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Business Branding - How Character Affects Customers and Your Business Image
The public buys far more than just your products, services and so-called image promotions. Whenever they interact with anyone or anything associated with your business, they are automatically branded emotionally, good or bad, by the totality of your business character.
Whether you are a small business or a large operation, it is immaterial. If that brand is found lacking at any time in the customer-relation scenario, their return to you as a future-paying customer will be highly unlikely, not to mention all of their word-of-mouth associations. If that doesn't get your attention, then you and your business are in trouble already.
Brand marketing and brand character are certainly familiar busness terms, but they are business-school jargon, nonetheless. All of those buzz words may sound great at board-rooom presentations and seminars, but often mean something else to customers.
While the highly-paid marketing gurus tell you to concentrate on presenting your product or service imagery, they fail to warn you that it is your organizational brand that does the real imprinting. What's most notable is that the total character of your particular business imprints that brand on your customers' emotions, a realm far beyond typical business education. That's why I believe you should expect every business consultant to posess this kind of perspective.
As every interaction with your public is a so-called "moment of truth" or, better yet, "moment of judgment", the public knows when they're being burned by a hot poker; and they judge accordingly. A form of business branding is, therefore, created by you and your organization at every turn. It's both an active and passive event. The customer merely views it, experiences its presence, engages his or her emotions, and then determines YOUR fate.
So, it's time to make yourself aware of the quality of your business trademark as much as your products and services. It's the only way to really distinguish your organization from the crowded and competitive business arena we call world markets!
Obviously every company promotes its products and services to gain market share for the purpose of profit. That's no sin. Without realizing it, though, a poor organizational brand quality can scuttle that endeavor, especially when it is exposed as an integral part of the market-to-purchase-service process.
You can't hide it. Emotional branding of your customers is especially created or dessecrated with every interaction at every level, whether that interaction is direct or indirect.
So, realization that business-branding occurs all the time is your first step, but a most-important one. While typical brand marketing of a product focuses mainly on product imagery, it is your public interactions that can force all of the expenses associated with marketing that imagery to crumble in a single moment. Point: As your organizational character is reflected, so goes your future success or failure!
In other words, dealing with the public especially exposes your organizational brand for what it really is. In total, every talk and every walk that your company engages in, regardless of size and business sector, refines or tarnishes your business-brand image. Here's where the true corporate or business character, as displayed by your people in the form or disposition and attitudes, sets you up for profits and losses.
Lose the heart of the customer and all of that development, testing, marketing and expected profits will go literally up in smoke. The key here is learning how to recognize your business brand and keep it shining from within, not just on the surface.
Surprisingly, many highly educated organizations don't realize WHY their business brand is broken. It's pitiful to watch. Assuming it's production or process related, management know-it-all vanity seems to get in the way from seeing the simple truth.
The Power of People and Emotions
Every business has managers TALK about the importance of people, but actually focus or WALK away from the people factors like character; and people define the totality of your business brand far more than any tool in your marketing arsenal.
It's true that many CEOs and managers realize the importance of appealing to emotion. However, the branding tool that they usually choose to do the job is their product or service itself. They even attempt smiles and free coffee mugs which are not enough, because that's not what customers want or need. Well, there's much more!
First of all, assuming that values touted in mission and philosophy statements are sufficient for success can be a dangerous assumption in today's competitive arenas. Character needs to be perfected at every turn, internally and externally.
For example, your programs may be internally late, not due to the inabilities of your people, but due to internal cutting politics, indecisions and a constant state of change induced by managers like a form of rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. I know this first hand.
In my 36 years of associating with various product development and product marketing teams, including 12 years with the successful Saturn Corporation, I have personally witnessed just how brand-marketing strategies have caused many fine organizations to lose focus. How? They have been led to conform to the lopsided thinking that branding applies more to a form of product and service imagery that induces lust more than warm emotions.
Externally, a business truly has to focus on product, price and marketing imagery, but directing all of it toward customer lust to buy is certainly a double-edged sword. For one, lust is the wrong emotion to appeal.
By its nature, lust is a sentiment that is never satisfied, and never enough to keep customers always buying from you. Here's why: Those who lust are also fickle! Eventually the truth about your pricing, fair value, reliability, service and care can cause YOU to be judged by them walking with their feet and their wallets.
Price gouging especially personifies negative-emotion branding, and occurs when a company prices their products or services so that managers can make salaries and benefits beyond their true worth. I guess that's supposed to be just too bad for the public. That's capitalism, many say. In reality, gouging then becomes the business brand; and attempting to save the business face by donating to charities and politicians is viewed merely as an attempt to gain absolution. Some rebates kind of fit into that category, in my opiniion. The prices were a gouge to begin with!
A more sinister brand occurs when business allows itself to use manipulatable accounting practices like RONA (return on net assets) as the main benchmark for management bonuses. First, it allows accounting trickery through postponing of programs and reducing of head count to fake its financial health so that bonuses can kick in. That makes the company books manipulatable at the expense of the customers, the stock holders as well as employees. In essence, their manipulation put off the day when prices would naturally reflect fairness.
Well, the public is not stupid. They have a long memory when it comes to someone taking their money and delivering poor value, disrespecting them at the time of purchase or service. They even recognize when you route your employees. And they certainly know when they're being gouged or manipulated just to sustain a business' plan that is intended to win at all costs, namely theirs.
How many times have you paid full price for a quality product, but it still failed? How many times have you paid a high price while the company cut its employees to shreds with downsizing everything except upper management's perks? That brands you as a nasty hot poker, because they know they're paying for those perks.
Like I said, the customer is not stupid. As a result of their awareness, you are now expected to deliver quality products, quality services, and quality in their total buying experience; and that now includes quality pricing; hence, value pricing at employee discounts. After all, the public knows they're overpaying for literally everything.
Failure to comply to customer expectations in any way brands you as an abuser, but brands them as being gullible, disrespected and undignified. Talk about negative emotions!
This concept of business or organizational branding is an image niche untouched by many business books. Now, don't get me wrong. Plenty of training is going on, but not about total business branding, especially ethics and fairness in pricing for value rendered.
Yes, we have mission statements, philosophy statements and just a touch of team-oriented, feel-good training sessions. Yet, many businesses still seem to miss the mark, maybe not in every corner, but enough to make many CEOs cringe at market-share and earnings-reporting time; which only proves that customers have the last say, further proving that higher education does not always guarantee business success.
Few managers and business owners really take the TOTALITY of their business brand to heart, including personal communications and relations. Emphasis is so heavy on trying to make a profit that they overlook the one element in the formula that might assure that profit.
As products, processes and quality increasingly take the center stage, more and more companies have become oblivious as to why they are losing market share, and will risk being blown out of business entirely.
There is always a cause for every effect. Don't let the negative-branding syndrome happen to your business or your company, even if you just work there. Make a commitment to improve the business brand. Don't forget that every internal issue will come to light in some way that you may not now even imagine.
You can help yourself and your business by first paying attention. Accept the reality that the public fully recognizes when another product or service is better, and that they always vote with their pocket books. It is their right as much as it is their duty for economic self preservation.
Your product may be innovative, but a greedy price mark-up, for example, can dry out their emotions quite readily. That is just as much a brand failure as a recalled tire.
Yes, a failure to keep the customers' emotions positive can be deadly to your bottom line. So, the time to be more alert is now!
And speaking of emotion, why do some products fail to sell, while others prosper? Simple: Contrary to today's business doctrines, product quality is no longer enough! Content is no longer enough. The only way you can segregate yourself from your competition in this new century is to better the totality of your customers' business experience; as that summarizes your business brand and appeals to your customers' hearts where their buying and staying emotions originate.
So, the next time some market guru challenges you to brand market your products and services, make sure to include your total business brand. And make darn sure it isn't just any old hot iron.
Frank Sherosky is a research author with over 36 years experience in the automotive corporate world. In 1997, he wrote "Perfecting Corporate Character: Insightful Lessons for 21st Century Organizations" before anyone heard of Enron and Tyco fiascos. He may be reached at http://www.authorfrank.com
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