August 31, 2008

In Trust We Brand

Branding's for sissies!

Whilst polite colleagues rarely put in in those terms, it's evident that many business owners consider branding as being on the fluffier side of commercial practice.

Otherwise, it would be a given part of every business plan, rather than something that's often tagged on only when an enterprise doesn't seem to be making the right impression or is losing ground to strongly-branded competitors.

I've written elsewhere of the real impact a brand has on business success, not only in terms of market share, but on the costs of doing business. For example, I've suggested that a strong brand relationship relieves the business-owner of the pressures and costs (financial and otherwise) of being perfect. However, much of what I've written has relied on my own experience or anecdotal evidence from our own customers rather than independent research backed up by numbers.

Well, The Speed of Trust, a recent book by Stephen M.R. Covey seems to offer the backup that I've been looking for. I haven't read the book yet but heard Stephen talk about it at length on the always-useful Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.

Stephen says that the speed and cost of our transactions with customers are always affected by the levels of trust that lie between us and that there is both a trust tax and a trust dividend depending on those levels. His research shows that companies that enjoy high levels of trust (with stakeholders, colleagues and customers) outperform others where suspicion reigns by almost three to one. Now those are impressive numbers.

I like Stephen's use of the terms 'tax and dividend' as I find that it draws a notion that can be dismissed as soft across to the harder edge of business. I've always been a big fan of the writing of Stephen's dad, Stephen R. Covey, in particular The Seven Habits Of Effective People; so am looking forward to reading how he builds on that in The Speed of Trust.

In the meantime, if any of my readers have got to the book ahead of me, I'd love to hear what you make of it.

For you know what they say: 'When the going gets tough, the tough get branding.'

August 26, 2008

Not So Much Tanned As Red-Faced

Whilst on holiday recently ("No, I'm not going to say where," he said mysteriously), I came across news of a survey by Boots UK that revealed that the 'high-rise Costa Blanca resort of Benidorm has been named the most embarrassing place to go on holiday, followed in quick succession by Tenerife, Ibiza and Magaluf.'

Apparently, the coolest places are Paris, New York and Portugal.

Given the business I'm in, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that even our choice of where we spend our down-time reflects on who we are and what we value although I wonder how many of us plump for one place over another simply based on how it's going to go down in the office afterwards.

In the spirit of Myles Na gCopaleen (who memorably proposed a service where professional readers would go through the books in your library that you'd never read and rough up the covers, dog-ear the pages and make pretentious notes in the margins so that you could make it appear to guests that you were extremely well-read) and with the wide range of online tools available to us now, perhaps some enterprising opportunist will furnish us with pseudo holiday experiences (including heavily-doctored family snaps and fantasy restaurant names and menus) that will save our blushes at our 'uncool' choice of holiday destination and allow us to boast instead about our wonderful two weeks in Portugal or the latest hot spot du jour?

Give us a break! Refreshed after switching off for two weeks from my own world of branding, I'm beginning to wonder whether there's anywhere we can retreat to in the modern world that doesn't come labelled with connotations of taste and status?

As for my own holiday destination..?

No, I'm not going to play that game. Let's just say that it didn't feature at either end of the cool-scale.

August 03, 2008

Do The Chinese Love Their Children Too?

Just as the 1978 World Cup in Argentina comes to my mind when the football competition rolls around every four years, so too the Moscow Olympics this last week in the lead-up to Beijing 2008. I was fifteen when it seemed half the world decided to boycott the Olympics in the old USSR and my memories of that time are very vivid.

Despite much of the political turmoil and hostility around Beijing's Games, the time when the world was divided east and west by a Cold War seems more than a lifetime away.

Some time after Moscow 1980, Sting recorded a song Russians in which he wondered 'if the Russians love their children too?' Back then, the Soviets (alongside all of the others on the far side of the Iron Curtain - even that expression seems quaint now) were remote and unknowable. In the absence of familiarity, we were free to think all sorts of awful things about them.

The connections made online these days make such remoteness almost unimaginable. Apart from a relatively small number of places like North Korea and Albania, we feel we know the people in other parts of the world and, even when we don't understand everything about them, we don't doubt for a moment that they love their children too. Even in some of the more critical reports of the Chinese authorities at this time there isn't any suggestion that they lack basic human feelings; some of their actions may be monstrous but we don't conclude that they are monsters.

As we grow closer to others around the world, it would be easy to believe that there are no longer foreign countries, that everyone speaks English (or at least understands it) and that we can move effortlessly from one place to another.

But even between two people who share a common language, there can be culture shock when we move from our home place to somewhere else. There are times when even those who live nearby to us can seem alien. They think differently, they don't look at the world in the same way we do.

So what's that got to do with brands and branding?

Well, brands have a remarkable ability to ease that passage from one place to the next. The power of the great brands is to bridge the gap between the familiar and the unknown. Business-owners often underestimate the importance of making this happen and can leave their visitors stumbling about looking for direction.

Whilst those visitors may not doubt that we love our children too, they can quickly conclude that we are unsympathetic in other ways - unfriendly, unhelpful or unprofessional - and break for the border back to the home country or to other, more hospitable, places as quickly as they can.

So as the Games begin, why not brand your way to a greater connection with your customers.