Ruchi Gunawardene, Managing Director at Brand Finance Lanka and Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director at Landor Mumbai explain how value can be created through a brand led transformation of a business.
We all intuitively recognise that there is value in brands. Yet, very few businesses – barring fast moving consumer goods companies – pay more than lip service to considering their brands as a key driver of growth and success. This is a lost opportunity to leverage an important tool in the corporate arsenal to create business value.
What we do know is that brands help to influence and shape an entire customer experience through the products they offer, the services they provide and the space/environment or context in which the transaction takes place. In an era where products can be standardised, many businesses are using the brand to differentiate and provide a unique service offering. The brand’s role becomes important in these situations as it is a powerful tool to influence how we want customers to feel about their experience and therefor how employees should act to deliver exactly that.
The smart companies who have understood this have shaped their entire organisation to a structured and coherent brand offering, and are forging ahead. The brand helps to create a well-defined culture and a set of beliefs that influences employee behaviour and motivates, rewards and recognises those who provide a well-defined customer experience. Whilst leading to more consistent service delivery against uniquely defined standards, it will result in the business being recognised for such, which in turn will translate into loyal customers and therefore result in a more consistent stream of revenue.
The employee-customer nexus is therefore one of the most important creators of value in an organisation, besides aspects such as product innovation, process improvement, etc. The employee is the core influencer that fuels brand value in any customer facing business, whether it be in hotels, hospitals, business to business sectors of all sorts (software development, manufacturer of parts to other businesses) retailers or restaurants.
Therefore, defining the brand and building a culture across the organisation in a manner that will motivate and direct employees, whilst also providing customers with a clear reference of what it is that they could expect, is a significant value addition that a business can create for itself. In a business’s journey of progression, this becomes the basis of building a unique and stronger customer bond across the entire organisation, going beyond the relationships that the entrepreneur or CEO would have built at the start.
However, doing so is not easy and should not be relegated to developing a catchy slogan. It requires an extensive and in-depth understanding of the category in which the company operates and defining the brand in a manner that is aligned to the business. The key step in this alignment requires a detailed search and identification of the key drivers of revenue in that business category.
Market research is required to be conducted through qualitative and quantitative studies for the key customer purchase drivers to be identified and teased out so that they could be explored on how it could be brought into the process when defining the brand. It requires a competitive scan as well, leading to focusing on attributes that are untapped by competitors and enabling elements of differentiation to be added.
This leads to the unique positioning for the brand based on the identified customer drivers and a clearly articulated brand meaning that on the one hand will motivate employees and on the other will fulfil customer aspirations. It is this powerful nexus of employees and customers that results in building a strong brand, leading to sustained revenue and creating value. This is the essence of the analytical and creative process that transforms the corporate brand into a powerful value creating asset.
Once established, this is the dual force which senior management of companies need to drive. It could involve aligning employee training and development to deliver the experience, channelling product innovations to further reinforce the brand experience and many of the other initiatives in the day to day running of the business. The definition of the brand is established as the bedrock for the business. By getting all initiatives to focus and build around this, significant value is unleashed. The brand therefore becomes a central role in the entire process of driving the business forward. This is what transforms an ordinary business into one that is brand led.
Brand Finance and Landor use a combination of fact based logic with an infusion of creativity in this transformation process. We do so by closely studying the customer, his or her expectations and needs (both expressed and hidden) that influence the many and varied (major and minor) purchase considerations within the decision making process. This can be quantified and measured and even the importance of the attributes established and weighted from the most important to the less important considerations or purchase drivers. This identifies the levers that can be pulled to drive greater brand consideration, loyalty and to minimise lapse.
Once this framework is overlaid on to the market realities which have identified what competitors are doing, which spaces they have occupied, we begin to see the real opportunities that we have with possible areas to focus.
One final area of analysis that must be considered is the credibility of the business itself to deliver what it intends to promise. Essentially, if it can deliver high standards on the brand attributes that are intended to be used.
Whilst this analysis leads us to make certain conclusions in identifying, narrowing down and bundling the most important attributes, the creative mind then takes over at this point to explore and then flesh out concepts upon which the brand can sit, and thereby brings the brand to life.
The concept for the brand is based on the Landor framework, which establishes why the brand exists, the brand personality, the brand beliefs and the core brand idea. The brand can be further succinctly expressed verbally through a description of what the brand is all about like it would be explained to a layman and with an appropriate supporting visual look and feel system to bring the brand prototype to life.
When looked at in this way, the brand is seamlessly defined and created, by anchoring it on revenue drivers and eloquently brought to life in a way that it can be understood by any employee across the entire business. The brand that is so expressed could have elements of both functionality which appeals to the rationale mind of customers but also emotional elements that are so vital to build human relationships between the seller and the customer.
The brand which is developed in this way can then be directly linked to the development of soft skills and employee training programmes. Performance measurements and reward systems can be put into place, leading to reinforcing the beliefs that are important for the brand and de-emphasising others which are irrelevant.
This strengthens the employee’s brand delivery and the customer’s brand experience which is what leads to increasing brand strength. The impact of all these initiatives can be measured and tracked over time, through an increase or decrease in brand value.
This process of transformation from an unbranded business to a brand led business is what many international companies are rapidly undertaking and what several Sri Lankan companies have embarked on, as it provides a powerful value creating tool.
This piece was originally published as “Brand-led business transformation” by the Daily FT Sri Lanka (14 September 2016).
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons
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