A “brand” is a delicate concept. Think about the elements that make up a brand – the visuals (logos, photos, commercials), the carefully chosen words that make up the story. Brands are designed to be make an emotional connection with customers, so it would stand to reason that the people who craft a company’s identity grow attached to it. The brand is a marketer’s baby, their work of art.
To all those marketers, I hate to break it to you but your brand is leaking. The intricate story you’ve faithfully worked to craft is falling apart, but it isn’t your agency, your ad buyer or a competitor that’s to blame. The problem hits closer to home.
InnerView did a study of marketing executives from large B2C brands in a variety of industries and found little confidence that a company’s customer-facing teams can tell their brand story accurately. For example, 66% of the executives either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that their brand message is getting diluted as makes its way down to the customer. Only about 1/3 of the respondents indicated they were “very confident” that any of the people who represent their brand, including their own internal corporate team, could communicate their brand story effectively.
These results paint a scary picture for marketers. The investment to build a brand – from research all the way through campaign execution and advertising spend – is tremendous. If the story being told to the customers doesn’t match the story they hear when they show up with an interest to buy, the brand promise is broken. The fallout from that broken promise is tangible and it lowers the measurable effectiveness of marketing efforts. The results of this breakdown include:
- Lost Satisfaction – Brands measure how satisfied their customers are with their experience. If customers are told one thing through marketing then experience something worse when they try to buy, satisfaction is going to suffer. Given recent research from Forrester, there is evidence that companies are struggling to stand out in terms of the experience they deliver.
- Lost Control– If a company is not effectively aligning their brand internally, they are destined to have the brand defined by outsiders (customers, press, critics). This is a challenge highlighted by Russell Reynolds in a 2016 study they released about CMO turnover. In it, they pinpoint “Loss of Brand Control” as one of the top eight reasons why retail companies are churning through CMOs at a higher rate. They point out that the CMO can no longer advertise a brand story and expect acceptance from the market, but rather they need to work with internal stakeholders to make sure the brand can deliver. The CMO who can’t align the internal and external brand story is destined to struggle to differentiate and compete.
- Lost Time– When a campaign hits the market, the consumer assumes your company is ready to deliver. However, what our team at InnerView has seen over many launches is that messaging is delivered externally before it is fully embraced internally by the people who represent the brand. If this is the case, it can take months or years to bring the brand story back into alignment, and the time it takes can never be recaptured. Internal “relaunches” are a common occurrence, but marketers need to think about the value in dollars and reputation of having an aligned story early.
- Lost Market Share – The primary function of a brand, tracing the concept back to its roots, is to help a product stand out from its competition. The story that brand marketers craft is designed to differentiate a company’s products or services, so customers choose them over other options. When that story breaks down, the customer can’t fully understand the value proposition, increasingly the likelihood they take their money to a competitor.
- Lost Revenue– All of the aforementioned factors impact revenue performance. More immediately, the breakdown of the brand story and value proposition lead to lower conversion at the point of sale. If the brand representative cannot articulate how they can address the consumer’s unique needs, the sale could be lost. Based on our research study, marketers believe the dilution of their brand message is costly, with nearly half of them assigning $5 million or more of lost revenue to this issue.
The response might be, “digital is going to fix all that”. Sure! If marketers can always be talking directly to the consumer then they will always be control of the brand’s message. That is not reality, however –certainly not when it’s consumer products available on store shelves. Human-to-human interaction is still a part of the consumer’s buying process in many sectors, and those are the same sectors where the brand experience could be the only point of differentiation for the buyers. The bad news is that the leak is too big to ignore. The good news is you don’t have to look far to find it.