by Kenneth Rudich
What is a brand?
Well, quite simply, it’s what people think when they think about your enterprise. And let’s be clear, every enterprise, from the very largest to the very smallest, has a brand image – if not by design then by default.
Brand management seeks to create a brand image by design rather than let it happen by default. Since every enterprise has a brand image, it stands to reason that each and every one should work on managing it. And not only that, but do it with vigilance… and vigor. Always remember, it’s a two-part responsibility: you must build it up…and you must also protect it.
Consider, for instance, the circumstance Greyhound President and CEO Dave Leach got thrust into after the actor Alec Baldwin compared American Airlines to “a Greyhound bus experience.” This quip left little doubt about what Mr. Baldwin thinks when he thinks Greyhound. Even worse for the bus company, however, he said it in a public forum.
With no time to lose, Mr. Leach immediately came to the defense of the Greyhound brand for the sake of doing damage control. To his credit, he issued an open letter to the actor in which he admitted to some challenges in the past, but also insisted they have since been addressed and repaired. He then invited the actor to ride with him from New York to Boston to experience the brand as it exists today.
This kind of response is a prime example of brand management at work. And BTW, stay tuned. It could yet become one of the better things to happen to the Greyhound brand in a long, long while.
So now, with that incident as a reference, let’s put the concept of making a brand glow into context.
Every brand image exists in some state of being. The phrase “state of being” refers to its present condition.
There are at least five different “states of being” to consider. They are:
- And glow
Let’s briefly look at each.
First is Bad. A currently tarnished image has a shaky foundation for trying to make it glow. If left unattended, it’s a ticking time bomb just waiting to blow. This circumstance requires the immediate intervention of a crisis management strategy. Until repaired, there’s no reason to pursue any other course of action because the business will, sooner or later, assuredly fail.
Next is Non-identifiable. This state of being is common for a business in the start-up stage. If this is the case, all signs should indicate it simply needs more time to gain some traction. The important thing here is that a strategy has been mapped out for making the brand memorable, including milestones and metrics for evaluating whether the plan is on track to meeting its long term goals.
Next is Under-developed. This suggests one or more areas of impairment may be preventing the brand from realizing the greater good it can do. Because every aspect of a business communicates something, it’s advisable to conduct a thorough value chain audit to identify problems which need to be addressed in the value proposition. You should listen carefully to what people have to say all across the value chain – that is, prospects, customers, donors, employees, suppliers, stakeholders and the like. Also pay attention to what’s going on in the external environment. And then try to pull it altogether into a wholly positive experience.
This is exactly what Greyhound attempted in its open letter to Alec Baldwin. Mr. Leach seized the opportunity to let people know about the hundreds of new buses added to its fleet, and he pointed out features like extra legroom, leather seats, power outlets and free Wi-Fi.
He also spoke directly to Mr. Baldwin’s complaint about a competitor, in this case American Airlines. He said, “I think you especially would find the latter two amenities exciting, because we don’t require our customers to turn off their electronic devices … ever. You could therefore play ‘Words with Friends’ during your entire trip and nobody would give you any grief over it.”
Finally, he slipped in the fact that Greyhound carries more than 17 million travelers a year.
From a brand management standpoint, this was brilliant execution. If all goes well, it could end up boosting the brand, and at little to no cost.
Next is a Good brand image. It often revolves around having nurtured the following characteristics within the value chain:
- delivering real perceived value;
- offering a consistently positive customer experience;
- maintaining cohesive employee relations;
- developing supportive suppliers;
- assembling a smart operating environment (both virtual or real as it applies);
- forging visible ties with the community(ies) in which it operates;
- building strong relationships with any other key stakeholders it may have
Though good is probably sufficient for a brand to survive, perhaps even thrive, most businesses are well-advised to do more than just settle for good.
Instead, they should set their sights on making it Glow. The idea here is to give the brand a personality by positioning it as being more than merely functional or useful, but also human and humane. The ultimate is to endow the brand with endearing qualities that condition people to like it on an emotional level – if possible, to the point of enticing them to become brand ambassadors.
So there you have it. In part 1 of this series, we talked about the rationale for making a brand glow. Now, in part 2, we have a framework and context for understanding what it means to make a brand glow.
In part 3, we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of what you can do to help make your brand glow.
And in case you need a little added motivation to come back for part 3, let’s briefly look at some of the benefits a good-to-glowing brand identity can provide. They are:
- an appearance of being socially responsible;
- an ability to garner greater social acceptance;
- a means to stimulate customer and stakeholder engagement;
- the capacity to win customers and keep them;
- increased business visibility;
- a tool for attracting more and/or stronger strategic partnerships;
- a means to acquire competitive advantage