Much of my work over the years has been with “service brands” – brands that are not tied to a particular product, but to the delivery of some type of service – educational services, health care services, energy services, engineering services, consulting services, etc.
Developing and maintaining a strong brand for a service is, in my opinion, significantly more challenging than developing and maintaining a strong brand for a product. Why? Because a service is less tangible, more ephemeral – and often involves multiple “touchpoints” that really determine the “brand experience.”
What makes a strong brand? Recognizability. Performance. Consistency.
When we’re talking about a product – a carbonated beverage, for example – recognizability can come through a logo and design, performance comes through the taste of the beverage, consistency is an element of the manufacturing process.
But, when we’re talking about a service, the process of brand management becomes much more complex:
While recognizability is impacted by logos and design elements, there are other factors to consider. If you practice out of an office or a clinic, your physical location and how it looks, how it’s furnished, etc., will impact your recognizability and your brand. Consultants who travel to client locations, for example, are themselves a key component of the brand – including how they dress and the type of vehicle they drive (and how well maintained it is).
How is a health care organization’s performance defined? By the physician? The registration clerk? The distance from the parking lot to the front door? The cleanliness of the facility? The magazines in the waiting room? The delivery of care (and how do we, as non-clinical consumers, measure that?)? Yes – all of these things, and more! For health care and other service organizations (which would include restaurants, retail stores, etc.), performance is a multi-faceted process with multiple touchpoints and multiple opportunities to either strengthen or weaken the brand.
And, finally, consistency. The greatest challenge of all. While product consistency can certainly be challenging, there are more tangibles to deal with in the product arena. The challenge for service marketers in managing a brand involves managing human inputs and human actions. Significantly more challenging than ensuring that the right physical ingredients are combined in the right proportions in the right environmental conditions to produce a consistent result.
It often comes as a surprise to those in service businesses that managing the marketing process – and, specifically, the branding process, involves a significant amount of focus on managing people. Developing standards and processes, communicating those standards and processes, ensuring consistency in such things, for example, as how the phone is answered, “uniforms,” service standards, hand-offs between departments, how employees talk about each other, etc.
Too often as we focus on other important elements of the brand – like the logo, the name, the “company colors,” the design templates, etc., etc., in the service arena we have a tendency to forget about what is most important about the brand (recognizability, performance and consistency) – the people.
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