Share this content

Translating brands for frontline staff

30th Mar 2007
Share this content

Photo of David Williams, H2X

By David Williams, H2X

All brands have some form of 'brand onion' that sets out its essence, positioning, internal values and personality. But there is a huge gap between what brands say and what they do. And this is often underpinned by a similarly huge gulf between the practical and business-like people in channels that actually deliver to customers and the esoteric and intellectual brand teams with their brand onions.

“How would you like me to be 'upbeat' when I’m telling a customer on the phone they can’t have a credit limit increase that they want?” asks the call centre manager. Something has been lost in translation. So brand values are often words we recognise and associate with but are rarely things we do. And yet if we can bridge that gap there are some big prizes.

Recently, I spoke at a conference on the leaked note from Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks to his senior team. Over the late 90s and early 00s Starbucks had built the best coffee experience. Customers could sit down and enjoy great coffee in an urban cool, home from home environment. Quality coffee and experience, not speed. Its growth dilemma was two pronged:

1. Convenience (location) drives coffee choice, so to be market leader you need to be ubiquitous (lots of stores).
2. Speed: The biggest market is the take-away market. Although take-away customers are buying into the premium Starbucks experience, in the morning, they want their coffee quickly and not to have to queue for it.

Schultz sets out in his note how a series of changes made to operations enabled Starbucks' phenomenal growth. And though each of these on their own were good decisions, collectively they have watered down the Starbucks core brand promise – delivering the best coffee experience. He implored the team to go back and find its heritage and take steps to remedy this position. The sin was not to pursue growth but to make some of the wrong compromises on the way. A brave and visionary step from a real leader.

This 'salami slicing' of the brand proposition is typical of organisations searching for growth. What’s your brand dilemma? And how do you resolve these dilemmas and bridge the gap?

Brand attributes

Brand anchors are important. Brand anchors are those non-negotiable things your brand does for customers. As Schultz points out to his management team, what is important is that you understand your brand anchor and that everyone else understands it too. If you keep hold of this truth and stay true to it then it is easy to make trade-offs and decisions, because you know what is most important to you. The thing you won’t compromise on.

Rather than describing brand attributes – things companies want to be - firms should describe the emotional outcomes that customers want from their interactions. This is much more accessible for staff across the business. Understanding their emotions at the start of an interaction, firms know the journey they need to take them on. Aligning a set of behaviours behind these outcomes will help businesses deliver it consistently.

Clients have often asked us to design these for them and then “roll them out”. We always decline. The people in product and channel teams need to define them in their own words and work out what that really means for them. Brand owners can guide; but ultimately the people you want to do it, need to work it out for themselves.

One financial services company took this approach. The result was a group of brand advocates that took the approach into their teams. With no other changes, they made a huge difference to the customer perception of the quality of the experience in these touch points. The brand promise was delivered.

Brand signatures bring brands to life

Every person and brand has a signature - the thing that makes them unique that you remember about them. It’s memorable brand experiences that drive loyalty. Iain Carruthers, in his recent book in the Great Brand Series: Dyson: the meaning of cleaning talks about the killer Dyson experience - the transparent housing of the vacuum cleaner.

This not only enables you to see the cyclone technology but as importantly, all the dirt and rubbish that is coming up out of your carpets. Users are simultaneously disgusted and relieved. Don’t tell people what you want to be…do it and make it memorable! What’s your signature?

Helping frontline staff resolve day to day dilemmas is key to making your brand real. Disney has done this brilliantly. Not only has it defined four things that are important but also an order: Safety, Courtesy, The Show, Efficiency. Based on this, staff can make the right brand choices every day in every interaction. You don’t need a big rule book, just clear guidelines. Human beings do the rest!

Finally, you can reinforce shared behaviours but you can’t change someone’s values. Successful brands let people become more of who they really are, rather than trying to change their values. Use these brand coaching techniques and your brand won’t get lost in translation.

David Williams is CEO of How To Experience ( He has led customer and brand experience transformation programmes with many large blue-chips including American Express, British Gas, Oscar Vodafone and Royal Mail.

Read more features, practical case studies and white papers about how to deliver your brand promise.


Replies (0)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.