United Airlines discovered this during 2010 when their “friendly skies” were revealed as not so friendly by the YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars”, which has over eight million views (and counting). So did Maytag, Nestle, and others who saw angry, empowered consumers calling them out as branding frauds based on their actions.
But what caused that damage? Is it simply the availability of technology that allows a disgruntled customer to broadcast their dissatisfaction to large numbers of people? Or is it nothing more than poor brand management?
A brand that has been under fire this past year for major branding missteps is Toyota. Toyota shook up the automotive world with a quality message that Detroit either ignored or could not match. And for 30+ years they have enjoyed the benefits of that brand position. But all of that customer brand loyalty is now threatened because somewhere, along the way, Toyota managers failed to understand that a brand built on product quality must live that strategy every day to be successful.
One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is not realizing that branding happens in every interaction and point of contact between a company and its target customer. They work hard on their advertising and other external communications, but don’t understand that brand communication is much more than just what the brand manager and ad agency say about it.
It’s how your staff answers the phone, how easy the web site is to navigate, what message the packaging sends, the tone of the copy writing, and even, in the case of a retailer, how the store looks and where it is located. It’s the sum total of any and every experience people have with the company.
Consistency is a critical element of an effective branding strategy, and one brand that I have always admired for its belief in the power of delivering on expectations every day is McDonald’s. Every owner and manager must attend Hamburger University in Chicago, where they not only learn the operational aspects of running a franchise; they also study the importance of providing a consistent experience for the customer. Few customers would say that McDonald’s makes the best hamburgers, but the company continues to dominate the fast food marketplace in part because the customer knows what to expect. No matter where they are in the world.
This devotion to consistency was most apparent when McDonald’s entered Russia. McDonald’s execs felt that native Russian potatoes did not deliver the same crispness and flavor that McDonald’s is famous for serving. So they delayed their introduction into Russia for two years, imported their own seed potatoes, and waited until they got it right before opening the first restaurant. That is a great story and a great testament to the power and need for consistently delivering on every aspect of the brand promise.
Branding is a tough job. And it’s certainly not getting any easier when even the slightest misstep by anyone in the organization can have a snowball effect. But some brands get it right, by building on a platform that is truly representative of the core values of the company, solves a relevant need, and is consistent over time.