Are you measuring the right things, and are you measuring them in the right way? Professor Nader Tavassoli reveals a more sophisticated approach to measuring brand-related performance
How closely do CMOs and CFOs work together in today’s global, digital and ever-changing environment? According to recent research, more closely than you think. In a global EY survey, nearly two-thirds (63%) of CFOs polled said their involvement with marketing had increased in the past three years. This is true in particular when it comes to returns on brand investment, or brand equity. I would argue, however, that their involvement is entirely impoverished. To quantify brand equity – and what drives it – the right metrics have to be in place, and before that, the entire organisation has to align. This requires:
Measuring things right – today, brand differentiation is increasingly about the delivered brand experience rather than just the brand promise communicated through advertising and sales
Measuring the right things – entirely overlooked is brand engagement amongst employees – those who actually deliver on the brand promise. Not only do your people provide a leading indicator of external brand health, but they are a significant source of returns to brand via lower pay and productivity gains
Aligning the 3Bs of business, brand and behaviour – improving on these metrics by changing peoples’ behaviours requires marketing to work in unison with human resources (HR) and operations; new territory for many organisations!
One of the greatest short-comings of marketing programmes today is their obsession with the purchasing funnel, one that is often mistaken for “the customer journey.” Here key metrics track brand awareness, consideration, purchasing and loyalty. This is what firms want from their customers; but it is not the actual journey their customers traverse. What the customer journey is, in reality, is a meandering across many brand touch-points that cut across often siloed business functions; where key interactions represent moments-that-matter. It is these moments-that-matter that provide an opportunity to provide signature brand experiences. And it the collection of these many experiences that builds the brand image over time by leaving lasting impressions.
Consider answering “how was your business trip”. This experience is itself made up of many smaller, more tangible ones. It might include purchasing the ticket, getting to the airport, checking in, in-flight experiences, disembarking and getting to where you want to get to. It is the impressions these experiences make that combine to create the brand image. And they don’t simply add up. A single bad experience can negate many positive ones.
For example, being charged an exorbitant fee for Wifi access – something several so called “leading hotels” still do despite Starbucks having abandoned this practice in 2008 – can outweigh even the most attentive concierge service. It is therefore not enough to track the average quality of customer interactions at each separate touch-point. Firms need to holistically measure satisfaction across the whole journey, in order to get a clearer picture of the brand’s health. And it is not just whether an experience is good or bad in a generic sense, but whether it differentiates the brand in a more meaningful way.
Customer journeys contain a plethora of seemingly mundane experiences that firms can turn into meaningful on-brand gestures – an entirely different way of thinking about brand communications. Take Singapore airlines, where you will find your seatbelt in a particular way when you return from the bathroom. This demonstrates service in a memorable way. And have you ever noticed how employees at FedEx seem to rush about? Could this be to highlight the brand promise of speed? Or consider Amazon whose brand is built on customer trust, especially when it comes to obtaining good value. When you purchase and item that is discounted before delivery, you might just get an email explaining that you are receiving a refund. Some of these refunds are tiny, say 24 pence, but they nevertheless have a powerful effect, far larger than the loss of revenue Amazon incurs or what an ad could buy.
Customers buy actual experiences and not brand promises, at least not indefinitely. And these experiences are directly or indirectly provided by people. People can positively differentiate a brand and deepen the customer relationship, miss the opportunity to do so, or undermine it. And this source of experience-based differentiation is increasingly important in a world of functional product-service parity.
Differentiating brands in this way requires bridging the brand design-delivery gap by embedding the brand into daily employee behaviours. And, for this, HR and not marketing is in the driver’s seat with a tool set of processes spanning the employee journey from hiring, landing, developing, rewarding, and exiting. Think of your own HR processes. Are these on brand or do you recognise a design-delivery gap with a Cartesian-like separation of mind and body, between brand thinking and brand doing?
Indeed, brand thinking is in desperate need of catching up with this reality across sectors. This is also true in business education. The history of and writing on branding has come mainly from consumer product markets, with scant attention given to B2B or service industries, where face-to-face interactions are more obvious brand touch-points. This has led to an exaggerated focus on the 4Ps – product, price, place and promotion – at the expense of the ‘P’ that stands for people. The new 4Ps of branding – people, people, people, and people – require coordinating an internal brand engagement process across company silos, one that recognizes that an external brand positioning ultimately lives and dies by the actions of people, actions that are shaped by and reflected in organizational culture.
In order to track the delivery of the brand experience, organisations need to measure brand engagement with the people who design and deliver each moment-that-matters. Not just employee engagement in the generic sense, but with the brand values, particular. Do your people understand the brand promise? Do they believe in it? Are they motivated by it? Do they know how to provide signature brand behaviours? And do they feel supported and empowered to do so? For example, do your people feel that the right on-brand behaviours – rather than the wrong off-brand behaviours – are recognised and rewarded? It is these types of internal brand engagement measures that provide insight into where brand-improvement efforts need to be allocated. Internal brand engagement is also a leading indicator of external customer-based brand engagement. Unfortunately, most organisations track employee engagement only once a year, if at all, and they do so in an entirely generic way without any consideration to the brand.
Now coming back to our CFO – who might find this focus on soft brand engagement metrics a tad bit fluffy – consider the hard returns that brand engagement can buy. Traditionally, brand returns have only considered customer-based brand equity, typically in terms of the top line. Will more people buy more for more? This is only half the story, however. It is the bottom-line that counts, and a major chunk of this tends to be related to HR costs. Brands with a high standing externally not only give companies a leg up in the perennial war for talent, they can also attract the right kind of people that provide a better fit – especially when HR hires on brand. These people more naturally provide an authentic brand experience, and they tend to be more motivated based on their brand engagement. This increases productivity and thereby lowers costs.
But the real kicker is the fact that when the 3Bs are aligned the resulting brand strength not only translates into revenue gains with customers, but also in significant cost gains with employees. My research shows that strong brands attract better people for less. And I have researched this with my colleagues from front-line and even hourly workers all the way to executives and even CEOs. Depending on your cost structure, the resulting employee-based brand equity can be as or even more significant than customer-based brand equity.
So let’s return to those ROI discussions between the marketer and CFO. If we are not considering a significant source of return, are we actually making the appropriate level of investment? And without considering the brand experience are we deploying the brand investments in the right way? My contention is not, in both cases, and measuring the right things in the right way will help rectify the situation and provide a solid basis for aligning the 3Bs of business, brand and behaviour.
To find out more and give your own brand a workout, as well as guest videos from leading branding professionals,join Professor Tavassoli’s MOOC, Brand management – aligning business, brand and behaviour.