Do You Live Your Brand?

The death of Steve Jobs of Apple lead to an outpouring of grief on the internet. Many who used his devices felt it as a personal loss.  Others referred to the movies, such as Toy Story, created by Pixar, as having babysat their kids. 

And yet, in the midst of this praise, there were a few dissenting voices.  Had he paid child support for his first child?  Was he sometimes rude to employees?  Did he contribute to charity? What’s that got to do with the product? Nothing, but it is part of our overall perception of the brand.  It is a testimony to his superb orchestration of both Apple and his personal brand, that the naysayers were a very small minority. 

Ra.One is Shah Rukh Khan’s latest offering. It’s being advertised everywhere.  Most of the PR was blah but a headline about SRK vowing to quit smoking if this film was a success did catch my eye.  What’s his smoking got to do with the film? Nothing, but it is part of our overall perception of brand SRK and Ra. One

Many CEOs say they care for their employees and value their clients.  A good test for that is how good is the coffee?

Within the constraints of money and logistics, wouldn’t you want to make available good quality refreshments that you would enjoy too?  What’s the coffee got to do with the product? Nothing, but a bad cup of coffee leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and shapes your perception of the firm too.

One firm made a big deal of being egalitarian. Yet, only meetings with a board member in attendance were entitled to cookies. We can write it off as “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” but it also shapes your perception of the brand.

In my experience, the response time to an email is significantly faster for Chairmen and CEOs than for other inhabitants of the C-Suite. I’ve often wondered about the causality - do they become Chairmen because they are quick on the draw or do they respond quickly because, as Chairmen, they don’t have much else to do?  I think it’s the first, though I know many of you will be tempted to opt for the second.

Here’s why - if your response time is slow, opportunity is likely to knock once and leave by the time you show up to answer the door.

You could argue that others saw the email and deemed it unimportant for a speedy reply. Possibly, but opportunity is usually disguised, so applying that filter is unwise.  More so, if as the editor of this magazine pointed out to me, your vision statement is to be timely! 

Vodafone has a very memorable brand image - cute dogs and now Zoozoos.  Yet, for me, the brand is now also associated with their attempt to sue a customer over a public dispute about alleged deficiency of service.  Oh, I’m sure there were a lot of reasons that drove them to this, but this intangible runs counter to the cute, friendly image that their core brand portrays. 

Where I’m going with this line of thought is that there are many intangibles which support or negate your brand.  These intangibles are usually not related to the core brand or product but are important nonetheless. 

If they work in favour, they can add immense value, and if they are negative, they can destroy your brand.

Very few brands think through all the touchpoints. Indigo is one. Everything from the booking process, to the ramp, to the inflight announcements, to the self-service clean-up is intended to convey a single message. Kingfisher is another which has consistency of the “fun” platform across a variety of products.  And their Chairman lives his brand - which adds value.  The Taj chain of hotels is clear that the guest must come first - a value that some employees underlined with their lives during the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai.

Disney is another firm which understands that everything it does impacts the brand and tries very hard not to stray from their core ‘family values” platform, be it licensing, movies or their theme parks. Disney also understood way before many others that is important that its employees live the brand. 

They refer to their employees as “cast members” and what they can do once they are on ‘stage’ is clearly defined.

This is an area that I think more companies can work on.  The first step is to be clear about the company’s values.  Second is to put policies in place that reward those values.  And third is to educate the employees on what it means to live the brand.  Have you done that? Are your employees proud to be brand ambassadors?

Ah, I hear you say, isn’t that kind of Orwellian? Like brainwashing? It depends on how you do it. 

Let’s say that you know what you’d like your firm to stand for, and the kind of people you’d like to have.  You would then hire for those characteristics.  So if you want your company to be innovative, you should hire people who have some past track record of being innovative.  If you want cheerful service, you should hire people who are generally happy.  When you couple this with policies that support this kind of profiling, you have a winner.

Zappos.com, a shoe company fabled for its excellent service, actually offers its new employees money to - hold your breath - LEAVE. Yes! 

One week into its rigorous 4 week training program, it offers employees $3000 if they want to leave.  They’d rather have employees who buy into their vision than folks who are hanging around for a paycheck.  Apparently the number who take the money and run is less than 2%.

Contrast this with many firms in India which expect their trainees to shell out between Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakhs if they want to quit in the first two years.  The ‘employees are key to our success‘ claim seems rather hollow when you have to rely on a “bond” to keep them coming to work every day.  And to expect these handcuffed employees to espouse values like innovation, risk-taking and creativity, is well, a leap of imagination.

But wouldn’t you be loyal to a brand which cared for you? Where the customer care executives were not measured on Average Handling Time but on Average Happiness Index? Yes? Then wouldn’t it be worth investing in cultivating these values among your staff? And enabling them to live these values, and rewarding them for it?

I think a big part of this, though, is whether the CEO lives the brand, personally.  How many of us have been disappointed that the CEO whose company says it values your business shows up late for a meeting?

Confused because a firm which says that every penny matters sends its CEO by a private jet?  As a CEO, it’s important to write down your values and then figure out how to espouse them in everything you do.  People like Azim Premji and Narayana Murthy are respected because their personal brands are in synch with their public personas and with that of their firms.

Is yours?

Jessie Paul is the Managing Director of Paul Writer a marketing advisory firm founded in January 2010.  She was formerly the CMO of Wipro's IT business and has played key roles in marketing at Infosys and iGATE Global.

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