Establishing a brand, whether it’s a restaurant chain or a family of senior living communities, is a major investment and usually worth every penny—when done professionally. Proper brand development captures the unique value of your business model and crystallizes your value proposition. However, marketing can only create a brand perception—one that exists in the mind of your market only as a promise.
Your brand is about so much more than a great value structure and communications program—no matter how good the business model and marketing. Your brand is about a thousand “touch points” where your market brushes up against your organization and has a brand experience. Those experiences—or even a single experience— characterize your brand for the person who touches it from that point forward. The difference between your brand promise and your customer experience might be called your brand disconnect.
That brand experience might start with how easy—or difficult—it is to park a car on your premises. It surely includes every person that a prospect interacts with—even if it’s just the groundskeeper who is asked directions to your marketing office. It’s every face that visitor encounters while walking into your building and down the hall to your marketing office. His or her subconscious mind is taking a hundred snapshots a second—of smiles or frowns, of wise or vacant faces, of expressions that inspire or that radiate indifference. Staff or resident, it doesn’t matter. It is the total tapestry of impressions that matters. Brand is the sum of all things.
Our imaginary visitor is also collecting sensory data like smells, textures and paint colors—and rapidly beginning to form a first impression. When that impression is positive, even an average marketing person can easily make a sale. If it’s negative, the greatest sales person in the country would have a hard time selling past it. The scary part is that most of that impression will have been formed before your marketing person ever opens his or her mouth. So slumping sales aren’t always about bad salesmanship.
The area where your marketing person does make the difference as the “dealmaker” is when your prospect has had similar brand experiences at the other communities they are considering. Then it’s up to the marketing pro to use solid sales techniques by listening to what the prospect says is important to them. A real pro realizes that the customer will tell them how to close the deal—if they listen closely enough. Then, that pro marshals all of the facts about your community in an order that matches the priorities of the customer. Sales can win the day.
But brand touch points neither begin nor end where our imaginary scenario did. Brand touch points can include how well the marketing person follows up—or not. It can be how hot the food was in the dining room, and how neatly the table was set. Was the meal selection broad enough? Did the linen in the model unit smell fresh? Did the carpet look new or badly frayed in a few areas? Did it all align with your brand marketing—or was there a disconnect?
We all know companies we’d never do business with—or ever again—because some brand touch points felt more like bruises than caresses. Those companies probably never even realized at what point they lost our faith in their promises.
So how exactly do you keep a thousand brand touch points in line with your brand promise of caring and superior value? You do it by building a company culture in which everyone realizes that he or she is one of those touch points. You conduct a brand mapping exercise that identifies every single touch point within your organization, beginning with your web site and web reviews and working inwards to your community brand experience. Crafting such a culture may require some professional brand management consulting. But when you have a thousand touch points that serve to support your brand promise—rather than poke it full of holes—it’s a worthy investment.
That’s a point worth pondering.