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Behind The Brand

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What's behind your brand? Another way to ask this question is, what could go wrong to hurt your brand? Every company, whether new or established, has a brand. A brand is a reputation, a promise, an expectation. When customers think of your company, an impression or image comes to mind. I'm not talking about an image of your logo; I'm talking about the perception. You've heard the phrase, "Perception is everything." Well, when it comes to your company brand, nothing could be truer. It matters very little what you want your brand to represent, but it matters completely what your customers' perception of your brand is.

Think back with me a few years to the great "Coca-Cola" debacle. Coca-Cola was losing market share to Pepsi Cola. Pepsi is considered sweeter that Coke, and most soft drink consumers can tell the distinct difference between the two products. Coke decided to change the taste formula. Do you remember the backlash from consumers? You would have thought that Coke had filed for divorce from the American consumer (or the other way around).
What happened? Well, in a nutshell, Coke broke its brand promise to consumers, and the consumers rebelled. Apparently, the Coca-Cola brand is more than a soft drink or a red and white aluminum can. The taste mattered, and more importantly, the promise mattered. The great thing about the brand was its consistency. No matter where in the world you purchase a Coca-Cola, it always tastes the same. This is the Coca-Cola brand promise.

What is your brand promise? And, just as important, who's in charge of protecting your brand promise? Only your customers can accurately answer the first question. The correct answer to the second question is: "Everyone in your company."

Now it makes sense to put someone in charge of the brand appearance in your company. You need someone who polices the logo, the look of all your documents, your uniforms, the sign on the building and even the impression the office makes (clean, organized, fresh, etc.). But your brand is much more than a look; it's a promise. Who's in charge of keeping the brand promise in your company? If you answer, everyone, then everyone needs to know their role in keeping the brand promise.

Let's use the following example of a brand promise. Let's assume that your company has a tremendous reputation for performance. Your customers count on you to finish your projects on time, on budget and without error. Your customers count on your expertise to anticipate conflicts and avoid them, to coordinate with other trades without having to be told. They expect you to know when you need to man the project, and they know you will show up on time without supervision, and that all the necessary equipment and tools will be on hand.

Now, start a list of all the employees (internal influences) in your company who play a role in meeting these commitments and promises. Also, start a list of all of your vendors and subcontractors (external influences) who have a role in meeting your brand promise. Everyone on these lists has a direct impact on your brand promise. It might include the sales staff, installers, project managers, accounting, vendors, purchasing and warehouse staff. And, the list goes on and on. It gets a little scary when you stop and think about all the people who can influence your brand promise for better or for worst. And the larger your company, the more complicated it gets. These are the "people behind the brand." It's not just you or your managers; it's everyone at every level.

So, how do you manage your brand with all of these stakeholders? The first step should be to apply the principles found in Jim Collins book, Good to Great, including get the wrong people off the bus, get the right people on the bus and make sure the right people are in the right seats. Next, you must take responsibility to ensure that the right people in the right positions understand your brand promise, understand their role in keeping the promise and make absolutely sure they have all the necessary resources to keep the brand promise.

You need to learn to measure the consistency of your brand promise and be prepared to take quick action to correct any breech in the brand promise. The same rules that apply to your staff also apply to your subcontractors and vendors. Choosing your partners well and communicating with them your expectations, measuring their performance and making quick changes in the relationships that are failing your brand promise, requires persistence and resolve.
Remember your precious brand promise is in the hands of many. Understand your brand promise and guard it with your business life.

With more than 20 years' experience in the sales and management in the low-voltage contracting industry, Michael Bradley (mcbradley@safeguard.us) is president of Safeguard Security and Communications in Scottsdale, AZ. He serves as immediate past president of the NSCA board of directors.

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