I’m with you, there’s a lot of confusion around the concept of a brand. Depending on who you talk to, a brand can be described wildly differently with the most overhyped ideas. To begin with, I have a confession to make. My personal idea of a brand used to be very egoistic-driven: Have some bold and aesthetic visual identity so that everything looks pretty, and make sure you don’t forget about a catchy brand promise so that people differentiate you from the crowd. After all, that’s how people often perceive it from the outside (and the inside sometimes too!). Recently though, my understanding of brand took a 180 degree turn.
A brand is what a brand DOES
A powerful brand is all about the doing. The execution. What it actually DOES and the actions it takes. A brand’s uniqueness and differentiating power comes not from what it says or how it looks. It comes from finding the right Tribe of people who live and demonstrate the attributes that furnish your business with an uncopyable reputation in the market. At A Tribe Called Humans, we know for sure that human-centered experiences have the power to unlock superior business return for organisations because the real actions people take are the essential fuel that make all the difference. And let’s face it, in this day and age, many people are numbed by the idea of mission and vision statements. And not without reason. Too often, we detect brand experiences that don’t match the hollow brand promise on a companies LinkedIn page. And this is not just our observation: Forrester’s US Customer Experience Index 2021 reveals, that out of 90,000 consumers, only 20% of brand experiences are rated “good” — with the wide majority ranked as “OK,” “poor,” or “very poor”. Yet, 21% of brands that engaged empathetically with customers saw a significant score increase compared to 2020. It’s safe to say that this trend continues to mount upwards. According to a Gartner study, already 75% of organisations are able to show that customer satisfaction leads to revenue growth through increased customer retention or lifetime value. With customer experience being the new competitive battleground, now is the time to ask yourself: is your brand promise aligned with what customers experience in reality? If yes, are you really following through with that promise?
“You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around." (Steve Jobs)
Let’s zoom in on Apple. You may have not realized it, but they have never disclosed what their brand values are. Yet, everyone knows what they stand for. A classic example of the saying, “Actions speak louder than words”, Apple is driven by innovation and cool design. Consequently, every product or service Apple releases is rooted in these brand attributes. The look, feel and function of the products - sleek, smooth and simple. The packaging - clean and elegant. The design of its stores, and even the geniuses who work there. Across the whole ecosystem, the brand lives cohesively and consistently. Sure, Apple could have saved a ton of money if its retail stores looked more like any other electronic supplier rather than a contemporary art gallery. But Apple made its branding decisions specifically to evoke the experience of the Apple brand. Inside and out, everything Apple does says, “Apple.” The seeming simplicity of the brand experiences Apple creates are consistent without missing cues. And this is what brand does.
Another company who’s joining the brand doing club is REI. For the seventh year in a row, REI continuous closing its doors (from stores to call centers and headquarters) on Black Friday and encourages customers and more than 15,000 employees to spend time outdoors. “As the last year and a half has continued to challenge us all, #OptOutside is a reminder of the importance of community and time outside,” said REI CEO Eric Artz. “What started as a special moment for employees has become a movement for the co-op community to come together and prioritize action on the things that matter most”.
Brand doing framework
As Nelson Mandela pointed out so accurately: “Vision without action is just a dream (…)”, it is the real actions what make your articulated brand strategy wake up. So after you’ve defined the brand promise of your business, everything should be funneled through it. If you’re curious on how to kick-start your customer and employee experience journey (and I hope that you are), we’re here to help with our brand doing framework that can support you in transforming your brand from paper into reality. Throughout the process of anchoring the brand promise in the business, we activate it into four fundamental business areas: Culture, Identity, Organisation and Proposition.
I’m with you, it’s easier to talk and write about something than to put it into action. Theory vs. practice. But think about it that way: with employees and consumers turning to social media to amplify their brand experiences, companies and their reputation will be punished if their words and actions don’t align. So whether you are a global brand, neighborhood hero or in the roll-out stage of your business, make sure you’re focusing on the end result – the experience people have with your product or service - to be homing in on what’s most important: the real actions.