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Guest Commentary: A Living, Breathing Brand Strategy

A company’s brand is certainly a significant part of its fiber and personality. It is part of the glue that holds together the mortar (reputation) and brick (culture) that powers the organization. The brand helps to drive greatness.

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John Passante is a broad-based senior executive with over 30 years of extensive organizational development and senior human resource experience with progressive corporations involved in multiple locations, both domestic and international.

On a recent flight from New England to San Francisco, I got caught up on my emails, wrote two reports and finished a book I was reading about Ted Williams. Then, I took a look at my watch and realized there was three hours left on the flight. (The joys of air travel.) I leafed through the airline magazine and was struck by the brands that were advertising in the magazine.

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It led me to think about the importance of branding.

The automotive aftermarket (auto care industry) is indeed rich when it comes to brands that have provided our industry and the American driving public with the highest-quality, best engineers and safest products. In many cases, they were designed and manufactured by companies that were founded more than 100 years ago. How is that for brand heritage?

A company’s brand is certainly a significant part of its fiber and personality. It is part of the glue that holds together the mortar (reputation) and brick (culture) that powers the organization. The brand helps to drive greatness. A firm’s brand is far more than its products and services; it provides value throughout the distribution chain. Brands offer unique characteristics such as: lifetime warranty, exceeding customers’ expectations and ease of installation.

Brand management entails communicating the company’s value proposition and shortening the distance between the company and its customers in the distribution chain. Successful companies reduce the gap between what customers expect and what the company delivers. A “Fast Company” article declared that, “For brands, being human is the new black.”

This stresses the point that brands are increasingly gaining traction by embracing qualities like kindness, honesty, and a sense of humor. The magic of the human touch. Successful brands are taking on more human-like traits. How do you put a value on a long-term customer relationship?

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Brand management should always consider the customer’s point of view.

Companies spend millions burnishing their brands and then can undermine that work with the single stroke of a pen. Every touch point with your customer – call centers, customer contact and email correspondence –  speaks louder than your ads.

Here is a tip- answer your phones; it may be a customer calling. In fact, encourage your customers to call you!

This leads me to the human side of the business enterprise. Technology can indeed do amazing things, but when a human being has a particular problem or a question, the most direct and simplest way to resolve it is usually person-to-person. The human element is paramount to excellent customer contact. Perhaps if your company does a better job of answering the phone, it may increase profits.

Many companies look at customers as a “target” rather than focusing on building a mutually beneficial relationship – and embrace trust and empathy, this is not a so-called “soft” emotion, but a best business practice. Employees need to live and breathe and be your company’s brand as well as instill the practice of “H.E.A.R.T”:

  • Hear for concern
  • Empathize (listen to customers)
  • Apologize (if needed)
  • Respond (with action)
  • Tell the truth with compassion

(From The Cleveland Clinic mission statement)

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Let me ask the question: Do your employees have heart? Do they care about your brand? Do they know your brand story? Are your employees the first touch point in reinforcing your brands promise? What do they tell their family, friends, neighbors and competition? Are your brands viewed as beneficial? Do your employees strive to enhance each customer’s experience with your organization?

Having and living a brand strategy requires building structures, processes and interactions that build a company culture, which drives a unity of focus that permeates the entire organization. The company exists to serve its customers. Not vice versa. Is your company culture internally or externally focused?

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