As you may have heard recently, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money has bought the faltering Northern Rock bank in the UK. Already, many customers of other banks are moving across to Branson’s bank. I suspect this is the case because people have a lot of trust in the Virgin brand.
I am convinced that all organisations should include trust as one of their values, but I question whether this is the case. Firstly, what does trust mean to customers? Customers trust an organisation when they are confident that it will serve their best interests at all times. Then, and only then, does the business become the customer’s organisation of choice. Its reputation precedes it, not just for us as individuals but to many.
For example, why do we use Starbucks and Amazon? Why do we buy a BMW or a Porsche, and why do we choose to visit Disney Land and stay or dine at the Ritz Carlton? The answer is simple: we trust the brand. We know what to expect, and businesses such these, and others, deliver every time.
Now I have some difficult questions for you. Do your customers trust your brand? Would your employees recommend your organisation to members of their family? Do they live and breathe your brand? Do you create the right environment, where everyone bonds around your values, particularly your service values?
Think about this carefully: what do you do for your employees and your customers consistently? How often do you go the extra mile and exceed their expectations? Do you give your customers a reason to trust your brand and recommend it to others?
Sorry for all those questions!
It often starts with the basics: delivering the promise, doing what is expected of you, keeping it personal, building sound relationships, handling queries and complaints professionally, and as I have said many times before, going the extra mile to keep customers loyal. Every moment of truth counts for customers, the journey they experience with you. For your brand to survive, this means not letting customers down, particularly the new customers you need to attract.
Why does brand matter so much to customers? Put simply, you want to be the customer’s first choice. You have a great product or service that you have nurtured over the years, and a quality brand differentiates you from your competitors, for example, Coca-Cola versus Pepsi. Organisations have different values. For example, Tesco’s “Every little helps” focuses on price. BMW’s brand provides reassurance around a set of concepts, including performance, image, and reliability. I think that as far as customers are concerned, the common denominator is service, and today that has become the differentiator for business success and must therefore be a priority value. Every company that wants to build and protect its brand should put service right up at the top of the list of brand desirables.
Great branding is a combination of all the organisation’s values, and this has to include service—particularly when building trust with customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Creating a fantastic experience for customers is every bit as important as offering quality products. Customers trust strong brands, like Virgin, Microsoft, and Singapore Airlines, because they know what to expect. They believe that, whatever happens, the service that those companies provide will not let them down.
Having a strong brand also means that, despite increases in costs affecting prices, your customers will stay loyal for as long as they can. Remember the Heinz Baked Beans story? When the major supermarkets started to produce their own brands of beans, Heinz had two choices: they could either compete and lower prices, knowing their sales would decrease (and also profits), or they could be proud of their product and their brand and increase the price. They decided on the latter and thrived. They continue to be the market leader today, despite the competition. Branding in this case developed the uniqueness of Heinz Beans, and they do have a superior taste which I, like many, love!
Remember that your brand raises expectations. You need new customers to reinforce it, so make sure that you deliver on time, every time, offering great service. Use your brand identity at every opportunity: in your advertising, on websites, in all your communication, and don’t forget the freebies for customers and staff. Reinforcing your brand via mugs, pens, T-shirts, and sponsorship all helps to keep customers loyal, making your brand work for you.
Occasionally, your brand might need reviewing, so seek feedback from your internal and external customers, the board, and other stakeholders because your business will evolve. Your brand must be aligned to new products and services, mergers, and takeovers, but these can be positive if you are building on top of the strong foundation of an already great brand. Never forget, it is your customers who build your brand and make it successful, so continue to listen to them.
I will leave the final quote to Sir Richard Branson: “The Virgin Group has always gone into markets where there's been an opportunity to make things better for customers. We've been doing it for 40 years…Now we want to do the same for banking. It's not something we take lightly. There's a lot of hard work ahead. But we have the people, the products, and the plans in place [to succeed].” I bet that most people who know of Branson’s companies believe what he says there; they trust him.