Building a Strong Brand: Align the Points of Touch

One of the simplest ways to build a strong brand is to make sure that every point of contact that prospects and customers have with your company reinforces the brand promise. Although relatively simple in theory, “touch-point alignment” often proves difficult in practice. Consistently reinforcing your brand requires discipline, focus and commitment.

When asked to identify a company’s brand touch points, most people point to the obvious, such as logos and advertisements. In fact, people often think of the logo as the brand and advertising as the primary way to build the brand. In reality, the concept of brand touch points encompasses far more than these basic visual cues. Every point of contact your prospects and customers have with your company and its products and services provides an opportunity to build your brand – or weaken it. How you manage those points of contact determines the relative strength or weakness of your brand.

Every company has an internal and external brand experience, and each plays an important role in developing your overall brand. Picture a massive iceberg floating in the Northern Atlantic. The visible portion poking its head above the ocean’s surface represents a small fraction of the iceberg’s full mass. Similarly, only a small portion of your company’s brand experience – the external part – is highly visible. Much more of your brand lies below the surface and is not as easily recognizable.

A Case in Point

To illustrate our point, let’s look at an extreme example – IBM. For much of its history, IBM had one of the strongest brands in corporate America, arguably in the entire world. By the early 1990s, however, the company’s branding and advertising systems had fallen into a state of chaos. When Lou Gerstener took over as CEO in 1993, he quickly realized that reviving and clarifying the IBM brand was one of his highest priorities.

At the time of Gerstener’s arrival, IBM had more than 70 different ad agencies representing the firm. Each worked with a different product manager, with no central coordination or oversight. A single issue of an industry trade magazine could have up to 18 different IBM ads with 18 different designs, messages, and even logos. The company had hundreds of product brochures, each different enough that it was virtually impossible to tell that they came from the same company. Gerstener likened the situation to “70 little trumpets all tooting simultaneously for attention.”

To wrest control of IBM’s messaging from his country managers, Gerstener brought 35 of them to a conference center in Palisades, New York. He plastered the walls with IBM’s widely disparate advertising, packaging and marketing collateral, creating a veritable train wreck of brand and product positioning. At the end of his presentation, Gerstener posed one question: “Does anyone doubt we can do this better?” Unanimously, the team decided to consolidate IBM’s 70+ advertising relationships into a single global agency. From that point forward, all of IBM’s marketing reinforced one basic positioning message: IBM as global, world-class integrator. The rest is history.

A Question to Ponder and an Exercise

What if you conducted an exercise at your company similar to Gerstener’s branding exercise at IBM? What if you took every one of your company’s brand touch points and spread them across your conference room? Use the following list of touch points to start the process:

Internal Branding (Employees):

o Recruitment

o Advertising

o Website

o Employee Handbook

o Screening Process

o Goals and Objectives

o Review Process

o Compensation Structure

o Internal Communications

o Recognition Programs

o Training and Development

o Promotion Criteria

Retention Branding (Customers):

o Policies and Procedures

o Logo

o Identity

o Website

o Email Marketing

o On Hold

o Receptionist

o Brochures

o Datasheets

o Press Releases

o Advertisements

o Direct Mail

o Catalogs

o Packaging

o Pricing

o Strategic Alliances

o Correspondence

o Announcements

Acquisition Branding (Prospects):

o Customer Service

o Technical Support

o Logistics / Delivery

o Corporate

o Headquarters

o Branch Offices

o Tradeshow Booth

o Business Processes

Financial Branding (Financial Community):

o Press Releases

o Annual Report

o Quarterly Reports

o Analyst Briefings

o Investor Presentation

Every business is different, but chances are good that most, if not all, of these will apply to your business. As you review your various touch points, keep in mind that one of the simplest ways to build a strong brand is to make sure that every point of contact that prospects and customers have with your company reinforces your brand promise. Then ask the following questions:

o Is a singular message reinforced or are there a cacophony of messages?

o Is there a similar look and feel to the messages or do they look like they are from different companies?

o Is the visual imagery the same or is the graphic look (including the pictures) different?

It’s easy to conclude that a logo is a brand or that advertising is the primary strategy to build brand (even though it is extremely expensive, even for the largest companies). However, the reality is that a brand consists of a lot more than a logo, and there are many ways to build a brand. The key is to identify the touch points of your brand and make sure they are aligned with your brand promise. The more consistency you have across your various touch points, the stronger your brand will be.