original.
A small theatre troupe in rural Canada decided that it had something special. They convinced organisers of a major festival to take a punt on taking their mix of stilt walkers, jugglers, dancers and musicians to the people in the province. They put themselves out there, believing that the circus could be so much more than animals and clowns. It was untried and risky. Today, Cirque du Soleil is one of the most successful touring acts in the world. Its fierce determination to re-imagine the circus changed this art form forever.
First and foremost, service branding is about putting people first.
If you can uncover that human truth, and rally people around this belief, it can be an incredible force to spark change and action within an organisation.
We’ve seen it first hand with our work with the AFL Players Association. Its truth centred around the simple fact that the organisation was started by a group of AFL players for the benefit of all players. This focus is even stronger today.
What they needed was a common voice that embraced this ideal and provided a platform to unite the players under the one banner. A single focus that has real meaning to the organisation and the people they influence every day. This was crystalised in the idea behind ‘For Players. By Players.’
French writer Victor Hugo once said: “Nothing else in the world… not all the armies… is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
A remarkable brand finds this idea, and inspires everyone to believe in it and communicate it day in or day out.
Brands can’t get away with meaningless dribble.
Saying something or showing something for the sake of it doesn’t wash with today’s savvy consumer. That doesn’t mean you can’t be out there – think of the recent ‘Break Up’ campaign from NAB. This struck a chord because it played on people’s feelings that all banks are the same.
Remarkable brands don’t fill our lives with more ‘stuff’. People will quickly get tired of it and move on. Remarkable brands give us something we can use, understand and believe in.
Madonna. U2. Tony Bennett. Coca-Cola. IBM. McDonald’s. Disney. GE. What do they have in common, apart from being some of the biggest brands on the planet?
They all have an amazing ability to reinvent themselves. They have recognised the need to change with the nuances that years and sometimes decades demand of building loyalty.
Service organisations need customers who are fans of the brand as well. They need to be able to grow with their customers, know when the time is right to evolve what they’re doing to remain relevant and valued. It could be adding a new service, changing the brandmark or realigning the core idea and values of the organisation.
Whatever it is, a remarkable brand evolves with its customers.
Brands are judged on their words and actions. Remarkable brands become part of the societies they inhabit, with an unwavering respect for the environment, people and cultures that exist within it.
Aesop has become one of Australia’s most successful brand stories, built on the back of its commitment to only using natural ingredients in its products for skin, hair and body. The company is passionate about this approach and it has inspired a loyal and dedicated group of consumers from around the world to follow it.
Médicins Sans Frontiéres was founded by a group of doctors and journalists who, “believed that all people should have access to emergency medical relief.” Today, it is an international independent movement with offices in nineteen countries and recognised for its pioneering humanitarian work. Everyday the organisation stands up for what it believes in.
How brands are seen in the world and respond to the challenges around them – including abiding by their own set of values and beliefs – will dictate their acceptance and success.
“Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.”
– Wendy Wasserstein, American playwright
Of course, there are many other ways your brand can strive to be remarkable. Don’t be limited by the traits I’ve listed here. Look for more. The important thing is to continue to dig deeper and wider into what the brand stands for and how it interacts with the world around it.