Branding Services: Like Products, Only Harder




service branding


Many service-led brands hire marketers from a leading agency or legendary product brand. After all, the rigor and creativity practiced by these product marketers is unmatched. These roles have been the tough and coveted challenges of the marketing world and the source of great talent. However, we believe these skills are necessary but not sufficient for the service marketer. Below are three principles from those who get it right:



#1 Drive experience as much as story



Product marketers live in the world of consistency and control. Deep consumer insight and great product development, positioned with a compelling story, are the hallmarks of success. The experience is designed episodically and varies little. The art of story matters, a lot.




In contrast, a service brand’s reputation is anchored in the end-to-end experience. Story-telling through messaging remains critical but is increasingly secondary to a new art, finding ways to drive customer and employee advocacy, something that must be felt, not just heard. When IBM launched Smarter Planet, the strongest proof-point was RFID tagging of chickens in Scandinavia for a healthier supply chain. While the marketing execution was undoubtedly brilliant, sustained success has come from IBM as a whole creating a multi-billion dollar business centered on delivering a smarter planet, not just talking about it.



#2 Free employees from the script



Customers expect consistency in the experience that they receive, something products inherently provide. However, consistency in service needs to be thought of differently. As Oscar Wilde elegantly said, ‘Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative’. Service has too many dimensions to manage through a manual. We've all experienced the frustration of script-based call-centers, or the shop floor assistant trying to up-sell, as you repeatedly say no. Leadership needs the confidence to free their people to act in the moment. The Zappos and Nordstroms of the world have surely proven this.



But this too is a higher bar. Yes founder-led companies, such as Capital One and Southwest Airlines inherently do this as the brand has developed from the culture. For example, when a Capital One customer had a medical emergency in South America, the call-center operator facilitated payment for a medical flight despite the customer not having immediate funds available, at substantial financial risk. Strong cultural norms enable freedom to act without resorting to a risk-management contractual approach. In the absence of a strong founder-leader, the marketing group can be the champion of weaving brand into the cultural fabric of the organization. From hiring people intuitively motivated by the brand to aligning incentives and building cultural rituals that exemplify the brand. To deliver the brand, employees have to feel the brand. Be consistent in expectations of what the brand should deliver, but give employees autonomy in how this is delivered and celebrate that inconsistency.




#3 Influence as much as control



Here’s the rub. Experience building and employee inspiration are typically outside the control of marketing. Even more challenging to a newly hired executive is that other leaders may resent ‘meddling’ in their areas of authority. The successful marketer will need to be politically deft and also be sufficiently knowledgeable of other disciplines to avoid coming across as naïve.



Just as social media empowered employees to message, service marketers are now playing a bigger game, shaping internal behavior as much as external messages. Are you up for the challenge?


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