It's a given that brand can give you status, competitive advantage and influence perceptions. But the area that seems to be most forgotten by financial marketing managers is that it can align your staff and offer real differentiation through actual brand experience. This premise is the basis for this article.
As a means of background information, a global survey of 175 banking executives showed that the following points were seen to be the primary challenges and opportunities within the financial services industry:
- Globalise and consolidate
- Reconnect with the customer
- Promote compliance
- Better management of risk
- Adapt to demographic shifts
When asked to rate each of 11 principal corporate functions in terms of their value contribution to the overall company (where 1=no contribution and 5=very significant contribution), executives gave marketing an average rating of 3.7. By comparison, executives gave an average rating of 4.4 for sales and 4.1 for customer service, making these the top-ranked functions. Even more telling: Just 23% of executives said that marketing makes a very significant value contribution, compared with 61% for sales and 43% for customer service. Furthermore, when asked to indicate which of the 11 corporate functions they considered their most, second-most, and third-most important, an overwhelming majority of executives chose sales or customer service. (Accenture: 2003). Interesting, considering the millions of dollars that are spent on advertising, versus the amount allocated to staff training, in particular, training in the field of behaviour enhancement and development relating to improved customer service.
Undoubtedly, marketing executives must consider advertising, packaging, product and service features, physical environments and customer care in their communication strategies. Yet how many have given rigorous thought to how their decisions can shape the customer experience?
In financial services environments, the interaction with branch or call-centre staff represents the critical experience with the brand, and will often determine whether or not you retain that customer. The extent of the problem has been documented in Bain & Company's recent survey of the customers of 362 companies. Only 8% of customers described their experience as “superior”, yet 80% of the companies surveyed believe that the experience they have been providing is indeed superior. (Christopher Meyer and Andre Schwager - HBR Feb 2007)
Financial services has been one of the most dynamic and competitive sectors in the last decade. Financial services are increasingly being offered by a number of alternative providers and through channels such as the internet, mobile phones, supermarkets and departmental stores. Indeed, an overabundance of price-driven financial services brands has become accessible to the mass market. The increased competition has benefited consumers by delivering value for money, but it's been tough for the brands. How do you stand out on an ever-increasingly crowded shelf? It is important that brands keep up with the ever-changing consumer.
Companies don't build great businesses by doing 'branding' brilliantly. They build great brands by doing business brilliantly - and by understanding the role of branding within this much bigger picture. “Over the past five years, companies with high brand ratings from consumers AND staff outperformed the S&P index by 320% - almost double that of market leading companies with high brand ratings from consumers alone.” (Vivaldi Brand Leadership Study, 2002
As an individual, our character or identity is composed of:
- what we look like (our visual image)
- what we say (the style and content of our communication)
- what we do (our behaviours)
- and how we do it (our performance).
A corporation or brand is judged no differently. Smart people and smart corporations manage how they are judged. Many corporations take cognisance of points 1, 2 and 4 but fail to spend time, thought and money on managing the behaviour aspect, when research shows that 70% of customer brand perception is determined by experiences with PEOPLE. (Source: Ken Irons, Market Leader
All indications are that Brand Equity is built by consistently delivering a brand promise, not by advertising. Therefore the most important channel responsible for delivering this brand promise is arguably your employees. After all, your employees are one of your most significant - and memorable - brand touch points. They are a vital facet of your brand universe, responsible for engaging
with the consumer. Consumers don't engage with the brand, they engage with the people behind the brand. This scenario begs the question: “Can you afford to neglect your people?”
So, what is engagement? Being engaged is something special. What this really means is your mind is alert and absorbed. Your emotions are heightened. Your attention is focused. Your behaviour is channelled
. True engagement is about behaviour. So, Brand Engagement is the combination of intellectual connection and emotional commitment, to motivate and direct behaviour in line with the essence of the brand.
Often Brand Engagement is confused with internal marketing. Yes, some of the internal marketing and communication techniques are incorporated into a Brand Engagement programme, but engagement involves insight into behaviour drivers and combines rational and emotional messages. Engagement goes beyond communication and aims to influence all the factors which affect employee behaviour rather than just influencing perceptions. It is about translating the brand's promise for employees so that they can deliver it to customers consistently. This is what builds true customer loyalty.“...and the best way to make customers happy is to ensure that employees are true brand champions. The delivery gap that brand engagement is attempting to fill is certainly real enough. Customers too often find themselves in a 'wham, bam, thank you brand' situation.”- Martyn Tipping, president of TippingSprung, New York.
Brand Engagement is about aligning your external positioning (service, products and communications) with your internal culture (behaviours, training, policies, practices and tools), in order to provide a consistent, differentiated customer experience. The underlying inspiration that forms the foundation of all aspects of this experience should be the essence of your brand, the single defining statement that sums up your brand positioning.
For example, when a customer calls a First National Bank call centre, the customer naturally expects an experience of genuine concern and courteous assistance, in line with the brand's promise of “How can we help you?”.
A Brand Engagement programme is therefore designed to help your employees deliver the brand promise through tangible brand behaviours, and to inspire world class service by helping employees tune in to their customers' needs.
For a brand to deliver on its promise, people within the organisation must actively embody it. To do this, they must have a sound understanding of the brand and their role in delivering the brand promise. A good engagement programme will provide the necessary behaviours and tools to do this.
An organisation should apply the same rigour and discipline to engaging with its internal audience as it does with an external audience.
The Brand Promise is corroborated by the Mission, Vision and Goals of the company. This customer promise is then articulated to the consumer through external campaigns, such as advertising, public relations and promotional activity. Such activity creates an expectation in the mind of the consumer. This expectation requires gratification at all points of contact with the brand, such as interaction with branch or call-centre staff. Should the employee service delivery not reflect the core values of the brand and associated behaviours, there is a disconnect, and I would be so bold as to say that the huge spend committed to external communication, is greatly diluted. Tellingly, “41% of customers cite staff knowledge and attitude as their key reason for repeat purchase, while the number one reason consumers give for feeling put off from purchasing a company's product or service is how they were treated by staff - ahead of price or quality.” (MCA Brand Ambassador Benchmark, 1999
The challenge is to understand your organisation and the attitude of your employees towards your organisation. WPP's Buy-in Benchmark Research has shown that, without intervention, the natural average is at least one third of your people are moving your organisation forward, but two thirds are working against you, by being ineffective or counter-productive!
Obviously, the challenge is to create the maximum number of “champions”, convert the “loose cannons” and to sustain interest and enthusiasm through:
feel, think, believe,
say, do, look.
A change or shift in behaviour is not easy. You cannot change culture over night, but you can transform the internal climate of an organisation, and gradually, the culture will change in line with the new attitudes and behaviours. The company as a whole and the individuals within it need a motivating and sustained vision and purpose, commitment and self-belief, investment in personal development and visible evidence of the vision.
A core belief drives an action which leads to an outcome. Being unaware of what is driving one's behaviour may seriously inhibit the likelihood of embracing change. By developing a mix of intellectual connection and emotional commitment within your employees, you cultivate Brand Advocates
- people who passionately deliver business and brand goals. And the facts speak louder than words: “Companies with highly committed employees generated 200% higher three year total returns to shareholders than low-commitment companies between 1999 and 2002. (Watson Wyatt Work USA study, 2002
Creating informed advocacy necessitates staff following a gradual transition from Awareness (I know what we stand for), to Attitude (it makes sense to me), to Ability (I have the skills and knowledge I need), to Action (I know what I can do to support our brand) and ultimately - Advocacy (I believe in what we do and I recommend our brand).
The organisation must assist people in understanding their role in delivering the brand, by bringing the brand personality and values to life and embedding the brand in key corporate processes, such as recruitment procedures, incentive programmes and Performance Appraisals. The outcome of a professional brand engagement program? People who passionately deliver business and brand goals, having both emotional commitment and intellectual understanding.
So I guess the long and short of it is that it's not all about advertising. Everyone does that. It's about people.
People are the only element of a business that can produce sustained competitive advantage in the face of a rapidly evolving world with heightened competitive markets. The world's greatest and most valuable sustainable brands are both compelling and true, they are invariably supported by the appropriate internal culture and climate, and are delivering a consistent experience internally and externally.
Recommended Reading: Corporate Conversations - Shel Holtz; Communicating for Change - Roger D'Aprix; The Heart of Change - John P Kotter; Communicating Change - TJ Larkin & Sandar Larkin