brand promise

brandEvery communications professional has seen this happen. You work hard to develop a strong, reputable brand, the brand voice and the brand promise. You create brand standard guidelines and you build out a tool kit for staff to use when creating documents, presentations or in any communication of the brand. You generate great media coverage where your CEO, President or GM hits the key messages and positions the brand well.

A success, right? Not so fast. Then a client, customer, guest or patient shows up to the frontline and no one delivers on the brand promise (#EpicFail).

A great brand and brand reputation have to be brought to life through the actions of employees. They have to deliver on the brand promise. But to do that, they need to be engaged – and the brand promise needs to “belong” to them. An exceptional brand is developed through the consistent, long-term actions of employees. Great marketing, ads, social media and PR campaigns are damaged by a cranky staff member, an employee who doesn’t return calls or e-mails in a timely fashion, or someone in your organization commenting negatively on social media about your product, services or another element.

Engaging your employees as “brand ambassadors” and helping them to deliver on the brand promise is a worthwhile investment for an organization. Making a strategic decision to engage employees in this way happens over time. And you need to be consistent in these efforts.

Here are the steps for creating brand ambassadors.

Step 1 – Survey

Develop an internal (and anonymous) survey to see where engagement currently sits. This will give you a benchmark so that as you move forward, you can identify where you have improved and what still needs work.

Step 2 – Identify Influencers

Identify key employees who are influencers, community builders, outliers and even skeptics and create an employee engagement advisory panel. Don’t just pull in managers and people you know will agree with you. Bring in those who will challenge the status quo – find out what they think and why. Ensure you have a range of employees and that all areas or departments are represented.

Step 3 – The Advisory Panel

Provide the results from the survey – keeping necessary information confidential – to the advisory committee. Work with them to identify the key areas that need attention. Choose one or two areas to work on – don’t try to change everything overnight. Create an engagement plan based on the areas and through a town hall meeting, an all staff meeting or another approach (online meeting, etc.) – share the plans with staff. The advisory board should meet monthly.

Step 4 – Internal Communications

Creating an internal site on your intranet, where employees can ask questions, provide feedback and communicate with each other, is always a good idea. Building your internal community and engaging employees is not a “top down” process.

Step 5 – Measure

Measure your success to ensure you are on track and continually improving. This goes back to the initial survey, as well as defining other key measurement elements and key performance indicators, and setting your goals and objectives. You need to know what you want to achieve in order to measure your progress. And measurement must be a key element of your internal plan.

Step 6 – Celebrate Successes, Address Challenges

Share your wins and challenges with staff. Keep them involved and informed. Meet with the advisory committee once a month, at a minimum. They will be the ones who will help spread the word internally.

Remember: without employee engagement, your brand promise is just words on paper and is of no use to anyone – especially your clients, customers, guests or patients.

 

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brandI had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. He called to ask us about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While we have a foundational knowledge about SEO and integrating SEO elements when developing online content (including websites, blog posts and news releases), our client’s needs went beyond our communications abilities in this area and we referred him to an SEO specialist.

His response: “You are always so responsive and take care of what I need, even if you don’t provide it. You make it easy for me.”

That’s a big compliment to receive. Our commitment to providing exceptional service to our clients is a big part of the AHA brand promise. From the moment we decided to open our doors, we knew that was who we were (and 11 years later, we still are). And it is one of the reasons that we have so many long-term clients and others that regularly use us on a project basis. We have excellent skills, solid expertise and a depth of knowledge that comes from experience and that is very important. But, I believe what tips the scales in our favour are the seemingly small details that are built into our brand promise.

We are client service oriented and are incredibly responsive. We have a strong focus on providing value to clients; we respect their budget and do everything we can to maximize return-on-investment. And while we take our work seriously, we like to have fun in our workplace and with our clients. There are times to be serious and focused and there are also opportunities to enjoy the moment and each other’s company, and we try to do that whenever it is appropriate.

We’re not your average communications agency, which means we’re not for everyone. Our brand promise is that for our clients – for the people and organizations where we are a fit – we’re a part of their team. Their success is as important to us as our success. It matters to us and we’re going to act and respond that way – during successes and challenges.

What’s your brand promise and how do you deliver on it?

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800px-Carnival_SplendorThere is a direct link between generating results for your organization – whatever that means to you (sales, engagement, response, behaviour change, perception change etc.) – and living your brand promise.

I had an interesting experience over the weekend that so clearly showed the importance of customer service and how it supports PR and the brand promise, that I want to tell you about it. We are cruisers. While we might not meet the stereotype of a cruiser, we have taken quite a few cruises – in the Mediterranean, to Mexico, in the Caribbean.

Now, it’s pretty clear that the cruise industry has been challenged over recent years – the Costa Concordia tragedy, several ships having issues out at sea, dealing with norovirus, and other serious challenges. The industry is in desperate need of some good PR. Even as I wrote this blog post, there was more negative news coverage of the cruise industry.

This past weekend, I got a call from Chris, our “personal cruise consultant” from Carnival Cruise Lines – a cruise line we have sailed with in the past (the last time was probably five years ago). It was at the end of the day on Friday and I was a little bored, so I took the call. Chris was knowledgeable, engaging and professional and he came across as a nice guy who authentically wanted to help us find a cruise vacation that we would enjoy – at a good price. And his enthusiasm was contagious. I ended up talking to him for 15 minutes or so and he gave me some good options for a Caribbean cruise. We had no plans for any cruise at this point, but he engaged me – and he had some great promotional offers for us as past cruisers. By the time I hung up the phone, I was thinking about taking one of the cruises he had offered.

On the flip side of that, we have also cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines and several other cruise lines (some five star, some budget, some in the middle). We book ships based on the ports they visit – so we have hopped around a bit between cruise lines.

I am planning a bucket list trip of the British Isles and likely Ireland and Scotland, for my dad and his wife. Once cruising was in my mind, I wondered if maybe Norwegian had some love for me, so I called them. In trying to find the right person to speak to, I was put on hold for 45 minutes. (I have to say, the first person who took the call was very good and tried to help.) I finally gave up. An hour later, I got a call from someone at Norwegian who said they had seen that I was on their website and they asked what could they do to help get me on that cruise I was looking at. They didn’t mention that I had called and had been put into “on hold hell” – with Norwegian audio ads cycling over and over – just that I was on their website. I explained my issue and the person did the surface “I am so sorry for your inconvenience” but they still couldn’t help me access whether I would qualify for the specific promotions I was asking about. It was not their department.

By now, we had received an e-mail from Chris at Carnival outlining what we would receive through the promotion, a link to the ship’s layout and some additional information on the cruise. A nice touch, especially on a cold, gloomy winter day in January when the thought of sun, surf and sand was quite appealing. It tipped us into deciding to take the Carnival cruise.

We booked with Carnival and it was because of the exceptional customer service and follow up by Chris. I know he is there to sell me a cruise, but he made it fun and easy and he hit all of the right notes with me (five amazing ports in a seven-day cruise). It helped that he had some nice promotions to offer. Good for Carnival for giving him the tools he needs to do his job well. I now have a sense of loyalty to him – and Carnival – because he made me feel like we were important past guests and he wanted to do whatever he could to bring us back to the Carnival family.

As for Norwegian, I called them again on Monday because I wanted to know how long it would really take to get someone to talk to me about the British Isles cruise (Carnival doesn’t have a British Isles itinerary). I finally got to the right person at the promotions desk and they told me that since it had been 18 months since I had taken a cruise with them, I was not eligible for any of the specific promotions I was asking about. My slate, so to speak, had been wiped clean. Interesting – it had been much longer than 18 months since I had been on a Carnival cruise, but they wanted me back and were offering some pretty sweet incentives to interest me in returning!

I thanked the person and hung up the phone a little surprised and disappointed. Clearly, Norwegian isn’t trying to woo me back as a past cruiser. Then – two hours later, I got a call AGAIN from another Norwegian “personal cruise representative” trying to get me on a cruise! I explained that I had already talked to someone and I got the “I am so sorry ma’am” talk and then the “that’s a different department” excuse. Not once did Chris from Carnival try to put me off to another department – so good on Carnival for giving their team the ability to be what I need from a cruise specialist. On Tuesday, Norwegian called again – another different “personal cruise representative” wanted to talk to me about my cruise interests. Obviously, no one at Norwegian puts any notes on a person’s file so that they will know who has called or what the feedback has been.

Carnival will need to keep up with delivering on their brand promise on the cruise – and I am interested to see what they will do in this area. However, I can say that in my experience this weekend with my interaction with Carnival, they walked the talk. All of the advertising, marketing or PR in the world won’t work unless the person who your customer, client or stakeholder connects with delivers on your brand promise. Every interaction – from what the president of the organization does when he or she is in line for their daily coffee, to how the customer feels they are being treated through the sales process, to the actual experience you have with what you have purchased or contracted for, has to reflect the brand promise. Chris from Carnival completely delivered on their brand promise – he made it fun, he made it easy, and by living the brand promise, he got us to book a cruise that wasn’t even in our minds before he called. He got results. He re-engaged us with the Carnival brand and he earned my loyalty.

I am now telling people that I think Carnival gets it right – without having been on a ship in about five years; I have re-engaged with their brand and have become an ambassador for them. In fact, I have put it out to several of my friends that they should come on this cruise with us. It’s that straightforward – if your employees bring your brand promise to life with each interaction with a customer or client, you get results.

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It isn’t often that I get to write a post like this – one that celebrates an organization that authentically lives its brand and keeps its brand promise. However – I just had (yet another) excellent experience with WestJet and I think they deserve to be acknowledged for this experience and for consistently behaving in an authentic, respectable and customer-focused manner.

I recently flew my father and his wife into Vancouver for a visit. My dad had a bad fall last year, shattering his femur, and he is still recovering from that. He still has some mobility issues, so when I booked his flights, I requested a wheelchair.

Well, I have to say, WestJet treated my dad and his wife like royalty. They were treated with respect and they were well taken care of – and not on WestJet’s schedule, on their schedule. They got to the airport early and because of a bad snow storm in Ontario, their flight was delayed – they were taken to a restaurant and were told to take their time; the person who was chauffeuring them around the Toronto airport in one of the carts would come back when they were done and take them to the gate.

On the return flight, it was the same approach – completely customer service focused. Everyone from the person at the ticketing counter to the person loading the plane to the flight attendants to the person who helped them get their luggage treated them with respect and went out of their way to help them.

Every airline has planes that get delayed or issues that happen, and WestJet is no different. But I have to say, as a traveller and a customer, even when stuff happens, I have found WestJet to be responsive, to be accountable and to focus on what they can do to make me, as the customer, feel better about the experience.

When given the option, I choose to travel WestJet. I am loyal to this airline because I feel that the people who work there actually care about me as a customer. That means something in this day and age, and the result is customer loyalty.

Now, I happen to be a PR professional. So I am always looking at customer service, how the staff communicates the brand promise and what that means for public relations and building trust and loyalty with their target market. WestJet does it right and everyone in that organization deserves to be congratulated. I have said time and time again that you can create a great brand and develop a fabulous brand promise, but if the people who work there don’t bring that brand promise to life every day, then you are going to have an issue. WestJet isn’t going to have that issue – because they live their brand authentically and they have engaged and inspired the people who work there with their brand promise. Not an easy thing to do, but so valuable.

Thanks WestJet – not only are you our favourite Canadian airline, you are also a great example of an excellent brand being brought to life one person at a time.

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