Due consideration to building the internal brand must be given before embarking on an external brand campaign.
I HAVE often been asked during my conversations with business associates what it takes to provide a good or pleasant brand experience for the consumers. Does it involve advertising the features of the brand or going on a road show to promote the brand – all aspects of external branding?
I would then ask if they ever consider tapping on the aspects of internal branding to provide a pleasant brand experience. Most times, I would get a bewildered look.
In a week’s time, we will be celebrating Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. Muslims will be busy spring-cleaning their homes, the new curtains must be up, the delicacies and crockery all ready before they open their doors to receive guests during the festive period. Every visitor to the house must be properly served so they leave the house with pleasant memories and return the following Raya.
If you take this analogy, internal branding of a company, which comprises the human resources, culture and values and the office environment, plays an equally important role to provide a memorable brand experience.
Branding, as they say, is a sum total of all the experiences a consumer has with the brand, from the customer who calls up your office to enquire on your products to the delivery man who sends the items.
Staff members who have a strong buy-in to the brand and who understand the culture and values of the company contribute greatly to the success of the brand. This is applicable to the large corporations and the small and medium-sized enterprises. They are the most important touch point a customer has with the brand.
Branding is perception, and the staff conduct and behaviour reflect on the brand. It is always a pleasant experience when a friendly and knowledgeable person picks up the phone to answer your queries or attend to your orders. They help to increase your sales and may even generate new businesses due to the confident and professional attitude conveyed over the phone.
At the same time, we have encountered inexperienced and rude receptionists who could actually spoil your day. I called a company once to ask for the CEO’s name, as I wanted to send him an invitation card. The staff mentioned that his CEO’s name was Mr Lee and when I asked for his complete name, she insisted that writing Mr Lee on the card would suffice.
When I told her that it would not be appropriate, she unwillingly provided the name in an aggressive manner. It was definitely not a positive experience.
As the brand’s business includes consumers, suppliers and business associates, organisational efficiencies help to contribute to a positive brand experience. The ability to deliver goods and services promptly and meet the suppliers’ requirements will help to boost the brand’s image as one that is trusted and efficient, creating a win-win situation for both parties.
With the market getting more competitive, pricing is no longer a reliable factor in determining market share and the survival of a business. Brands are now focusing on the intangibles by engaging the emotions of the customers.
If you walk into a Giordano outlet, you will be greeted with a friendly welcome from the sales staff, pleasant service and a thank you and goodbye when you leave the outlet, even if you did not purchase any items. These simple greetings make the customers feel welcomed, position the brand as warm and friendly and generate repeat visits.
I have also been asked if innovation, the buzzword among brands trying to stay relevant, can provide a good brand experience. I strongly feel that innovation has to be functional and relevant before it can improve the brand’s position. What is the point of having the latest technological invention if the consumers are not able to benefit from it or use it at the click of a button?
A pleasant brand experience can only be achieved if the internal brand is as strong as the external. Internal branding is most successful when the company has a strong brand culture and is committed to the welfare of the staff, thus encouraging the staff to live the brand. It also needs a brand champion, in most instances, a CEO and a committed management team to cascade the brand values down to the staff.
There is the perception that successful internal branding belongs to the domain of large corporations. I know of many SMEs that have a strong internal brand with the management deeply dedicated to the welfare of their staff and have very strong staff loyalty. However, many of them could not align the aspects of internal branding to their advantage. What is needed is for the CEO to engage and inculcate the brand culture and values to the staff. At the same time, a fair bit of polishing is needed for the staff to improve their level of articulation to compete in the global market.
I strongly urge all Malaysian brands, especially those of the SMEs, to give due consideration to building their internal brand and understanding their brands’ positions first before embarking on an external brand campaign.
In the next article, we shall review how external branding contributes to a pleasant brand experience.