Mind the brand gap

These days the term brand is possibly even more misunderstood and misused than the word marketing. For many, it simply means logo. If you’re lucky, they might even think it’s about colour palette and fonts. As Rita Clifton, the doyenne of branding, has said: “to equate brand with such superficial cosmetics is the equivalent of saying that people are really only the sum of their name, face and clothes.” To others, the word brand means luxury. A former colleague of mine once proudly claimed that he was not at all influenced by brands and marketing, mainly to annoy me. He added as evidence that he always shopped for clothes at Marks & Spencer and always drove a Ford!

Essentially, a business’s brand is a mechanism to reduce the effort and risk for customers of buying its products and services, and everything it does and says must be consistent with its brand – from the content, look and feel of its website to actual service delivery by its staff.

Sounds easy, but the challenging issue for many businesses lies in the gap between brand promise and actual delivery. It’s estimated that roughly one third of employees in a business are brand champions, one third brand neutral and one third brand saboteurs. The saboteurs may not be deliberately intending to be destructive. It may be because they don’t understand what the brand stands for and how they should support and reinforce it. How many marketers can hand on heart say that all staff deliver fully on the brand promise? It isn’t easy getting people to buy into and consistently live and breathe the brand’s values so that they become more than just words on paper, but this is arguably more important than anything else. Where there’s a gap, it’s visible to the customer, even if not to the business.

David Ogilvy, the advertising guru, is credited with once having said something along the lines of “doing business without a brand is like knowing who you’re kissing and why, but they can never quite remember who you are.” With brand now the most important single corporate asset, accounting on average for a third of a business’s value, marketers need to make sure that they are closing the brand gap as far as possible and that customers clearly remember who they have kissed.