5th January 2017

Disappointing Brands

One of my learnings from the year just closed is about brands. Now there are hundreds of books and theories about brands that I don’t intend to go into here. My thoughts are based as much on my role as a consumer as they are as a leading business coach.

Once upon a time I heard a brand being described as a promise, or a series of promises. It is what the particular good or service stands for. Branding, brand promises and brand positioning all play a huge part in our globalised commercial world but on an individual level brands are all about what one individual or organisation promises their customer and what the customer trusts the individual or organisation will deliver. Trust and brand are not the same but they are kissing cousins.

I coach clients to understand what their brand might be and to focus intently and obsessively on that brand. For me, there are a couple of events from the year just closed, which illustrate my personal relationship with two famous brands, which in my opinion have not delivered what they promise. I feel betrayed and angry as a result. Feelings not dissimilar to being let down by a close friend or being lied to by a once trusted colleague.

This shows the relationship we have with brands, which often lies below the conscious level, and the how important and indeed personal that relationship can be. The two brands I have in mind are Timberland and Audi. In both cases I am disappointed in the product quality and this disappointment has only been exacerbated, or even exaggerated, by the inability of the aftersales function to rescue the situation.

The quote on my wall which I use to begin conversations about brand comes from Ted Matthews’ book  “Brand; it ain’t the logo” and reads

“Because a Brand is what people think of you every touchpoint matters. Every time your Brand comes into contact with your employees, customers and all the other stakeholders out there, they judge you. This means that all the hard work and all the money marketers spend on advertising and promotion is pointless if the entire organisation isn’t out there every day doing what these communications say it will”.

The implicit and explicit lessons in this extract are vital to any business, particularly those with aspirations to grow and it is shocking how quickly, I have found, the trust once associated with certain brands can be destroyed and turned from positive to bitterly negative. It is almost impossible to remain on good terms with a friend that has let us down.

So I wonder how clear, concise and conscious you are of the promises your brand makes? How frequently do you check that you are actually delivering what you say you will? What do clients really think of you?

There is an old adage that a satisfied customer will tell one other whilst a dissatisfied customer will tell six. In these days of social media I think you can multiply that number several hundred times, if not more.

Tony Hsieh who grew the legendary from start up to $1 Billion and beyond wrote,  “Brand is a lagging indicator of culture”. What does your brand say about your culture and what does your current culture predict for the future of the promises your firm makes, explicitly or implicitly?