You cannot control your brand

A company, like an individual, can only control its intention, its action, and its reaction.

If you think about it, intention, action, and reaction are only about 1/4 of a brand’s value. The customer controls the remaining 3/4 of the brand’s value based on their perceptions of how the company delivers, whether it be product quality, service and fit the customer’s needs, values and expectations.

Company’s influence their brand value through interactions. Customer’s control brand value.

If you got up this morning believing your company is in control of its brand, your year is already off to a rocky start.

The good news is it’s only January 3. You still have a few days to make changes.

Will you make them?

Trust is still the currency

As Web 2.0 and social networking technologies gain a greater foothold in our culture, I often hear founder Reid Hoffman's quote, "Privacy is an old man's concern," tossed about. There is some truth to that, I suppose. Although I suspect the real issue is "trust" and not "privacy.” Trust is certainly not an "old man's concern."

Baby Boomers and Generation X'ers view the growing requirements of Web 2.0 for personal and private information with a wary eye. We are the children who came of age in a time that knew Vietnam, the concept of the Cold War, and Watergate firsthand. We are often skeptical and don't easily trust the "establishment," whether it be the government, the corporations or hidden faces behind the wall of the Internet. To us, relationships are built one-on-one and face-to-face, and privacy is something protected until the deepest stages of the relationship.

The Millennial Generation, the generation fueling the development of Web 2.0, are children of technology. They have grown up with computers and technology, and their distrusting and skeptical parents (see above) were increasingly protective of them in their formative years. This generation's social life was controlled by their parent’s ability (or inability) to take them where they could engage others (play dates, dance classes, baseball games, etc.) They saw little-unstructured playtime in the neighborhood with their friends, and their primary means of social interaction was (and is) online. Their online relationships are real and intimate because they are an extension of their daily interaction with their friends. To this generation, privacy is not something to be concerned about; it is simply the price paid for building trust.

Although the perceptions, behaviors, interactions are somewhat different between the generations, the act of sharing information and building relationships (face-to-face or online) is tied to one single factor: Trust. Trust is what makes the relationships work. Trust is the only thing that can make or break that relationship. It does not matter if it's a personal, friendly relationship, or one build on expectations of your company or your brand.

Companies violate our trust daily; and, we keep going back for more. Well, at least those of us who were skeptical and distrustful in the first place are returning. Our expectations were low at the outset, so we largely tolerate the violations of our trust. That's about to change, though. The Millennial Generation has higher expectations of our companies and our brands. Violate their trust, and we are history. We will not get a second chance.

Trust is still the currency for business success. It does not matter how much private information is shared and kept by the company; it is what is done with the information to build trust that is important. As our culture continues to evolve, maintaining the trust is going to be a lot harder than earning it in the first place.

Are you prepared for that?


Image Source: Trust, by Eric Golub. Used under Creative Commons License.

Are you making promises you can’t keep?

I’m sure you’ve all read the news about the few bad apples at one leading consulting firm who have cost the jobs and pensions hundreds, if not thousands of people. Both the consulting firm
and its client have lost large numbers of customers, again, because of the actions of these few individuals.

To read some the press reports, we apparently should be surprised by the customer defections, but losing those customers isn’t unexpected is it? After all, a relationship with a customer is based on trust-trust that’s built on a series of promises that a company has kept. Break a big promise and you’re immediately history. Not unlike our consultant friends above, whose primary promise was to assure shareholders that their client was financially sound.

On the other hand, breaking a small promise usually doesn’t result in the immediate termination of a customer relationship. Rather, it takes breaking several small promises to erode the relationship to the point of no return. Why would anyone want to do business with a company that doesn’t keep it’s promises? As the television character Gomer Pyle says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

All it takes is a “wrong” word or inconsiderate action by one individual to start the ball rolling. How many customers have you lost due to broken promises brought upon by the actions of one or two individuals? Do you know? I would suggest you will not know if you’re breaking the small promises. These customers aren’t going to complain, they’re just going to gradually slip away to your competitors. You’ll never know what promises you’ve broken or how often you’ve broken them, so repairing the relationship will be difficult, if not impossible.

Fortunately,fixing this mess will be easier for you and your company than it will be those firms we mentioned earlier in this article. But, before we talk about how to “make things right”, let’s look at some of the biggest causes of broken promises:

  • External messages. What literal promises are you making in your advertising, marketing or customer service messages? Are you promising 24/7 service, or satisfaction guaranteed? Maybe your promises are more subjective, like one insurance company’s “Like a good neighbor…” tagline. Are you fulfilling these promises? Can you fulfill these promises?Next, look at how your messages can be perceived by your target audiences or the public at large. Can an implied promise be read into your message that would lead someone to believe that you’re not keeping your promises? This can be especially true if your promise results from the ambiguity of a great tagline that is so subjective there’s little chance you’ll be able to fulfill everyone’s expectations.
  • Actions of staff. More often than not, the reason for broken promises has more to do with the actions of people, rather than the message presented. In the case of the previously mentioned insurance company’s “good neighbor” tagline, it’s the subjective interpretation of “good neighbor” by the agent and the claims staff that play a large role in determining if the promise is kept…or not.Remember, neither messages nor taglines-implied nor literal-break promises. People break promises. Make sure your staff understands how their actions affect the fulfillment of your company’s promises.
  • Misunderstanding customer NVEs. As always, understanding the Needs, Values and Expectations (NVEs) of your prospects and customers is very important. In this case, however, values and expectations are paramount. A business is not built solely on the products and services that it sells to meet the tangible needs of customers. It is perhaps more important that the company demonstrates value (and values) and delivers on expectations with each and every action.

Successful businesses deliver on promises each and every day and have the loyal customers to prove it. Those who break promises regularly-intentional or not-may find themselves waging a constant battle for new customers. It’s easy to know which of these businesses you’d rather be, the more important question is which business you are now.