Brand values and the customer experience – a perfect match?

There is value in marketing, advertising and brand values

Unlike many, I totally get the value of great marketing and advertising: it activates the Elephant (emotions) bypasses/speaks to the Rider (reason) and shapes behaviour.

I can see the value of brand values.  They can be used to guide and, where necessary, constrain the actions of the people developing products and conducting marketing activities.  They also help to give put clothes on ordinary products and services and thus give them personality and appeal.  I can also see the value of going further and having all the front line people live those values so that they are not simply marketing slogans.

Yet most organisations struggle to live the brand values

Anyone who has an interest in organisational behaviour will understand the distinction between espoused values and lived values.  If you look into the mirror you will probably see that our company and most companies struggle to live their brand values in their day to day behaviour.  It does not help if the brand values have been cooked up in the marketing dept.  My experience is that many in the organisation listen to marketers in a certain way; I have heard the marketing folks described as “the department of coloured pencils” or “the spend spend spend folks” or “the folks that lie for a living” or the “party people” and so forth.   So is it a surprise that few people in the organisation actually live brand values cooked up the marketing folks?

So the first challenge is coming up with values that speak to the hearts and minds of the people that work in your organisation.  The second challenge is translating those brand values into specific behaviours that everyone in the organisation is expected to embody.  The third challenge?  Getting the Tops to model these behaviours on a daily basis so that the Middles model these behaviours and onwards to the Bottoms.  Fourth, to implement the values within the organisation whilst honouring those values!  If one of your values is “innovation” then living your values means coming up with an innovative way of infecting hearts and minds with that value.  If one of your values is collaboration then taking a ‘command and control’ approach and telling people they have to collaborate is probably not the right way to foster collaboration.

If you want to use brand values in designing the customer experience then you have to translate them

I, the customer don’t care about your brand values – honestly I don’t.  I do care about what others  (the journalists, influential bodies, my social circle) say about you.  I care about how you treat me, my family, my friends, my social network.  And I have a strong interest on what to expect from you?  Put differently, what can I count on from you?

So if you accept the line that goes something like “design the customer experience” around your brand values then you have some work to do.  You have to take values (that are general) and translate them into specifics – what can your customer expect and count on from you when she is interacting with you and using your products and services?   And you have a potential problem – your brand values may not reflect the totality of customer needs.  Lets make this real by briefly looking at Virgin’s brand values: Fun, Value for Money, Quality, Innovation, Competitive Challenge, Brilliant Customer Service.

  • As a Virgin customer what can I expect from your online presence?  What does fun, value for money, quality, innovation, competitive challenge and brilliant customer service mean to me?
  • Brilliant customer service – does that mean I can quickly, easily contact you at any time, any day, through any channel and get an instant, insightful, relevant and quick response?  Does that mean that you assure me of 100% satisfaction?
  • How about your ‘product’ – what can I count on here?  By the way, I like products that are simple to understand and easy to use.  Oops it looks like your brand values don’t cater for all my needs and expectations – there is no mention of simplicity in your stated brand values.  What are you going to do about that?  Are you going to change your brand values or simply factor in my need/expectation and design the customer experience to take that into account?

I hope you get the point that I am making:  a lot of work has to go into designing the customer experience and you cannot automatically assume that you can use your brand values as a shortcut.  Brand values have to be translated into specifics: specific customers, specific customer scenarios, specific customer touchpoints…….

How about converting brand values into specific promises to customers?

Too much of business is littered with buzzwords and abstract concepts and this is a problem as the devil is in the detail.  One way I have found of translating brand values into customer terms is to start with promises. Lets imagine that you are creating a customer charter.  What will you put in this customer charter?  What are the truths that should be self-evident to you, your organisation and your customers?  What are the promises that you are making to your customers?  And what specifically do you expect from your customers?   This is hard work primarily because buzzwords and brand values lose their appeal when they have to be translated into publicly visible commitments to customers.  Yet there are organisations that go beyond the fear and make meaningful promises to customers.

Take John Lewis as an example.  John Lewis has made a commitment to customers – the John Lewis Price Pledge - and recently that has hurt profits.  This is what the chief executive says “Absolutely it’s costing us money, but it is really important we stick to it.”  Is it any surprise that John Lewis regularly comes towards the top for customer satisfaction and loyalty?

Posted on September 19, 2011, in Case Studies, Customer Experience, Customer Philosophy, Marketing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Maz,
    When times are tough and things start to go against you that is the real test, it seems to me, of brand values and their customer promises. John Lewis, as you rightly point out, are living their brand and it is hurting them right now.

    But what is the result? For me, they know that they are in their business for the long run. They’ve been in business for 150 years or so and are thinking about their reputation, their customers and their business with a view to being around in the next 150 years. They are a shining light and we can learn a lot from them.

    Adrian

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    • Hello Adrian
      I have a saying “your real character shows up only when you are against the ropes and having the daylight punched out of you”. The same applies to companies and institutions. So we are in agreement.

      Maz

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  2. Maz, I am all for specific promises to customers.

    RBS have been busy publishing their commitments. One of them is “We will aim to serve the majority of customers within 5 minutes in our branches.”

    Words like “aim” and “majority” don’t really cut it as promises.

    “I aim to be faithful to my wife the majority of the time”

    Not all promises are equal.

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    • Hello James,

      What can I say: you have put the whole matter in perspective BEAUTIFULLY! One phrase that I keep close to my heart is this one: “You are either pregnant or not. You cannot be half pregnant!”

      You are either committed or not. You are honest or not. You care or you don’t. You either create great products or you don’t.

      Maz

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  3. Maz,

    This is the ultimate test of any vision, mission or set of values – how do customers and employees experience the brand-in-action.

    I wrote a post with related themes a while back on the difference between magic words (as when an executive says those values often enough in presentations that they believe it magically happens to be true) vs. what those words and values look like in action. You can read it at http://www.bestcustomerconnection.com/?p=643.

    The John Lewis story is a great one, not just for customers but also for John Lewis’ employees! Thanks for sharing that.

    Marc

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  4. Hello Marc
    I read your post and I am 100% in agreement with you. Businesses took ‘Quality’ form the Japanese and stripped out of it the core philosophy and management practices. Then business jumped on the business process re-engineering bandwagon and stripped the fundamentals out of it so it just became same old ‘stupid cost-cutting’. And onwards to relationship marketing, permission marketing and CRM.

    The latest wordgame is Customer Experience. Look deeply and you find that it means anything, everything and nothing. And I am not the only one that is awake to this. Just this week Beyond Philosophy issued a report that essentially says that the same old stuff (Customer service, contact centres, business process management, lean, marketing…) is being badged as Customer Experience. I think I will write a post on this – coming soon.

    I thank you for participating in the conversation. I wish you well, friend.

    Maz

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