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Why alignment is forcing a new era for branding

Why alignment is forcing a new era for branding

By Andrew Stothert, Founder, alignment specialists Brand Vista.

In the old era of branding, organisations would use many devices to persuade customers that their offer was better, different and more appealing.  They would shout at us from every angle, in our homes, in the street, in the newspaper and even in our favourite magazine.

They displayed all the characteristics of “transmit” organisations.  The “creative art” of branding grew up in the fmcg arena with the aim of creating relationships between consumers and various inanimate products such as soap powder, baked beans and even motor cars.

Service or experientially based organisations were less inclined to consider branding (I am showing my age here as I am going back a good three decades!!) viewing it as fluff and not a contribution to the value generation needs of the business.

But they began to understand how brand differentiation could really work and from this developed some of the great experiential brands such as Tesco, Alton Towers, Virgin Atlantic and First Direct to name just a few of my favourites.

What do these great brands have in common? They deliver the promises they make to their customers week in week out and they do this because the organisations are aligned to a vision for the brand that everyone understands and their customers deeply relate to.

This is the new era of branding and it is driven not by the company. Its motivating power is the consumer. It is not a pure marketing function, it requires total trans-organisational commitment and engagement and if done right it drives the two most important aspects of customer satisfaction – the desire to repeat the experience and to recommend the experience to a friend. Some would call this advocacy.

The brand alignment task, and its output of “on-brand” delivered promises, is made all the more important because all our research and insight work at Brand Vista over the past 10 years points to one clear fact - consumers have stopped listening to all the spin from companies.

To understand what a company really means they stand back and watch the actions of said organisation.  “Actions speak louder than words” comes to mind!

Even spookier, our work inside client businesses indicates that staff have become just like consumers. They now watch the behaviours of management to understand what is really meant by the company’s strategy. They have been to too many conferences where they have been promised this that and the other and guess what……nothing happened or changed. So they observe behaviour and actions to understand where the brand is really going.

Take for example the latest offering from the banking sector, a lifetime’s work of alignment I fear! NatWest has developed a number of customer pledges with the aim of becoming “Britain’s Most Helpful Bank”, and launched a nationwide campaign highlighting this last week.

It would be my observation that this is either a driving vision for a radical overhaul of the culture of the bank, from bosses to front of house, with changes to the processes that help deliver the services and the development of a suite of new innovative products that will make our lives so much better that everyone will gravitate to this bank

Or it will be another transmission message developed from research that says this space is available, but without the skills and capabilities to deliver such radical change to the brand experience.

If you want to know which one is the right conclusion then pop into a Nat West branch and ask the ‘helpful’ staff  behind the counter. It reminds me of the Abbey some years ago who said they were going to “turn banking on its head”. A lovely advertising idea but nothing happened, except it was sold to Santander!

Brand Alignment is a way of thinking about, envisioning and delivering the promises your brand makes to its customers, who after all are totally empowered, under pressure and very savvy.

If your brand does what it says it will do then they will reward you with repeat business and recommendation. If it doesn’t, they have plenty of options to try and will find a brand that suits them better.

Organising your business to deliver a fully aligned brand promise requires a totally different set of skills and capabilities than has existed in the brand consultancy arena. Gone are the days of wallpapering over the cracks with a new logo or communication plan. Your customers and staff see straight through that.

The new era of branding forces us all to look at all of the organisation and help it understand and organise in order to deliver the brand promise, from the board room to the front of house – most importantly in the board room as without that team on board, on – brand and on the mission nothing will happen.

Why should it? Your team will just be looking at the same old broken promises, usually delivered on a mouse mat through which they are magically expected to absorb the strategy day in and day out!

The team will deliver the brand consistently and will help it innovate and grow if they see and are inspired by a brand vision that stimulates and differentiates and that the organisation is actively aligning behind it in order to deliver those promises.

In fact you will be amazed how engaged your teams will become, as alignment not only makes sense, it works.

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