grass roots

BrandLoop #15, September 2005

Consistency from the Inside

One of the key facets of a great brand is that it delivers on consistency. The core brand promise and its values do not change to any great extent over time even if the manifestation of the brand or the way in which the promise and values are communicated are regularly updated and improved. This consistency is absolutely essential for a brand as this helps to deliver trust and confidence for the consumer as well as clarity of purpose and positioning.

However, how easy is it to deliver consistency in today’s marketing environment? Numerous factors conspire to make delivering brand consistency increasingly difficult. Some of these are:

  • Pressure to deliver profits now, not in the future.
  • Short residency of some marketing directors.
  • The relationship between employees and the brand.
  • Increased competition may foster a short-term mentality.
  • Move away from longer-term communications agency relationships to short-term assignments and projects. 

Consequently, in order to deliver an exceptional brand to consumers and other stakeholders, it is crucial to start develop the brand from the inside. Effective internal marketing is the real start of brand building.

A short-term mentality

Most brands exist for the long-term. Many of today’s top brands were the top brands many years ago. It is consistency that has helped them to maintain this position over time. Certainly, the leading brands appear to exhibit a longer-term perspective where the current company personnel and agencies act as temporary brand guardians and know better than to interfere with the core brand promise or values.

Where organisations operate a focus on the shorter-term, this can be the result of different factors. Firstly, shareholders may often be looking for a quick return on their investment and this tasks management with delivering higher profits now, sometimes at the expense of profits in the future. This approach may discourage investment by the organisation in plant and equipment but also sustained brand-building and innovation programmes.

Marketing and corporate management may also be looking for quick results. Alongside the need to deliver results now, there are clearly many instances where management spends a short period with the organisation and, in the desire to make an impact, launches frequently into agency reviews and brand extension. This may potentially be contradictory to the long-term health of the brand. A quick glance at the marketing press shows that the appointment of a new marketing director usually leads to questions about the brand’s agency relationships. It is worthwhile remembering that brands tend to remain with the organisation substantially longer than marketing or corporate management.

Short-term marketing communications activity may contradict ongoing programmes. Promotional initiatives designed to create uplift in sales may only shift sales rather than genuinely increasing them. Furthermore, excessive price promotions, even those designed to shift excess inventory, can effectively damage the brand’s value proposition.

Employees build and strengthen brands

An organisation’s employees, particularly those in a customer-facing role, have a crucial role in building and maintaining brands. Employees are often the face of the brand and the way in which they interact with consumers is a vital part of the brand’s communications. Good, bad or indifferent customer service sends an exceptionally strong brand communications message. For this reason it is vital that employees do not merely represent the brand but significantly enhance it as every interaction between service personnel and consumers affects the consumer perception of the brand. In the same way, non-customer facing staff are likely to be far more effective in their roles if they believe in the brand. This means that settled, happy and “on-message” employees can be more effective in delivering the brand. Internal marketing and staff training have become increasingly important in ensuring that employees are “brand loyal.”

This situation is exacerbated by the change in working patterns that has resulted in less single-employer careers and more moving from company to company or short-term project work. Loyalty to the employer seems to be an outmoded concept. Of course, loyalty can only be a two-way process. Loyalty to employer has to be secured through good working conditions, appropriate rewards and regular updates and training. This leads to a highly motivated, trained and brand-enhancing workforce that stays with the organisation for longer. This is worth more than a saving on recruitment and training. The effective delivery of the brand from the inside of the organisation leads to higher satisfaction levels for consumers and, consequently, better returns for investors.

One of the best examples of this is First Direct. The brand’s traditional marketing communications are distinctive and consistent, ever since launch, but it is the personal and consistent approach that has led to First Direct having an exceptionally high level of personal recommendation. First Direct is truly organised around the brand.

Beware of following the competition 

Many, if not most, markets have become increasingly competitive. This makes it harder to obtain shelf-space; there is more “noise” in the marketing communications environment and, most importantly, it becomes more difficult to secure a larger share of the consumer’s mind and wallet. There may often be pressure on manufacturers to deliver short-term results in new product development either from investors or retailers. At worst, this can foster the mentality of developing “me-too” products or introducing numerous line extensions with little thought given to the impact on the brand. Some ill-conceived brand extensions can effectively cannibalise sales of the core brand and seriously damage the brand’s equity without adding sales volume or value or enhancing the brand image. In this case, the lack of brand consistency often leads to irreparable damage to the brand.

While there are frequently short-term pressures on new product development, it is essential that organisations also take a long-term perspective. This means the development of new and unique products and services that tap into emerging consumer opportunities to provide competitive advantage. Moreover, the sustained health of the brand needs to be a factor within new product development. What is the long-term effect of using an existing brand for new products and services? From a different angle, where does the existing brand equity allow the organisation to take it? While it may be cheaper to extend an existing brand than develop a new brand, this will be a false economy if this means the brand loses its consistency.

Agency relationships 

Where brands have stable agency relationships, this helps to ensure consistency of approach. This includes stability of the account team, not just the agency, as the team working with the brand can be more effective if they are able to display the same loyalty to the brand as the client company’s employees.

A move to project work or ad-hoc assignments has the potential to undermine brand consistency as does the use of multiple marketing communications agencies. However, the latter may be essential where a communications plan includes a variety of media channels. Under this scenario, it is important that the client company and the agency work closely together to ensure that the brand consistency is maintained.

Summary: Branding from the inside

There is little doubt that the most successful brands exhibit a high level of consistency. However, this is not just about standard logos or specified fonts and pantone colours. External consistency is certainly very important but this cannot be achieved without this consistency radiating from the heart of the organisation. 

The brand needs to be placed at the centre of an organisation’s mission. It is too important an asset to be solely under the control of the marketing department. Maintenance and enhancement of the brand are the responsibility of every employee in an organisation. This is more than about well-trained and highly motivated employees delivering exceptional customer service; it is the key to delivering a strong and consistent brand. 

A consistent approach to the brand not only prevents confusion about what the brand stands for but it also helps to build trust in the brand. This all leads to a positive consumer experience.

Through the Loop has conducted many studies where we have analysed success factors for different brands across numerous product and service categories. While there are many issues that impact on a brand’s long-term success, consistency is an area that is, without doubt, crucial to delivering the brand promise and values to consumers.

Action points:

  • What is the relationship between employees and the brand?
  • How is employee loyalty encouraged?
  • Where in the organisation is the primary responsibility for the brand?
  • How is long-term brand health reconciled with short-term pressures?
  • What is the role of internal marketing in the overall brand development process?
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