Brand gurus and marketing geniuses have defined brand comprehensively, leaving little scope for ambiguity or confusion for a postulant like me. Everyone is a consumer, we buy articles from sources we consider authentic within the reach of our presence and also in the grasp of our financial means. Every interaction with the product or service either creates a new impression in our minds or emboldens the perception built in the past: this applies to both good and bad experiences alike. You are not going to win the adulation of people by saying that consumers of our age live on an overdose of information, they have passage to reviews: real consumer feedback, success stories and matching products, all within the reach of a few taps. Someone determined to find out the positives or the negatives of your brand will succeed with trifling effort. The world has yet not seen a product that hasn’t failed, we are also yet to come across a brand that doesn’t make poor choices, from the perspective of its customers; yet we consider some brands better than the other. One can talk about the appeal of a product/service, its usability, price, availability etc to establish the brand and its identity, but it is not something that I’d like to explore in this article. What I’m trying to, and let me admit, audaciously superficially, the underlying reasons; or should we say what builds the character of the brand? Proof of the pudding lies in eating it; the brand is nothing more than the sum total of its user’s perception, so if customers are a carrier of the brand, it’s true ambassadors, who are the brand builders? Who gives the brand character flesh and blood and brings it alive? No prizes for guessing, it is employees like you and I. Brands are built by what you and I do on our work desk and elsewhere in our work hours. Apple is not a person, Hyatt is not a singular object, the virgin airline is not lifelessly flying these are a result of real people working day in and day out.
Desires, apprehensions, fears, motivation, commitment and conviction of employees manifest itself in the shape of a product and service that end consumer experiences and pays for. It is a misnomer that only great brands sell, there is a market for absolute garbage too. Everything retails, real measure of success of a brand is how popular or let say dominant it gets in the medium to long term : one quick test could be to figure out if its customers are willing to pay a ‘premium’, if so, you’ve done things right, at least those which matter the most to the customer. If the price tag is the only hook that you have on your customers, be rest assured, you will soon run out of business. Someone with a will just a tad bit better than yours to work on ‘features’ and the efficiency to keep the costs in check matching your levels of control, will suck your customer leaving you dry and unhappy. Therefore single most important objective for you should be to create a brand that is liked by your customers not only by the price tag at which you sell but also something else, something perhaps much more important than price itself. Let me quickly bring the Apple example here, for a quarter of the cost of a full spec iPhone you can buy a OnePlus which is as much a phone like the iPhone if not better, but customer stick to the iPhone knowing fully well that they are paying exorbitantly for a set of features which are not unique because iPhone is much more than a phone, in the Apple ecosystem, it does many things well without failing, which the cheaper Android counterpart can’t simply deliver. Apple has managed to create a phone which is more than a phone for its customers.
And that precisely should be the objective of the brand .. you have to be ‘more’ than what you must be in the most minimal sense. Lowest common denominators do not create history .. don’t aspire to be them. That truly in my view is what a brand should be, let’s turn our attention to the brand makers, the creators of the brand, the employee you and I. Or what should people in the leadership team do to help shape the character of the organisation to deliver a brand, below three things come to my mind ( that has a hell lot to learn on this subject and everything else)
- Find that one thing you wish to be.
- Be willing to sacrifice everything for that one thing
- When you achieve that one thing ..look for the next big thing,
Let’s go over these individually and briefly.
- Find that one thing you wish to be: A ton of researchers have proven it beyond reasonable doubt that it is utterly foolish to even fantasise being multiple things, it is just not wise. On the contrary, if you can be one thing and really good at that, you’ve made your mark. But it is easier said than done. In an organisation there are hundreds if not thousands of things that happen, every number mean something to someone; in choosing one, are we saying that we have to ignore the rest? Well, not quite, the ‘one thing’ philosophy says to choose one thing that makes most business sense to you. And you do not have to be austere in choosing what you wish to be. Let’s say choosing to be a 1 billion dollar company is a good target and so is getting high with 98% customer satisfaction. Both are brilliant targets to go after, please understand, everything that you would do, well, in one way or the other tie into everything, but by choosing one thing you basically, channelise energies in a certain direction of your choosing. So for instance, let’s say you are an ITES ( BPM, BPO, contact centre.. choose the phrase that you like) company and you had to choose a target, what should you choose? You can aim at a certain gross margin and say I wish to end this year at 23%, or you can give yourself a people target, saying I have to become a 40K people strong organisation or simply say that I will be on the number one spot on the partner scorecard for all my clients. Choosing to be on the number one in all client scorecard is a wise goal to elect, let me tell you why. Being number one the scorecard means you have not only met but also exceeded performance expectations substantially, in doing so you’ve given your customer a very strong reason to stay with you, one even stronger than your rate of billing. And to be number one, you’ll have to have the best talent onboard, a culture that retains skills, effective performance management, stringent cost control, satisfied set of employees etc. So to achieve that one thing you’ll end up doing all the right things. Choosing an indirect sensible goal will get you better results than a direct cost or number goal.
- Be willing to sacrifice everything for that one thing: Temptation and temporary setbacks will set you off course. Distraction is everywhere, scattered so brilliantly that you’ll find it at every turn, even when you are not looking for it. You will need to resist the urge to do over midway. Remember shifting the goal post in a running match leave not only the players but also the spectators confused and confusion we can all agree doesn’t end in anything positive. Let’s take an example, let’s say the one thing that you had to choose happens to be ‘being the most preferred employer’ and in order to do that you’ve started reviewing your policies with the intent to make them lucrative and particularly employee friendly; what does that mean in the short term? Providing better couch and a better sofa, we know, comes at a cost higher than the ordinary. So it will mean that you’ll have to spend a little more, in bettering the benefits of the employees, giving the physical and the IT infra a facelift. This is real money and will go out of the limited reserve that you’d have built with years of frugality and conscious corner cutting, what you need to do is conduct a cost-benefit analysis. You do not have to hire a consultant for it, look at the cost of attrition (the opportunity you lose for not having people), cost of rehire, wastage caused by learning curve (new people take longer to do things, if the experienced lot took 5 minutes per task the new employee would start with 10.. you are losing money on every transaction), higher the churn more distant BAU gets, cost of chaos is 15% on an overall basis, per the research conducted by Harvard. Critical talent leaving robs you of your competitive advantage. So now that you have a view .. of what you should look at, do your numbers how is the cost of reform placed against the cost of ongoing leakages? Analysis done right will tell you that even with the additional cost of reform you’ll end up adding anything between 5 to 8% to your margins in the medium to long term alongside creating a strong, motivated, engaged organisation that you’ll be proud of. Remember when going gets tough it is the character of the organisation that comes to rescue.
On to our last item
- When you achieve that one thing ..look for the next big thing: Goal setting is of paramount importance and must be done extremely carefully: intellect is put to use here. Fine minds create a meaningful plan; all organisations have all three kinds of people.
- Fire Fighters: These folks shine at transactions, they like moving from one problem to another, they are so used to fighting the fire that a period of peace makes them uncomfortable. They are the first line of defence.
- Sailors: The old and loyal guard, a very important section of people, scars that they carry hide many ugly struggles that the organisation had to go through. These are good people, with a desire to remain there. Their field of vision is wider than the firefighters and are generally calmer in their personas, they do not react easily, but when they do they do it with all the might. They have everything going for them except for one critical item, their exposure. Thanks to their long tenure in the same organisation their story of growth become the story of the organisation and so if the organisation is not the best yet, their acumen is also not top notch. These good souls become close, their visions get tunnelled mostly limited by past.
- Think Tank: This is a crazy lot, and perhaps the most valuable one. These are people with razor-sharp intellect, the best education, superb background, fearless outlook and they crave revolution. They are addicts for change, they keep struggling and propelling to better the environment for themselves and for the rest. This lot is seldom satisfied; for them, the road to success is always under construction and quite literally. They are courageous to the point of being impractical, they set for themselves inhuman targets and are mostly full of passion. Erudition, oratory & taste for fine things in life are their characteristics. They are persistent to the point of appearing nagging. They are dissatisfied with slow progress but never disappointed and end up being the agent for change.
wrt. the percentage, you need 60% of your staff to be firefighters, about 30% as sailors and 10% think tank. It won’t harm to have more think tanks but the problem is that there are not very many ‘good’ people and retaining this talent pool is not easy at all. You have to be wary of the sailor group; with tenure what also grows is complacency you gotta keep them in check otherwise, they will make their disability, limitation of the organisation; attrition in this group is desirable. Think tanks are not good for anything else, they can only be part of strategy and direction setting, so use all of them, have at least a few firefighters in the group and make sure you keep sailors out of the ground tasked with finding the next big thing for your organisation, it has to be one thing.
Lifting the victory title takes the pain of the practice away in the very moment; so keep running these and other thought experiments that you find fitting to your taste and your business. Wishing you well!