I heard an interesting comment the other day. “The trouble with the UK” it said “Is you no longer have a culture. You abandoned it for fear of offending minorities”.

This brought to my mind an issue I sometimes encounter when I’m working with organisations to identify their brand. It also raises an emerging issue that a few commentators have already begun to comment on and which looks set to become more important.

Accommodating minorities is obviously a positive thing, but there is a point where doing so causes you to abandon your own principles. At that point you start to slide into a bland, uncommitted persona that reduces your chances of meaningful engagement. You can see this happening in every area of life from personal relationships to the relationships we have with brands, which, to emphasise that these relationships are the same in many respects as those we have with each other, I call “brandships” .

Nations are brands as much as anything else, which is where I made the connection between the original comment and what I encounter in my work with businesses and their brands. And I believe it’s true that the UK is struggling now because successive governments have failed to grasp the importance of national branding. However, problems arise when nations and organisations alike are afraid to alienate anyone.

Think about this in terms of your personal relationships. People who enjoy strong meaningful relationships tend to have distinctive strong personalities. Of course, obvious and distinctive traits are equally likely to put people off. The point is, you can’t be all things to all people. To a great extent your value is your exclusivity and the value of the relationships you do have is far greater than the sum of those you would have by being bland. People are attracted to stand-out people and the same applies to brands. They forge stronger and deeper relationships with them and for a commercial organisation this means customer retention, and more advocates, reducing the cost of maintaining your customer base or, in this context, you brand community.

There are too many business leaders who are afraid to alienate anyone, but it is proven in today’s marketplace what matters is the depth of the relationships you have with customers, not the number of them. A lot of shallow relationships doesn’t work in the long run, mainly because of the cost of maintaining loyalty. Basically you end up with mercenary customers while what you want are advocates.

The need to be bold in defining your brand doesn’t mean you have to confine your market to a small minority. Sub-brands are just one way of extending a customer base, but the strength of your main brand’s brandships is the critical issue and the correct way to tackle brand development is to firstly focus on achieving strong, meaningful relationships with a clearly defined and possibly confined segment and then work on your brand architecture to maximise your customer base.

It’s also important to remember your brand community isn’t confined to your customers. Stakeholders include investors, suppliers, distributors, partners and, of course, employees – all the people in fact who work to make the community what it is and ensure its promise is delivered. The depth of the brandships you have with these stakeholders is even more important than those you have with customers because without internal stakeholders you wouldn’t retain or even win customers.

Brands are what brings everyone together behind a shared objective. Your brand provides the focus for internal stakeholders as well as customers and, because of this, they are the key to successful transformation. This principle applies in the same way to any brand and there are many types to consider – national, destination, product, sports, entertainment to name just a few. Even governments rely on the power of community to bring policies to life. This is branding, but successful nations, like all other brand types, are those that set their stall out with a clearly defined values, culture and promise.

The emerging point I mentioned in my introduction is the slowly-dawning realisation that markets for most businesses aren’t infinite. Already many sectors are saturated and players are just moving customers around between them and getting used to the idea that the pursuit of sector-growth will increasingly be fruitless. We need  to redefine our objective. The solution seems likely to be to focus on maintaining rather than increasing economic status. This is achieved by adding value to what we do. If organisations are to achieve growth it will be by retaining and selling more to the customers they have. This is made possible by digital technology and emphasises the necessity for businesses to transform before it’s too late. It also highlights the importance of brands, essentially deep and meaningful brandships, not only to facilitate the smooth running of organisations in the future, but to transform successfully.

Phil Darby
January 8, 2019

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