Your brand is your people

Staff behaviour must deliver on brand claimsA fortnight ago, I suggested that banks need to start delivering on the promises they make in their advertising; to start doing what they say.
 Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison

Staff behaviour must deliver on brand claims

A fortnight ago, I suggested that banks need to start delivering on the promises they make in their advertising; to start doing what they say.

It wasn’t exactly one of the Eternal Verities, but it did produce a flurry of Tweets and emails from readers. One bank, Gulf African Bank, actually asked for a copy of the piece and more details. Interestingly, they are exactly the type of bank I highlighted as having good future potential. A bank brand that means something because it was designed its reach while staying true to its heritage.

At the time I also hinted that better delivery might be achieved through the way staffs behave. Let me illustrate this with a true story.

Several years ago, a large UK bank briefed its Advertising Agency to develop a new brand positioning and a campaign to support it.  The Agency’s very clever market research team discovered that UK customers felt their banks were increasingly treating them like numbers, not people with their own individual needs.

Sound familiar?

So the Agency’s very clever strategy people worked with its very clever creative team to develop a new slogan and campaign that proclaimed that their client was ‘The Listening Bank’.

The idea that at last there was a bank with ears seemed novel, and was well received by the public. The bank invested millions of pounds in the campaign and thousands of new customers flocked into the bank’s branches. So far, so good.

A year or so later the bank dropped the campaign, and since then it has become a case study in failure. Why?  With insightful research, clever strategy development, fresh creative and impactful advertising - it had all the signs of success.

Apart from one vital ingredient. The Listening Bank’s people didn’t listen.

Prospective customers looking for someone who was interested in their needs were met by bank staff who didn’t have the time to listen.  You see, they’d been trained and incentivised to handle customers quickly and efficiently … to reduce costs.

So this very clever initiative, which promised exactly what customers were looking for, alienated both prospective customers and the bank’s own staff. The bank was NatWest.

By chance I was passing a NatWest branch recently and they’re now using the slogan ‘Helpful Banking’ Let’s hope they deliver the brand promise this time!

Of course, many organisations think that their advertising creates their brand image.  And, as we discussed two weeks ago, very often bank advertising falls short on both relevance and differentiation.

But the ad campaign is just the promise.  In service organisations – like banks, hotels, airlines and many business-to-business organisations like ISPs – that image is created by the customer’s experience of dealing with its people.  

When you recommend an organisation to your family, friends or colleagues you don’t say: “They have a great advertising campaign”.  You’re more likely to say: “They stick to their promises” or “They say they treat people like individuals and they do.” 

It’s common sense, yet research published by Harvard Business Review reveals that in a typical organisation, 65% of the workforce doesn’t understand its overall business objectives and over 90% can’t translate its promise and values into their own behaviour.  They can recite their slogan, but they don’t know what they have to do differently to deliver the organisation’s business objectives or brand promise.

Therefore it’s hardly surprising that there’s a gap between what brands promise and what brands deliver.

So, to whom are you going to turn for help and advice?  It’s a pretty specialised area: a mixture of brand understanding, internal communications, HR and training.  Plus the ability to engage with people at all levels from the cleaner to the CEO. It’s also expertise that I haven’t yet come across in my travels in Africa.

So, as it’s an important determinant of business success – I’ve had a look around on your behalf. 

Pop along to and you’ll see the best examples I can find of this sort of work. There are cases in there from mobile telephony to hospitals and from fashion retail to couriers. And I’ll keep looking, because if we all get this right, we’ll build businesses and economies faster - and we’ll give our staff a greater feeling of ownership in the brands they serve.

Right, that’s my good deed, done. Now I can revert to Mr Hyde and go and find another aspect of Marketing to disrupt. Your suggestions, as ever, will be most welcome.

Chris Harrison is   Chairman, Young & Rubicam Brands Africa


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