Brand alignment is the effort to ensure every single connection your customer has with your company is consistent. Each interaction, whether digital or face to face, should reflect one story. That does not mean every single message is the same, but each message on its own will reinforce the core story.
Brand alignment is not easy to achieve, especially in a world where marketing is becoming more complex. According to recent CMO Brand Strategy survey Gartner conducted, this challenge around brand alignment came through loud and clear. Among the main challenges CMOs face, 29% indicated that integrating their brand into all communications was in their “top 3” challenges. That was the fifth highest challenge. Overall, four of the top 11 challenges identified by CMOs directly relate to brand alignment throughout their organization.
This Gartner research highlights how big a challenge brand alignment is, but you must dig a little deeper to really understand how to address brand alignment issues. The first, and most obvious, way organizations try to achieve brand alignment is through all their marketing communications. This involves making sure that company advertisements have similar messages and visual guidelines as the website. Or, making sure a customer email campaign is consistent with brochures that a customer might find in one of your locations. This is a marketing communications “audit.” It ensures that brand standards are kept and that no one in marketing is “going rogue” with their message. This is what most people think when they hear brand alignment.
However, this first category only captures the “offline” digital touch points where the customer is interacting only with a marketing message. The second, and probably harder, frontier for brand alignment involves aligning people within the organization. Going back to the Gartner research, marketers identified three of their top 11 brand challenges as being related to internal alignment. They included: communicating impact/value of brand to internal stakeholders (24% in top 3), connecting brand messaging with organizational values (21% in top 3) and connecting brand with company culture (20% in top 3).
These CMOs are recognizing that brand is not something that just lives in ads. There is a growing need for internal branding to help gain true consistency of the company’s message. This is most evident for brands that have large teams of customer-facing representatives. This can include sales teams, retail stores, customer service/call centers, even technicians and support teams. All of those people represent the brand. The human-to-human customer experience is proving to be a primary factor in customer purchasing decisions.
Marketers can’t afford to overlook the link between brand alignment and their customer experience any longer. The equation is simple. Your ads can say one thing about your brand, but if your people can’t deliver the same message or experience the ads promised, the brand is misaligned. If customers expect one thing from your ads and don’t get what they expected from their live interactions with your people, their customer experience is worse than it could be.
InnerView has done our own research on this breakdown. Two-thirds (66%) of marketing, product and customer experience professionals believe their brand message is misaligned throughout their company. When asked to quantify the value of an aligned brand story, 62% estimated it was worth more than $10 million annually. This data shows that building internal brand engagement is not simply a feel-good effort, it is a business imperative.
Brand alignment is a phrase that for many sounds like an expensive and hard exercise. However, as brands recognize both the need for it and the ways to address it, the challenge becomes a lot less daunting. The audit companies are doing across their marketing communications to ensure alignment needs to continue. But, the real value is going to come when companies can address issues around internal brand engagement. Connecting the brand with the customer experience is an exercise in harnessing the power of employees as brand ambassadors. Just like most exercises, it isn’t always fun, but it’s always worth it.