Brand Talk: Nobody loves a brand because of its ads

For over a decade, Karl Treacher has been stumped, trying to answer the question of why more organisations don’t invest in experience when it directly relates to performance. He’s still stumped, but the good news is yours doesn’t have to be one of those organisations.

 

Humans are hard-wired to solve problems. First fire, then the wheel, ships, automobiles and finally eBay. All fine examples of mankind’s preoccupation with finding solutions to problems. Being part of the human race, I also find myself applying intellectual horsepower to problem solving. For instance, this morning when my three-month-old daughter started screaming at 5am I put a pillow over my head. Problem solved. A more substantial problem that has in some way occupied my attention for the last 12 years is: ‘if brand loyalty and sales (read ‘performance’) are directly related to brand experience, why are only a handful of organisations investing in branded experience?’

This has me completely stumped, and I have been trying to solve this problem for over a decade. Research report after report reinforces the basic logic that if you deliver on a promise it leads to trust and advocacy. For instance, according to KRC Research’s ‘Brand Experiences Report 2011′, the single biggest factor in whether to purchase a product or service is the brand, and according to Nielsen (2012) brand trust comes from experience and advocacy. More so now than ever before. Creating a relevant and appealing brand promise in the world of business usually means advertising. In Australia we have little trouble creating a promise. In fact, in many cases, our creative is world class (‘Dumb Ways to Die’ etc.) Yet when it comes to branded customer experiences, we are far from world class.

Let’s look more closely at why this is the case, and then showcase a few Australian brands that are doing some good work delivering on their brand promise.

 

Why branded customer experience is generally an afterthought

1. Too hard. Branded customer experiences involve the cooperation of many moving parts, every day and for a long time. It’s just easier not to. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) in the UK surveyed senior marketing and brand leaders from 80 major international organisations and found that, despite brand positioning aligning well with strategy, it struggled to translate to the customer. Only 42% of surveyed marketers said that they had a brand promise or positioning that was relevant and motivating across all internal departments and levels. Possibly even more telling (and more prevalent from my experience) 20% stated that they weren’t prepared to sacrifice short-term goals in order to deliver on the brand promise.

2. Brand is not seen to equate to business performance. As mental as that sounds, the ‘2013 Global Retail Banking Report’ by Capgemini investigated 130 of the world’s leading banks and found that over 50% of banks don’t measure return on marketing investment, let alone branded customer experience. CIM supports these findings, suggesting only 19% of marketers in the UK have the ability to link the quality of brand experience to an impact on business value, while the CMO Club reports 90% of CMOs have responsibility for customer experience, but only 15% have access to customer performance data.

3. Employees are not incentivised to deliver the brand. Organisations generally don’t incentivise service employees to delivering branded experiences. Why would they if they don’t understand the value in doing so? Most organisations continue to measure customer loyalty and satisfaction through conventional means, rather than from a brand engagement perspective.

4. No budget to educate employees or customer service teams. CIM found that only 24% of marketers believed that employees understood the brand and vision. It’s pretty hard to deliver a consistent, on-brand customer experience when you don’t know what the brand is, let alone the intended customer experience.

5. Not my job. Organisations and marketers still don’t understand the power of a brand nor the value in leveraging it into customer experiences. From discussions with several CMOs over the past 12 years, it appears that many marketers believe that bringing the brand to life for customers is not their domain. Frightening.

6. A non-brand-led, customer-centric culture. Here’s the biggie. Let’s pretend that an organisation understands that (a) a brand is not a visual asset, (b) it has the largest impact on organisational sales growth, and (c) employees should understand the brand and be incentivised to deliver branded experience. Without a brandled, customer-centric culture, branded experiences will not stand the test of time.

7. The advertising industry. Now, before anyone goes wild, please understand that what I am about to say won’t hurt you. In fact, it will make any legitimate agency more successful. Advertising drives awareness and consideration, not preference and loyalty. I recently read a creative director’s blog post talking about the value of simple creative. It was an inspiring, well-written piece until he said, “creative ideas that make customers fall in love with your brand”. Bzzzzt! Wrong. People don’t fall in love with brands because of their ads; they form a relationship with, and fall in love with, brands that deliver value through experiences.

 

Who’s leading the charge locally?

In contrast to the vast majority, a few brands are making headway in delivering branded customer experiences. Next issue I will be investigating the Virgin Australia brand further and in detail. In the meantime, let’s have a look at some other brands leading the ‘deliver on promise’ charge.

1. AAMI. According to Richard Riboni, executive manager for AAMI and Bingle, the AAMI personality and values are personified by the AAMI girl. “She is warm, friendly, always available and there to fulfill the brand purpose – which is to remove the stress from any situation.”

Riboni says, “It is vital to the success of the AAMI brand that the personality and values are alive and well at every customer touch point.” And he has no problem finding examples, some of which include: real people 24/7 on the phones, zero paperwork when making a claim, dedicated social media teams and the launch of the new AAMI Claim Assist app.

2. Telstra. Sean Hall, Telstra’s general manager, brand marketing, believes that the visual assets of Telstra’s brand represent Telstra’s customer approach. The Telstra dynamic brand colour palette is analogous with the diversity of customers. Hall rightly believes, “Every interaction a customer has with a brand is a moment of truth. If these experiences are inconsistent it is almost impossible to move your relationship beyond simple ‘satisfaction’. Consistent and meaningful brand experiences have the potential to build customer advocates, providing a very measurable business impact by buying more, referring more and churning less.”

3. OPSM. OPSM’s marketing director Melissa Monneron expects every customer touch point to feel like an extension of the brand and its personality. Under increasing competition, OPSM is smartly reinforcing one of its key brand pillars: eye-care expertise. An example of bringing this element of the brand to life for customers is Accufit, which is, “a digital measurement system, lens simulator and virtual mirror to make the experience of choosing lenses and frames easier and more enjoyable,” Monneron explains.

4. Muffin Break. On a less clinical note, Muffin Break has taken branded experience to an experiential level because, according to John Macphail, Muffin Break’s brand manager, “customers wants to see, hear, smell and ‘feel the freshness’ of the daily baking process.” John recognises the global trend for greater brand transparency and as a result has focused on bringing the baking experience to customers via a new store layout that features the bakers in plain sight doing their thing: baking. Muffin Break has also put its brand mascot to work. The Muffin Man leads children’s workshops, baking their own freshly-baked cookie treats.

 

The wrap

Before long I expect shareholders will be the ones that demand organisations align their experiences with their promotion. Customers are becoming increasingly vocal about brands that don’t deliver on the their promises. Until such time, all we can do is support the brands that are leading the way, and watch traditional, product-led organisations shed customers while torturing their shareholders.

 

Karl Treacher
BY Karl Treacher ON 26 August 2013
Chief executive of The Brand Institute of Australia, a behavioural analyst
with more than 15 years of brand consultancy experience and a pioneer of organisational branding and culture alignment. Tweet at him using @treacher.
  • RichCorke

    Great article Karl. I still get strange looks at my organisation eveytime I mention that every employee is a brand ambassador, and every customer interaction is an opportunity to build on brand loyalty and engagement; they still think this is the sole domain of the marketing team. Keep up the good work!

  • Mark@MakeThemClick

    Not sure what you’re trying to say. Either way, advertising and marketing doesn’t create the experience. That’s the egotistical conceit so prevalent in many marketers and agencies.

    The fact that you say Telstra is leading the charge is a laughable case in point. If I call Telstra and get an automated labyrinthine answering service that is a bad experience. If I finally get thru to a human being and they are in India or Manilla, then that is also a bad customer experience.

    We all know customers loathe these things yet companies do them. There are massive inconsistencies here.

    “Your call is so important to us that we won’t answer it personally, instead we’ll have it filtered by a robot that you can’t negotiate with, and if you get past it we’ll then transfer it to some underpaid person in a foreign country thousands of kilometres away. PS You may have to wait hours before you’ll even get through.”

    Even their own locally based staff hate dealing with the Philippine call centre and are constantly making apologies for it.

    There is nothing the marketing department can do to change this.

    Thinking their colour palette will have any effect on their customers’ experience is moronic. To most customers it’s irrelevant.