Fair Exchange: Why predictability is a critical brand characteristic
by Erna George There are so many definitions of a brand; one I particularly subscribe to is one I found on www.brandeo.com: ‘the sum of all the associations, feelings, attitudes and perceptions that people have related to the tangible and intangible characteristics of a company, product or service’.
In short, a brand or branding is a way for consumers to recognise what you are or what you offer. I liken this to a person’s character.
Now, if your family, friends, colleagues have always experienced your response to emergencies and stress as calm and composed, the day you crumble and flap will be the day they are confused and anxious. And, if the next time your response to a similar situation is again different — possibly laissez faire — they will not trust their current perceptions of you and sit you down to ask if you are okay.
A level of predictability is what makes others feel safe; it is something they can depend on.
This is exactly what a brand does; otherwise, we might as well pack products in a white cardboard box and identify its contents in black Arial font. The exchange for the customer’s money and continued patronage is the delivery of this consistency.
A frequently asked question
A recent business trip to Swaziland with Ms C, a colleague, made me ask myself a question I ask quite regularly):
If it’s obvious that brand consistency is a desirable quality, why do we still encounter so much inconsistency in the world of brands?
One travel agent was responsible for both our bookings.
At the City Lodge in Johannesburg, where we stayed the night before connecting to Swaziland, Ms C simply stated her name, her booking was located and she was handed her room key in seconds. I gave my name, and waited before being asked for my voucher because there was no booking for me. Eventually, my booking revealed itself and I was given access to my room.
At checkout the next morning, I handed in my keycard and was left waiting for minutes on end before being told “thanks and goodbye”; Ms C received her account for review and signature, again within seconds of doing the same.
No satisfactory answer
Given we had been booked by the same travel agent, I asked why Ms C’s experience (which I have had each time previously at City Lodge) was slick, trouble-free and comprehensive, while mine was not. Of course, there was no satisfactory answer.
The issue is that City Lodge stands for home-away-from-home care, a proposition that felt very implausible the night before when it appeared there was no room at the inn, and again the next morning, given that two people checking in and out at the same time and booked by the same travel agent had two completely disparate experiences.
Then there was Avis in Manzini. I handed in my voucher, my booking was located and I received a detailed and friendly explanation of how the insurance works, what the excess is, rate per km, contact numbers etc.
I was astounded — in seven years of renting from Avis in South Africa and its neighbouring countries, never before had I encountered such thoroughness. Same brand, same iconography, same cars, same friendly culture — but a new and improved one that really did live up to the ‘We Try Harder’ slogan.
Our hotel in Swaziland was proudly branded as a “Sun” hotel; expectation was high and, when my credit card was swiped to secure funds, the amount reserved matched the brand image so I was reassured. Off we went for dinner in the hotel restaurant but, when I wanted to sign the bill to my room as I have done in many Sun hotels before, I was told I needed to pre-pay (that is, load the account) before I can do so. Interesting.
Then I called housekeeping to request that an iron be brought to my room. This was not an option. I could either pay for housekeeping to do the job for me or take the elevator down to the first floor and iron my clothes myself in the communal ironing room. Even more interesting.
I acknowledge that hotels have different procedures but, when co-branded or endorsed by a well-known brand, a certain level of experience is expected. If not delivered, the level of confusion and impact on the brand’s credibility is unreal.
In summary, one trip plus two people plus three brands and each brand interaction delivered a differently anticipated experience.
The only reason (in my mind) to buy McDonald’s is the consistency. I know it is not going to taste like a gourmet wonder but that is not the brand promise — and experience. Hence, I do know, whether I am in London or Cape Town, what the basic menu items are, what the turnaround time is and what the Quarter Pounder will taste like.
When a Nando’s ad appears on TV, I expect that there will be some type of cheeky and humorous innuendo.
I hear a specific tune and, like Pavlov’s dog, I expect to see a certain brand.
Brands teach us what to expect and non-delivery leaves a gap.
Branding is how the promise is recognised by your customers and this is not only about a logo. Everything from the logo, tone of voice, language, sales experience, product quality and people delivers the brand. And managing the brand across all touchpoints and all outlets and channels is critical. This builds a consistent differentiated brand image and persona, and this is what builds a connection to the brand. These perceptions lead to trust and drive consumer choice and confidence.
So, if your ads promise a great experience, it is critical to ensure consistent delivery. Why?
- Your offer becomes the standard by which all your brand and agency team delivers — the more it is delivered, the more clear it is and your proposition is delivered
- Your offer stands for something clear and compelling in consumer’s minds (as long as it matches, from advertising communication to packaging to sales)
- Your consumer loyalty and brand advocacy grow
Driving consistency keeps the brand team on track and helps consumers navigate this world more simply. All fair, all round.
Erna George is the business director heading up quality research at brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value. She works with diverse brands and categories — from FMCG, alcohol and agriculture to financial services and entertainment — in countries across many geographies, including South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Philippines and Brazil. She contributes the monthly “Fair Exchange” column about business relationships and partnerships in adland to MarkLives.
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