Updated: Aug 17, 2021
THE POWER OF BRAND ALIGNMENT
Your brand should impact all aspects of your business, not just your marketing and communications. It must flow through every department, each conversation, and every customer interaction.
We all know what a brand is, right? Most people would answer that a brand is the logo, colors, and typography of a company or product; the visuals we associate with a brand or product. Those brand standards are closely guarded with multi-page style guides and staff policing visual language.
Carrying the brand through all aspects of your business and customer touch-points is difficult if your brand is only your logo. It becomes easier to achieve brand alignment if you broaden your brand concept past the visual identity and begin thinking of what a brand is.
In his book, The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier writes, “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s a GUT FEELING because we’re all emotional, intuitive beings, despite our best efforts to be rational.”
A person’s gut feeling isn’t out of your control. You can influence what current and potential customers feel and say about you, but you need to think about each department, every interaction, and design alignment with the brand you want.
If a brand is more than a style guide or logo and is a gut feeling, as Neumeier suggests, then where might your customers or potential customers get a gut feeling about your company? Traditionally, it might start with your website and social media, advertising, and communications. But shouldn’t it extend to customer service? How about billing and return policies? Every interaction a customer or potential customer has with your company and every aspect of those interactions create the feeling deep inside us that we’re talking about.
With an expanded idea of brand in your mind, we can explore how your brand could be carried throughout your organization by looking at a few interaction points.
LET'S START WITH SOMETHING EASY.
The way your phone is answered.
Think carefully about your brand. What do you want your customer or potential customer to feel about you when they pick up the phone? If your goal is to invite them in, to make them feel at home, then a multi-option phone menu probably isn’t the correct answer. Instead, a warm greeting from a helpful person may make the most sense. That first person to pick up the phone may be able to do more than direct calls. They could answer questions, take care of frequent issues, or help the caller get to the right person. Those first few seconds add to that gut feeling and can help frame your brand.
THIS POINT MIGHT SEEM OBVIOUS, BUT…
Your social media accounts are frequently the first place people encounter your brand.
Is your brand, that gut feeling you want people to have, clear in your social media posts? Let’s say you want to be a trusted advisor, a professional with years of experience informing each transaction. Your posts should provide helpful and nuanced advice with polished but approachable language if that is the case. Each post would build on the previous one and help clients understand the complexity of your business in small bites. Trusted experts know how to break down complex issues into easy-to-understand concepts. They share freely and realize it takes time to build relationships.
Let’s look at something often outside the purview of marketing managers.
Return policies or refunds.
These policies are where the gut feeling meets the bottom line. Returns for any reason at any time don’t make economic sense for most companies. But often, companies create narrow, rule-heavy policies that create hurdles for the customer but benefit the company. If that’s the gut feeling you want, skip this next part. Policies shouldn’t overly burden the business, and we aren’t suggesting that you create a return or refund policy that could put you out of business. Your policies, which you ask your employees to enforce, should align with that gut feeling you want your customers to experience. Ikea’s return policy aligns with its brand of friendly, simple, and easy. Ikea says, “It’s OK to change your mind!” They happily accept returns for 365 days (if unopened) and 180 days if the product is open. No questions, no hassle. They build on their brand promise all the way through one of the most stressful parts of their customer’s experience.
WHAT ABOUT HIRING NEW EMPLOYEES?
Can that gut feeling extend into those processes?
Current and former employees talk about the hiring process, how interviews were performed, how easy it was to contact you. They will share if there were seemingly unnecessary or overly burdensome steps or if you were friendly and welcoming. Some companies have famously tedious hiring processes. They require numerous interviews and piles of paperwork for even entry-level positions. Those steps impact the applicant’s perception of your company and set the tone for your new hire. What would you like an applicant to say about your organization after their application or interview? Suppose your company prides itself on quick follow-up with customers and solving their problems immediately, but your hiring process makes the application process difficult. In that case, you might push away the best employees. If that friendly, can-do attitude isn’t displayed in interviews because you always ask the same questions over a quick 30-minute interview, your potential employees might tell friends and family that your ads are full of hot air.
HOW YOUR PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT IMPACTS THAT GUT FEELING.
Your store or office is a physical manifestation of your brand and can set the tone for every customer interaction. Stores are among the best places to see a brand come to life. Harbor Freight is a low-priced tool company. Their website boasts quality tools and low prices, and their stores reflect that. Everything in the store is displayed nicely on metal shelves or pallets on the floor, but it conveys the feeling of a no-nonsense workshop with its concrete floors, metal shelves, and an exposed ceiling. If Harbor Freight were designed like an Apple store with wood tables and single tools displayed with bright, focused lighting, like fine jewelry, the customer would be confused. How can a company boast low-cost tools AND display their inventory like jewelry? The disconnect between physical space and brand might be enough to lead some to leave the store or write the brand off forever.
A person doesn’t often control the first interaction someone has with your organization, business, product, or community. If you think about your brand as simply your logo or your marketing and advertising, you will miss many opportunities to create the positive gut feeling that should be your goal. However, by extending your concept of brand to your entire business, each interaction, each department, has the potential to create a lifelong fan and customer.