Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why you should focus on brand-in-action

“Our differentiator is service. Others may say the same thing, but they don’t deliver like we do!”

So said the sales associate showing me a car on their lot last week.  In essence he was telling me that his success is no longer about automotive brand…

…it’s all about brand-in-action.

Building, positioning, selling and evaluating the brand is what many of us in the marketing field do.  However, when it’s employees who bring the brand to life; when service is a major part of what customers care about, then it’s time to recast brand as brand-in-action.

I probed the sales associate about vehicle pricing and how they compare with other dealers offering similar cars.  His answer was almost philosophical (for a used car dealer anyway):  “Web-enabled information access has completely changed price comparison shopping.  The only real differentiator is how we treat you now and after you become a customer.”

This tells me that if you are marketing anything beyond packaged goods, then you are in the business of service delivery.  Your opportunity is to shape the message of the real value proposition that draws prospects to your market.  Where employees deliver that value proposition to customers, they need to be part of your marketing message.

It’s the same for people who work with financial products: when you get them to disclose what they really think, they say there isn’t much difference in the products they offer vs. their closest competitors.  But they will swear by some measure of service differentiation – faster processing, easier access, more personal customer service. 

If you are in the creative side of the business, take a lesson from Paco Underhill, author of Why we buy: The science of shopping.  Observe how customers buy; then look for ways to market to that experience.   Or map post-purchase experience and market to the best of those experiences.  USAA’s financial services ads, targeting military families, does a great job of this with their message, We know what it means to serve. Let us serve you.

The real opportunity for marketing is to capture the experience and build a brand message around that experience.  If you want a sustainable message, then build one that employees will choose to live out each and every day:

1.     Identify aspects of the service experience before, during purchase that make it memorable and worth sharing with others.

2.     Ask what skills and interaction employees should display at those customer touchpoints.

3.     Define the value proposition based on what you want customers to experience at key touchpoints

Brand-in-action – it’s the real value of your brand.

Marc Sokol is an organizational psychologist with an eye for how people and teams can be more effective, even in a dysfunctional company. He is part oM Squared Group, a data-driven marketing consultancy.   

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andrew weir said...

Good post. It is interesting that you say a car sales associate understands that it is service not pricing that is the differentiator. In my experience very few brand organisations get that.

Marc Sokol said...

There is still a lot of variability among cars sale associates. In several dealerships (some of the larger ones) I've seen they lead with their 'service promise" or some variation of that language. In a few more traditional sites (complete with a chain smoking associate) they are still selling like it was 20 years ago.

Almost worth an afternoon of field research just to see it for yourself!

Thanks for your comment, Andrew.


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