Why did people care when Blue Bell removed their products from grocery store shelves? It’s just ice cream. Why do people camp out overnight waiting for a new Chick-fil-A store to open? It’s just a fast food restaurant. Why do people loathe Spirit Airlines and love Southwest? They’re just airlines.
The answer to all three questions is simple. Blue Bell, Chick-fil-A, and Southwest have invested in more than what it is they sell. They’ve invested in a relationship with the people they sell it to. And that investment manifests itself in a strong, emotional bond between the brand and its advocates – helping it withstand, as is the case with Blue Bell, negative occurrences that weaker brands may not survive.
A Brand Is A Promise
Of all the things a company owns, nothing is as important as its brand. Nothing’s as valuable. Nothing’s as enduring. Founders die. Factories burn down. Stores get outdated. Technology becomes obsolete. Patents expire. Copyrights go into the public domain. But a brand can survive all that. Because a brand is a promise.
It is a promise that is publicly conveyed to customers by everything they can observe: the brand name and logo, advertising, the way they are treated by representatives of the brand, signage, storefront, billing statements, displays, shopping environment, catalogs, news articles, the Internet, social media, and even other customers. A brand’s promise encompasses all the thoughts and feelings and associations and expectations that a person experiences when exposed to a brand. Consequently, every brand is either strengthened or weakened every time a customer comes in contact with it.
Marketing Doesn’t Own The Brand
In addition to not keeping its promise, the best way to guarantee that a brand won’t endure over time is to believe that the brand begins and ends with marketing. How the brand is marketed is the responsibility of marketing, but how the brand promise lives within the company is the responsibility of the CEO and every single employee who works there.
The brand promise for The Salvation Army is to do the most good. That’s a promise they make to each other, a promise they make to their beneficiaries, and a promise they make to their donors. And every officer in every corps in every division in every territory strives to deliver on that promise every day. The commitment to The Salvation Army brand, from all quarters, has made them the most respected charity in America –a strong, emotional bond because of a promise kept.
The Home Depot is a brand for doers. For years, the marketing messages were summed up with You Can Do It. We Can Help. More recently, it’s been More Saving. More Doing. But the marketing campaign isn’t how you know that The Home Depot is about rolling up the shirtsleeves, getting a little dirt under the fingernails, or paint in the hair. You know it because every Saturday in every store there’s a workshop about how to tile or how to replace a toilet or how to hang a ceiling fan. In other words, how to get something done. And you know it because following natural disasters, employees are out in the neighborhoods in their orange aprons as volunteers doing whatever it takes to help homeowners get the hard work done.
Strong, powerful brands have an emotional connection with those who choose to do business with them, yes. But strong, powerful brands have an equally emotional connection with those who choose to work for them.
Strong Brands Tell Stories
Enduring brands recognize that facts don’t travel, stories do. Nordstrom’s legendary customer service isn’t legendary because of the facts around how many returns they accept per year or how many dresses they sell, it’s legendary because of the stories told – the customer who returned a tire to Nordstrom and, even though they don’t sell tires, they took it back and refunded her money; the customer who had her heart set on a dress that Nordstrom didn’t sell but the employee ran down the street to another retailer who did, bought the dress, and delivered it to the customer.
In a recent Super Bowl commercial, Ram Trucks didn’t talk about the truck’s pay load capacity or the size of the truck’s engine, they talked about farmers. They told a story about the hard working men, women, and families who make their living seeding, growing, hauling, harvesting, and giving back to their communities. Ram’s brand promise is to be reliable, strong, and durable and to support those who work an honest day. Every engineer knows it, every corporate executive knows it, and every driver who owns a Ram truck knows it.
Which takes it back to Blue Bell, Chick-fil-A, and Southwest Airlines. Blue Bell is more than just ice cream. Chick-fil-A is more than just fast food restaurant. Southwest is more than just an airline. They are strong, powerful brands who have made the investment they need to endure over time.
Diane Fannon is a Principal of Brand Management at The Richards Group, combining her passion for outstanding creative with her addiction to strategic analysis. In 2010, Diane was named one of the most influential women in business in Dallas-Fort Worth.
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