Trashing branding has reached star status as critics dismiss it as passé in a digital environment.
Who wants to wear the behind the times label? It's interesting that those throwing the rocks at branding come prepared with a ready replacement they want to sell us.
Because branding is how people experience a company and its products, don't fall for the idea that it's obsolete. Just remember that no company goes to greater pains to protect its brand's integrity than Apple Inc., now the No. 1 brand in the world, according to the 2013 survey by Interbrand, a New York-based global firm that creates and manages brand value.
Every so often, a company changes our lives, not just with its products, but with its ethos, noted Interbrand CEO Jez Frampton in the company's report. This is why...Interbrand has a new No. 1Apple.
No task is more critical for companies, organizations and individuals than brand building. Here are 23 tools that can enhance a brand by giving it continuous care and protection.
1. Give everyone hospitality training. This is the place to start since most employees don't know how to interact with customers properly. Hospitality training is mandatory for all employees of Umpqua Bank in Portland, Ore., and it has paid off as demonstrated by the bank's stellar performance.
2. Align with a charity. Create a long-term relationship with a charity that shares your values and makes it possible to leverage your company's resourcesknowledge, skills, talent as well as monetary contributions.
3. Make marketing your mission. Business is all about attracting customers who want to do business with youa mission requiring a plan that's implemented consistently.
4. Give customers what they want. That's what T-Mobile's Un-carrier rebranding is all about, starting with dumping contracts, followed by the Jump! early upgrade program, and then the signing of pop singer Shakira. The payoff has been huge, with more than 1 million new customers, increased revenues and positive changes in public perception.
5. Respond quickly to a crisis. When it comes to problems, there's no pause button. Just ask Ford Motor Co. It refused to recall 421,000 2012 Escape SUVs when stuck gas pedals caused accidentsuntil the company was forced into doing it. That caused reputation damage and falling Escape sales. Be ready because even a slight delay in responding to a crisis can be costly.
6. Research ruthlessly. Mistakes hurt and some can be fatal, so challenge your ideas, options and opportunities with research and testing to avoid falling into embarrassing and costly debacles.
7. Articulate your mission. Forget about puffy-fluffyand meaninglessmission statements. The famed industrial designer Niels Diffrient, who blended the technical and the aesthetic, had one goal: Why would you design something if it didn't improve the human condition? What an idea.
8. Understand your customers. Many say they know their customers and don't need any help. They're kidding themselves about other things, too. It takes a combination of having the right data and having the smarts to figure out what it means.
9. Picture customers correctly. Take a page from Target Brands Inc. and DD IP Holder L.L.C.'s Dunkin' Donuts chain, companies that view customers as guests who deserve to be treated that way.
10. Avoid erraticism. This prevalent disease eats away at business success by constantly jumping from one non-solution to the next, baffling and confusing both customers and employees.
11. Make studied moves. Just because a competitor does it or it sounds good doesn't mean it's right for your company. Without adequate preparation or serious research, many companies jump into eCommerce, launch new products, make acquisitions, or expand, only to fail.
12. Admit mistakes fast. Too many businesses are living in the past when cover-ups were possible. Not so nowthere's always a trail that leads to your door. Don't hope for the best; expect the worst and clear the air quickly.
13. Control enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is essential to a business, but it also can dull cognitive skills, obscure roadblocks and blind us to unnecessary risks that can lead to unwelcome outcomes.
14. Build a case for receiving industry and civic awards. Valid recognition is more than blowing your own horn; it helps in shaping how customers, employees and the public perceive a company.
15. Disallow excuses. Whether it's letting yourself, your work group or your company off the hook by making excuses, customers, shareholders and the public get the message: You can't be counted on to do the right thing.
16. Be crisis conscious. Asking the question, What would happen if...? is the most important component in making decisions. Failing to ask it is entertaining the possibility of making costly mistakes.
17. Segment your customer base. Heard it before? Of course, but only a small percentage of companies actually segment their customer database so they can tailor their marketing message to specific groups and devote their efforts to those who produce the most revenue.
18. Be responsive. They always get back to me quickly. Because they create a lasting impression, these are the most important words anyone can hear. Like nothing else, they send the message that you care. How fast? Nowone hour or less. And there are no exceptions.
19. Educate customers. If customers aren't learning from you, they're vulnerable to competitor attack. Focus on emerging trends, dangers ahead, product use, reducing costs and solving problems.
20. Think creativity. Nothing is worse than trying to eat when driving for fear of making a mess on our clothes. KFC Corp. solved the problem with its five-compartment Go Cups that fit in a cup holder, along with a menu of finger food.
21. Get rid of meetings without a strategic agenda. Meetings frustrate goal-oriented high achievers, according to meeting expert Larissa Barber of the University of North Carolina.
That's because meeting attendees often feel they are prevented from getting work done, while those who are more social and less self-structured like meetings to catch up and talk with colleagues.
22. Get it right. Good enough is never good enough when it comes to the care and protection of a brand's integrity.
23. Give everyone brand training. Branding depends on consistent messagingand that takes training.
What values does it represent? Why does it resonate with customers? What role do employees play in caring for our brand? How can they help enhance it?
As you've no doubt observed, brand building is a tough job and one that never ends. As difficult as it is to create a solid brand, it can be easily damaged or even destroyed. It needs constant care.
And, above all, it deserves tireless protection. It may never appear on a balance sheet as an asset, but its value is immeasurable.
John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected], 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.