When you develop an idea into a business, get paying customers and deliver on your offer, it’s easy to think you’re safe. Your vision has become reality! But if you don’t focus on the brand and manage and protect it at all costs, you are losing site of your most important asset.
A brand is an expectation of an experience. Simply stated, your brand is how others feel about -- and perceive value from -- your company, service, product and people. This perception of value, based on an anticipated experience, drives your customers to your door, allows you to compete effectively in your target market and makes employees to want to work for you.
With all the investment you make into systems, intellectual property, brick and mortar and talent management, there are still seven people who can sink your brand and cause your business to suffer.
1. The front-desk person
When customers enter your business, who greets them? Is it someone who smiles, knows their names because they have an appointment and is neatly dressed? Or is it someone who is distracted, disheveled and disinterested in helping them? The person who answers your phone or greets customers at the door is a critical part of your brand experience. If they misrepresent the values your business promotes, the entire experience can go downhill.
A colleague of mine was interviewing accountants, and she walked right back out of the front door of a prospective provider’s office, because the young woman behind the reception desk was smacking her chewing gum, took five minutes to look up from her cell phone and didn’t respond to my colleague’s question about the location of the ladies' room. My colleague decided that if this is the kind of experience this office represents, she’ll take her business elsewhere.
2. The founder
The founder of the company carries a special affinity for the brand, because he or she played a huge part in how the business and the value proposition were formed. It is imperative that the founder’s personal brand closely aligns with the values of the company and is promoted as such in person and online. This tells customers, employees and other audiences that what is promoted is actually lived. If the founder acts in contrast to the values of the company, then suspicion and skepticism creep in.
Imagine if Sir Richard Branson was seen treating his employees poorly in public, if he was rude to airline staff on his planes, or if he made offhand comments online that employees really don’t matter much -- it’s all about the financial bottom line. These statements and behaviors completely conflict with the values of Virgin America and the person we’ve been led to believe is Branson.
3. The human-resources representative
On a recent flight, I overheard a disturbing conversation between a man and a woman in the row ahead of me. The woman identified herself as the head of human resources for a large company (I won’t name) that I immediately recognized. I know the company to be innovative and a global influencer in the community. Yet, I listened to this woman speak ill of her employer and represent herself very poorly -- I’m sure the many cocktails she was served didn’t help -- as she chatted with her new airplane friend.
Imagine if I was a customer, investor or key stakeholder of this company. What would I think about someone in a senior management position -- in human resources, no less! -- talking so recklessly about her employer? She is the person who recruits, interviews and on boards employees. What are the business implications of having someone in her position be so unhappy with her employer?
4. The customer
Are your customers happy? Are they receiving the experience your brand promotes? How do you know? If unhappy customers take to social media, for instance, the damage to the brand can be devastating. Remember when a passenger witnessed his guitar being mishandled by United Airlines employees? He produced a video that went viral online. United had to deploy serious resources to repair that damage.
Surveying customers gives you a good indication of satisfaction. Additionally, train your front-line staff, your managers and online team to watch for indications of displeasure from your customers. While businesses are great at celebrating customers’ notes of appreciation, some companies ignore the complaints or frustrations of their customers -- until it’s too late.
5. The vendor
Are you living your brand in how you treat your vendors? If your company promotes values of collaboration, community and caring, do your vendors experience this?
Your vendors have the ability to affect pricing and delivery times, and they can spread the word about your treatment of them. While some companies consider vendors as service staff, in reality, they have tremendous influence over how your company is perceived in the larger marketplace.
6. The competitor
In the words of Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part II, “… Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” Your competitors are watching you. They are evaluating your brand constantly. Assume they are talking to your customers, employees, vendors and stakeholders to find areas of weakness and opportunity.
Don’t give your competitors ammunition to sink your brand. Keep word of mouth positive about your brand and customer experience. Try to make sure your former employees have a positive impression of their experience at your company. Focus on building good relationships with industry influencers who will speak positively about what they hear and feel about your brand. Nothing will keep your customers from getting armed like a positive reputation!
7. The reporter
The media has a powerful tool -- a voice. Whether bloggers, traditional journalists or online-media sources, pay close attention to what is being said about your brand online and in person. Form healthy relationships with reporters who have an interest in your industry and company. Provide them with insights, information and appreciation when possible.
If a reporter prints something negative about your company or brand, don’t retaliate. Instead, refer to your brand positioning statements, consult your team, and reply with focus and an intentional strategy. Repairing the relationship is critical if the report is based on hurt feelings or misinformation.
Your brand has the power to inspire and influence customers online and in person. Being mindful of all the touch points your customers, employees, investors and stakeholders experiences ensures a consistent experience -- keeping you protected from having your brand torpedoed.