Many brands talk the talk, spending millions to create compelling and interesting marketing communications and advertising campaigns, but only a select few actually walk the walk by activating a consistent brand experience that fulfills the brand platform throughout the customer experience. All the broadcast TV ads in the world won’t make up for a disappointing experience if the brand doesn’t deliver.
Why do so many companies spend so much on brand advertising and communications, while leaving the remaining brand elements (product, price and consumer touch points) to other parts of the organization to define and deliver the experience? There are several reasons, but we’ve found the primary reason for this gap is that truly activating the brand is often too daunting and too complex for all but the strongest brand champion.
At its core, a brand activation project takes a strong brand strategy and brings it to life throughout the organization. To accomplish this, a brand activation initiative assesses the alignment between the company’s behavior, its communications, and the brand platform, and then creates programs across levels and functions to improve the delivery on that platform’s promise. It is a formalized effort with a programmatic approach. It’s dynamic and ongoing. It requires executive buy in, and in many ways impacts the overall culture of the company when done well. Aligning behaviors throughout the customer experience requires leading a cross functional effort and changing organizational behaviors, which are demanding tasks in even the most agile and customer-focused of organizations.
While activating the brand is indeed challenging, doing so will reap many rewards if executed well. Internally, it helps employees with decision-making and often creates a sense of pride and camaraderie. Externally, it will engage customers and engender loyalty. Brand activation is not some fuzzy concept with soft measurement; ultimately, brand activation means running the business more effectively and profitably. Over time well-aligned brands outperform those that are misaligned or rely on communications.
The airline industry is a great example. Southwest and JetBlue are well aligned brands, albeit with different positioning (see exhibit 1). Everything from the marketing communications to the online booking, to the customer service and in-flight experience on both airlines are well aligned. Contrast that experience with the other major US carriers, where so often premium pricing and premium messaging is misaligned, or at best inconsistent, across the customer experience. For JetBlue and Southwest, the business benefits from brand alignment accrue in terms of superior customer satisfaction, lower operating costs per passenger, and their ability to be more efficient with their sales and marketing dollars.
Other frequently cited examples of well aligned brands which have led to business success include Starbucks, Lexus and Apple. We would add to the list smaller brands like beauty brand Aveda, Burt’s Bees and Trader Joe’s. All of these brands are well aligned to their brand promises and have reaped business results based on a compelling and consistent consumer experience.