Predicting brand resilience is no simple thing. When Qantas decided recently to ground its fleet worldwide, at zero notice, it was obviously fully aware of the potential brand damage. Qantas made the decision as the lesser of evils in the unfolding and unrelenting contest between the unions and management. What followed next wasn't quite so predictable as Qantas flew straight into a Twitter debacle which topped the 2011 PR Disaster List and many pundits predicted that the brand had suffered irreparable damage.
At that time, by deploying our social business intelligence, we found that the brand sentiment wasn't in good shape - by one measure the sentiment surrounding "Qantas" stood at 50% negative (16% positive and 34% neutral, measured over 7 days across all news, blogs and social media services worldwide). But surprisingly the brand hasn't seemed to have suffered lasting damage, at least not yet in financial terms nor passenger-share terms, although damage was estimated to their brand value. All-in-all it demonstrates how complicated brand resilience is to dissect and also it highlights how brands have to take a holistic approach to their social presence and reputation as part of their business strategy.
Social media can play a crucial role in brand resilience (although ironically in the Qantas case it hasn't). To know how we need to set up a model of brand resilience, and here is one (below) which is no doubt not perfect, but adequate. If you think of "customer experience strategy" then you think of a coherent blend of brand positioning, marketing, customer experience and employee experience. These also all reflect on brand resilience, but brand resilience is more because it it effected by non-customer actions e.g. blunders by company's social media or PR people.
The Brand Resilience Model
Brand Resilience is a lagging function of:
- Brand Promise;
- Brand Experience;
- Brand Friction; and,
- Brand Stock.
Brand Promise is that which satisfies an individual's expectations when delivered. It closes the gap between "who and what brands say they are" and "what and how they delivered" - it's about satisfying the customer experience.
We usually think about it as "what pops into your head when I say Brand X?. For example, "Jetstar" = "cheap fares". Sticking with airlines, take Porter Airlines from Canada, they say "flying refined" is their brand promise - that's a challenge which they've largely met although some reviews are mixed.
When I think of Qantas I can't actually think of their Promise - but perhaps that's just me. I'm aware of some key brand attributes e.g. safety, and "Spirit of Australia", which have proven remarkably resilient despite, in my opinion, having no real connection with their extant brand values (not meaning their "brand value"). Qantas did run a marketing campaign with the theme "Qantas makes business travel a breeze". This used to pop into my head those endless times when arriving in Melbourne on the last nightly Qantas flight from Sydney and sitting there cooped up in the cabin waiting for 15 minutes while they tried to find ground staff to come to meet the aircraft to open the front door! Brand Promise - #FAIL - yet another piece of marketing "creativity" which was detached from operational reality.
Traditionally, we think of the Promise being driven by marketing and advertising - "them" telling us what it will be. But perhaps counter-intuitively, given the amount of money spend on advertising, on launching a brand, or on "re-branding" exercises, brands can build their promise purely through the Brand Experience without spending money on promoting the promise per se. I say "per se" because a company may spend resources on promoting the Promise by relaying or amplifying positive customer feedback which reflects the Promise.
The customer experience alone, without advertising or PR, or even without an explicit Promise, can in fact create an Promise by reputation, by word of mouth and referral. This is especially so with respect to companies which pursue the "Breadth" part of Brand Experience (see below) through a social business strategy.
Brand Experience - Depth and Breadth
A marketing & advertising-led Promise is only PR until it is "operationalised" - which is the Brand Experience. The Promise creates expectations of future value delivery, whereas the Experience is realised value.
Brand Experience, is what some say IS the brand, that is, regardless of the Promise the reality of how the brand is experienced IS the brand. In which case customer experience deserves a lot of attention, and I think a new kind of framework. It's mostly described in operational terms as transactional touchpoints. For example that includes buying an airline ticket online, checking in at the airport, picking up luggage, or getting a refund. It's also becoming more and more challenging with the advent of major outsourcing of many "low value add" operations across many industries. In fact some companies have re-insourced what they previously outsourced in order to regain control of aspects of the Brand Experience.
Where the Brand Experience fails the Brand Promise, or adversely reflects on the Brand or Brand Promise, we usually say that the organisation lacks Brand Depth. Brand Depth represents the collective operational touch-points of the Experience. For example, we fly on a cut-price - cheap - airline, we accept the rather chaotic boarding process, we accept the lack of knowledge of the cabin crew because they make up for it with youthful enthusiasm, and we accept the wait for our luggage - because we value we are seeking is cheap fares - Promise delivered!
However, when your wait for your baggage turns into lost baggage, and when you finally find someone to ask and they give you a number to call, and the call centre doesn't really know what's going on and cannot make even vague promises, you begin to hate the fact that you choose price over service. The Promise remains true, but the collateral damage caused by a lack of Brand Depth negatively effects Brand Resilience.
Brand Breadth is a new idea which encompasses all the non-operational touch-points, and especially social media. This concept of Breadth is crucially important today for brands, because it has a significant impact on Brand Resilience.
In fact Brand Breadth, in today's world, will build stronger Resilience than Depth, even though Depth is the core delivery engagement with the customers. This is because the operational experience, the Depth, can be very much commoditised - cheap airline versus cheap airline - whereas the customer relationship can be greatly enhanced through the Breadth, thus significantly adding to Resilience.
Having an investment in Brand Breadth provides a potential platform for not only product and service improvement, value creation, and brand extension, but it is an underlying asset to be used in times of crisis and operational difficulties as we'll discuss in Parts 3 and 4.
Brand Experience - Depth and Breadth - contributes to both Brand Resilience and Brand Friction. And in fact Depth informs further orthogonal reinforcement of Resilience and Friction via the mechanism of Brand Breadth. In other words, a good or bad customer experience in Depth can be amplified or mitigated by behaviours and actions in Breadth - which in turn influences brand loyalty.
But here's an important point. Brands that systemically or repeatably fail in the Depth aspect of Brand Experience almost certainly lack the capability to recover those failings through their actions in Brand Breadth. Why? Because the systemic failings are likely a symptom of a lack of staff clarity and training about the brand identity and brand promise, and also of a potential lack of alignment between what management say they want and what they do e.g. focusing on "cost efficiency and effectiveness" at the expense of brand values on the front line.
Illustration: The brand promise of Southwest Airlines is "Dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit". Every single employee of the company is aligned with this brand promise, and SWA is renown for a staff morale is exceptionally high. As a result they deliver strong Brand Depth and they have a firm basis for a social strategy expanding their Brand Breadth, and every likelihood of it succeeding. Most other airlines do not have this foundation.
The bottom line? Building a social strategy to expand Brand Breadth is no panacea for an organisation which is dysfunctional in delivering Brand Depth.
It's commonly observed that even after repeated bad experiences - a broken Promise, or lack of Brand Depth - that some customers are stickier than others. It can also depend on the industry. This is Brand Friction.
Brand Friction is best illustrated by the airline Frequent Flyer programs - a marketing masterstroke by American Airlines in 1981, universally copied, to make customers think twice before switching airlines. Loyalty Cards are there for the same purpose, although oddly enough many offer precious little value to the consumer and simply act to collect enormously valuable data for the retailer - yet people willingly use them e.g. Woolworths Everyday Rewards.
For airlines, the customer contact details harvested through their frequent flyer programs have created multi-billion dollar assets in their own right, which some have sold off to finance their airline operations. That's also interesting - these airlines have taken all our personal information and sold it to a 3rd party, and we have no voice and no consent needed, and no additional value accrues to "members", and all this while there is dispute about who actually "owns" those frequent flyer miles.
Anyway the point is that we are all very familiar with schemes to lock-in customers "loyalty". And the key point is that although companies often have extensive personal data about individuals in these lock-in-schemes they almost universally do little with it except direct mailing, dunning and applying marketing techniques from the Soviet era.
In order to execute Brand Breadth, in a social strategy, the customer base beholden to Brand Friction is a very particular asset. It needs to be analysed, segmented, understood and then plans put in place for different scenarios with respect to different forms of communication and relationship building. ONLY in that way will it add constructively to Brand Resilience, rather than in the simple traditional way of "GOTCHA" so what do we care?
Of course locking people in does have advantages - it means you can operate the organisation in brain-dead mode. But eventually, even for the most locked-in customers, that will run our of steam, and it will be almost invisible until it happens and then things can happen quickly. It's a run-away bus. What will help give a clue as to how far locked-in customers and loyal customers can be pushed is Brand Stock.
Brand Stock is simply a reflection of accumulated and reflected goodwill. There are many potential measures or combinations of measures, and with social business intelligence we can add some more - perhaps more complete and more timely. It's not just about what your customers think, but about what potential customers think. "Reputation" could be a component of Brand Stock, as might comments and opinions by 3rd parties with "reputation". It's an inexact science but what's important is the trend over time, and Brand Stock guides actions which might impact on Brand Resilience.
If you're wondering how this concept of Brand Stock relates to say Interbrand's brand value then consider their role essentially the same. The underlying differences is only in the timing - they measure the same concept. Interbrand's brand value is a lag indicator on a long trailing cycle, and Brand Stock can be used much more regularly and compiled internally to inform operational and organisational decisions.
Clearly if a company's Brand Stock is low, then it needs to think carefully about a whole range of potential impacts of changes, strikes, lock-outs, or social media marketing campaigns. For example Apple at this time can afford - brand-wise - to take many more risks than say Nokia because Apple's Brand Stock is sky-high and Nokia's is trashed.
Qantas had a social media campaign which backfired at the very time that it's Brand Stock was being battered due to the worldwide passenger lockout and union lockout. Knowledge of our brand model may have prevented this from happening, or at least highlighted the risk for open consideration.
Low Brand Stock means that a coordinated multi-functional review and effort is needed, along with Marketing, PR, Advertising and Operational plans, and to determine the role of Brand Breadth in helping raise Brand Stock. It's that role of Brand Breadth, along with others, that we'll discuss in Part 2.
In summary, Brand Resilience is a function of Brand Promise + Brand Experience (Depth & Breadth) + Brand Friction + Brand Stock and a social strategy focused on Brand Breadth can play a major role in increasing Resilience.
Having explained the brand model, in Part 2 we'll explain the role of social media, and in Parts 3 and 4 how to use the model in a brand crisis.
What is your interpretation of "brand promise"?
What experiences of brand depth succeeding or failing do you have?
What aspects of brand resilience might our model have missed?
Please comment below.
PS: So how about brand value, brand values, brand attributes, brand equity, brand valuation?
A: Glad you asked! They are all connnected to each other and brand resilience, but not the subject of this post.