In writing the recipe for our brand we are seeking to build as much certainty and consistency as possible into our processes.
Take One Business, Then Add…
Last time out in The Blend, we sifted through the various ingredients available to us for our brand and selected those that we considered offered the best basis on which to build a successful relationship with our customers.
The next stage is even more important. I mentioned previously that I consider brand intention a vital ingredient. Brand success rarely happens by accident. We are all familiar with the likely outcome if we simply lump some ingredients together into a pot and hope for the best. We cannot afford to leave things to chance but instead we must set out to design our business to achieve success and write the recipe for our brand.
Putting The Brand At The Centre
Early in this series of The Blend, I invited you to chew over the idea of branding as a strategic activity. Very often, businesses resort to branding only as a tactical response to changes in their operating environment. The writing of a brand recipe is a strategic act, which will determine the ability of a business to achieve and sustain competitive advantage. A well-made brand will support the business in all of its activities and drive it towards its goals.
In writing a brand recipe, it is essential that the role of the brand is recognised and that it is explicitly put in service to the business in achieving its goals. This means putting the brand at the centre of the business.
At first, this can appear a step too far. As business-owners we are often a little uncomfortable with the idea that something as vague and shadowy as a brand would be given primacy in our business. Too often, the brand and those tasked with its management are pushed to the margins and left largely to their own devices and the brand remains a peripheral element of the business. It is for this reason that we must work hard to define the role of the brand and link its performance to strictly measurable outcomes.
Business success, particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors, is always about our ability to establish and maintain relationships and to influence choice. The business of the brand is in the management of business reputation and relationships. Therefore we must consider the performance of the brand in these terms.
Starting Where We Mean To Finish…
If we are to bring the brand to the heart of the business, our first task in writing the brand recipe is to clearly define the intended outcomes. We must be able to determine the objectives for the business and describe how we will recognise when we have achieved them.
In defining our objectives we are likely to be describing the type and characteristics of our ideal customer, the quality of the business that they will bring and the positioning that we will achieve in order to secure competitive advantage and enjoy sustainable and long-term growth. We must be prepared to be as specific as we can. Above all, we must link our objectives directly to bottom-line values. If we do not, the brand will remain something loose and insubstantial and we will be disinclined to trust it as the driving force for our business.
Describing The Process
Once we have defined objectives for the brand and its work, we must focus our efforts on describing the process by which the brand will help us achieve them. As I have described it, the brand is in the business of relationships and choice. Therefore, we must consider how our brand will make a difference in these vital areas.
Increasingly, the popular tendency amongst business-owners is to look first to the customer for cues as to how the relationship should be conducted. Whilst the role of the customer in the relationship is clearly important, the first responsibility lies with the role of the brand in itself.
Marketing is largely an intuitive process and it is important that we begin to trust that intuition. I do not mean that we make wild guesses as to what is required for our recipe and simply throw in a handful of this and a large helping of that and hope for the best. In relying on our intuition, we must ensure that we are as well informed as possible as to what is happening in our business relationships and in our operating environment. We must draw on our own knowledge of relationships and of behaviour to guide us not only in choosing the values that will drive our relationship with the customer but in anticipating the ways in which this will influence customer choice.
Brand is very often identified solely with visual identity or other recognisable mark. In determining how we will manage our relationship with the customer and influence choice we must be prepared to move from the narrow focus of using brand simply as a sales and marketing tool and consider the impact of all of the activities in our business on our customer. An isolated brand will achieve a very limited success for a business.
The role of the brand is to ensure that each exchange is conducted in the spirit of the ruling relationship and that every aspect of the customer’s experience is consistent with the promise held out by the business at the outset. We must use the brand to lead the relationship with the customer throughout every encounter and ensure that nothing is left to chance. Otherwise, there is a real danger that the two will be out of step.
I am not suggesting that this is a one-way relationship. What I am saying is that it is up to us to take the first step and to lead from the beginning. We must be prepared to take charge of the relationship with our customers rather than mirroring their actions and following their steps. If we look to our customer for a lead, we may well spend the entire relationship playing catch up and will almost inevitably lose the shape of our business in the process.
Branding The Whole Business
At this stage of writing the recipe for our brand, we must consider each activity in our business in considerable detail. In hospitality and tourism this typically includes marketing, sales (including pricing and the management of bookings), reception of guests, facilities, catering and communications. We must examine the opportunity that each meeting with the customer offers for us to strengthen the relationship and continue to influence choice.
When we gathered together our ingredients earlier, we considered those values and behaviours that were clearly strengths of our business. Now that we are writing our recipe for business success, we must play to those strengths and put them to work for us.
We must measure out the ingredients required in each business activity and decide on the proportion in which they will be used and how they will be manifest in our behaviour. We must be clear not only on the effect that our behaviour has on the relationship but on the benefits that this offers to the customer.
In writing the recipe for our brand we are seeking to build as much certainty and consistency as possible into our processes. However, we must also be aware that this can be a messy business and that cooking up a brand using our recipe requires both discipline and flexibility. The skills that are required here are those of the chef whose experience in the kitchen enables him to respond to a changing environment and add a little more of this ingredient and a pinch less of that. However, we must not simply throw up our hands and dismiss the writing of the recipe as a futile exercise. It sets out our intentions for the business and offers us a route and guiding principles.
Writing the recipe for our brand is therefore about taking responsibility. We take responsibility from the outset for the nature of the relationship and for how it will be conducted. We determine the outcomes that we desire for the business and how we will manage the process to ensure that our activities will enable us to achieve them.
In the next few outings of The Blend, I will consider the impact of the brand on specific business activities and describe how some well-known brands have enjoyed considerable success by applying their brand to every aspect of their business.