Buyers, however, pay attention to what you do. They listen to your salespeople, and they read your sales materials, but they also ask other buyers about their experiences, and read articles about your company's product and services. Buyers avoid companies that say one thing and do another. The bigger the gap between what you promise to do, and what you actually do, the more buyers will go out of their way to avoid your company.
The Way Branding Really Works:
Your behavior determines
the customer's experience.
The customer's experience
determines your brand.
Companies that break their promises lose money. If you're not keeping your promises to your buyers, no amount of promotion will plug the revenue drain.
In addition to your company's stated promises, there are also implied promises that you must keep, just because you're part of an industry. People who buy boats expect them to float. People who buy food expect it to be clean and safe to eat. People who use banks expect their money to be closely guarded. People who buy computers expect them to be able to run the latest software, work with the latest hardware, and to be compatible with their existing data.
As a member of an industry, you must, at a minimum, keep these implied promises. But to distinguish yourself from others in your industry, you must also deliver more than the basics. What you choose to do will form the foundation upon which your company's unique promise is built.
You keep your promise with the five resources at your disposal: your people, products, principles, policies, and processes.
All businesses--large and small--are comprised of these five resources. Your interviews will reveal which of these five resources are sources of your company's strength, and which of them are weak.
You should promote your strengths publicly while aggressively strengthening your weak areas. As you eliminate a weakness, converting it from a negative to a positive, you can promote that new positive attribute.
Let's look at these five resources--people, products, principles, policies, and processes--individually.
Promise-Keeping Resource #1:
Most companies have sufficiently talented people. We have never walked into a company and thought, "Man, these people are all stupid!" Instead, we usually find smart people who are under-utilized, under-appreciated, and unmotivated.
The most impressive companies are those whose employees understand that their mission is to help buyers, and whose managers make it easy for employees to do their best. You see this attitude at Southwest Airlines, FedEx, Amazon.com, Lands' End, and other leading companies focused on customer service. Every interaction is as pleasant and convenient as the company can make it, and every employee does his or her part with unusual enthusiasm. If you are the kind of leader who truly wants to help others, and can inspire your employees to join you, your "people" resource can easily be one of your key differentiators.
You won't want to make a people-oriented promise unless you are positive that you can keep it. Southwest Airlines is a great example of a company that keeps its people-oriented promise. On the other hand, United Airlines shows us a negative example in the same industry. Their promise was that when you flew United, you would be flying "the friendly skies."
But many who flew United quickly discovered that, in reality, the skies were anything but friendly. We have often been "greeted" and "serviced" by snarly counter reps and rude flight stewards. Flights have been cancelled only after it was too late to catch a competing flight. We have stood in line for two hours waiting for someone to tell us that they weren't going to help us, even if it meant we were stuck in the city for the night.
No wonder United Airlines is having financial problems. The difference between the "friendly" promise and the "hostile" reality was just too great. Now United is trying to change this perception with a new division called "Ted" (as in, "Fly with Ted"). We'll see how unstuffy Ted turns out to be.
If you do decide that your people are your best asset for satisfying Buyer Desire--and the resource you want to promote--make sure that the promise depends upon a system, not a single person. When the president of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, selected Colleen Barrett and James Parker to succeed him, the Southwest employee system was firmly in place.
Southwest is the only major airline to be profitable for 28 consecutive years. Part of the reason for this is the employees of Southwest know their leaders care about them. Bill Adair, writing in the St. Petersburg Times (“Unconventional Success in the Air,” by Bill Adair, St. Petersburg Times, October 16, 1995), paints the picture:
Eastern Airlines employees used to say that Frank Lorenzo was evil. US Air workers have complained that chairman Seth Schofield has lost touch with them. But visit T-point at Dallas Love Field--the transfer point where Southwest bags are sorted--and you'll hear nothing but kind words for Kelleher. He earns [their] respect by working side-by-side with his employees. He sorts bags every year on 'Black Wednesday,' the hectic day before Thanksgiving. And he will show up at 4 a.m. in the mechanics' lounge with donuts.
Herb's successors have maintained the caring community system. Here are portions of a letter Colleen wrote in Spirit, the airline's publication, in August 2002, almost a year after September 11, 2001:
After writing about so many serious topics the past year, I hope that you will indulge me while I write about something happy and frivolous. Actually, I think we all could deal with a little frivolity right now, and I hope and pray that current events won't make this column seem out of place after it is written.
If you happen to be flying with us on October 31, you just might see our ticket counters, gates, and airplane cabins transformed into Halloween playhouses, filled with lookalikes of Austin Powers, politicians, and heaven knows who else. Halloween has been a tradition at Southwest Airlines for as long as I can remember, and it symbolizes the zany nature of our 35,000-plus Employees. You know, we have often said that it is relatively easy for all of those "wanna be" Southwest "clones" to copy our operating formula and our conservative fiscal policies, but it's impossible to copy our People. After spending a Halloween with us, you will know why that statement is so true!
Don't get me wrong, we work extremely hard, and that devotion to duty has been nothing but awe-inspiring during these difficult times. But we also believe that work can be so much more rewarding if it can also be fun, and our Halloween antics are a prime example of that. Whenever I see a group of our Employees "on stage," I never cease to be amazed at their inherent talent and creativity, and during Halloween, these abilities are displayed in droves. Having said that, some of you may be wondering why this is important to good Customer Service.
The answer lies in the fact that we hire Employees who like to "color outside the lines," and creativity plays a huge role in that process. By encouraging these traits, we create a climate that attempts to allow Employees to be creative (and even fun!) with their Customer Service delivery. Just as we strive to offer you the Freedom to Fly, we offer our Employees the Freedom to Have Fun.
However, I hope you know enough about our Culture by now that I don't need to justify our Halloween antics with layers of "business school-type" reasoning-we simply like to have fun and to share that fun with our Customers. More than 31 years ago when we began service, we made a conscious attempt to get away from the stodginess of much of Corporate America, and we still feel that way today. So don't be surprised if Count Dracula or Dr. Evil welcomes you onboard this month; relax, it's just some of those crazies at Southwest Airlines. Happy Halloween!
President and Chief Operating Officer
Promise-Keeping Resource #2:
Products play a surprisingly small role in satisfying Buyer Desire. Those who create products, however, assume just the opposite.
Of course, you need to create a solid, competitive product, one that will work as promised. We’re not suggesting otherwise. But you would be surprised how much other factors drive market acceptance.
For example, the reason that Windows is the leading operating system for PCs is not because it’s a superior operating system. Far from it. Because it was installed on every PC shipped, it was the operating system that most business computers were using when companies started linking their PCs together into networks.
Once people started passing files around to each other, Bill Gates was bound to become the world’s richest man, and competitors were shut out of the game. His company’s operating system—and application programs—became the easiest way to exchange files.
Talk about revenue momentum. If your customer used Microsoft Word, and you wanted to send them a file, you had to use Microsoft Word. End of story.
Another factor influencing product acceptance is ease of use. Some of the most sophisticated products are outsold by more “accessible” competitors.
AOL became the dominant Internet Service Provider because AOL made it so easy to sign up and use the service. They were sending out “plug and play” diskettes when other Internet Service Providers were still asking prospects difficult questions, such as, “What’s your PPP and SLIP number? We’ll need that before we can sign you up.”
Contrary to popular myth, it is not the first company in the marketplace that ends up with the largest market share. It is usually the company that makes its product most accessible--the easiest to find, understand, purchase, and use.
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