Synchronizing the Brand By Stephen M.

Rapier

From a personal viewpoint, my contact with major brands is often only through their advertising, and only occasionally through more intimate contact, such as an in-person meeting or a telephone conversation when I have a need. One day, after requesting a call back from a national brand so I could place an order, I was confronted with the reality of contacting one brand and dealing with another, less appealing one. My original expectation of the brand was based on perceptions I formed as a result of the company's advertising, as I didn't necessarily know anyone who had purchased this brand and hadn’t experienced other contacts. My subsequent interaction with the brand, however, undermined the perceptions I had formed in my mind relating to the quality, reliability and trustworthiness of the brand. What I essentially encountered was the lack of synchronization, or split, between the brand that I had in my mind that was formed from one brand contact, and the brand as delivered from another brand contact, in this case a third party hired by the national brand to perform estimating and installation functions. Synchronization The conceptual framework of brand synchronization reasons that a brand is inherently more powerful when its message and promise is delivered consistently across all of its contacts, than when it is delivered in an unpredictable manner. As the target audience becomes aware of a brand's message, perceptions are formed which ultimately influence future interaction with the brand. For instance, in the case of potential customers, purchase intent toward a specific brand is formed as a product of awareness and positive perceptions during a cycle of need. As the need increases, the consumer is more likely to interact with one or more brand contacts to gather more information and validate initial perceptions, with the value of the purchase stimulating an increase in the level and quantity of contact. Conversely, message inconsistency among one or more brand contacts can adversely impact purchase intent toward the brand. This may occur when a consumer visits the brand's web site, reads articles that pertain to the brand, or talks with friends or associates who already have purchased that brand's products or services, and finds that these messages are inconsistent with earlier perceptions. Assuming that the initial purchase intent is affirmed with consistent and relevant messaging across the brand contacts, the consumer may move toward trial. Product trial itself is a form of significant brand contact, whereas if the product or service delivers on the brand promise, the trial will serve to reinforce perceptions and positively influence satisfaction and loyalty. Alternately, a poor experience with trial will effectively reduce customer satisfaction, thwart loyalty and retention, and increase post-purchase dissonance. Finally, delivery of a consistent post-purchase brand message acts to increase brand loyalty, reinforcing the correctness of the original perception and the subsequent buying decision in the consumer's mind. Synchronization at this level extends to the after-sale support contacts, as well as subsequent brand messages, such as advertising, delivered through traditional channels. This re-affirmation can serve to assuage lingering doubts within the consumer's mind

regarding their expensive, and highly visible, acquisition. This is true for new car buyers, when many often "notice" their vehicle on the road more after the purchase than before, read more advertisements about the car they just purchased, and seek out friends and family to show off their new purchase. The benefit of customer loyalty and retention that arises from the consistent post-sale delivery of the brand promise is likely to increase proportionately with an escalation in the cost and visibility of a purchase. Begin at the Top Successful brand synchronization begins at the very top of the organization. Executives first need to understand what their brand represents in the market and how that is synchronized with their vision for their brand. Often the brand as described by company executives is not exactly the brand that is in the minds of consumers, where it actually resides. Whereas executives may view their brand as a "super athlete" in their market, customers may actually view the brand as a "weak bystander." Executives need to understand this gap as the initial step to brand synchronization. This breach between what the brand is supposed to represent in management's view and what it actually signifies to the customer is a "Synchronization Split." Continue Through the Organization Once harmonized among top management, the brand's vision and values need to be communicated and reinforced by example to the rest of the organization. Attempts at redefining the brand's promise or messaging needs to be communicated clearly and convincingly to all internal stakeholders. In many cases, this requires a long-term commitment from executives to ensure that employees are well-informed champions of the brand's synchronized promise. A political or directive environment that enables a stream of half-hearted attempts at brand education by senior management creates fissures in the foundation of synchronization, thereby enlarging the Synchronization Split between how executives view their brand, and how employees and ultimately other stakeholders view the brand. Successful internal synchronization ensures that when customers, prospects, vendors and other stakeholders come into contact with employees in the pre- or post-purchase cycle, the message and experience is entirely consistent with the intent of management and that of outward brand contacts that the consumer is already familiar with. Expand Upstream and Downstream As the internal organization needs to be synchronized, so too must be the upstream and downstream stakeholders who come into contact with customers. Ideally, brand synchronization extends upstream to the production and delivery of products and services to the organization by vendors, and downstream to strategic partners and points of distribution that are consistent with the brand's promise. An example of poor upstream synchronization is a manufacturer who supplies cheap tin prongs to a jewelry manufacturer who specializes in top quality diamonds. Whereas an example of poor downstream synchronization is the high resolution, three dimensional modeling computer monitor manufacturer who uses the channel of self-serve discount warehouse stores to distribute product line to product designers. In each of these cases, the lack of synchronization between the brand promise as potentially communicated through some contacts, and the brand promise as experienced across other brand contacts exasperates the Synchronization Split, increasing anxiety in the consumers mind that can adversely impact perceptions, purchase intent, response, trial and retention. Culminate with Marketing

Finally, once the internal organization and external third parties are synchronized, the marketing strategy and messaging must be synchronized with the brand promise so as to deliver a consistent, relevant and compelling message that is reinforced across all of the brand contacts. This ensures that the brand, as it resides in the minds of the target audience, is consistent at every brand contact level and reflects the synchronized brand envisioned by management. Conclusion Synchronization at every level of contact between the target audience and the brand ensures that the brand that resides in the minds of consumers is the same as what management intends, that pre- and post-purchase anxiety is reduced, and that perceptions, purchase intent, response, trial, satisfaction and retention is increased. ____________ Steve Rapier is Vice President of The Artime Group (www.artimegroup.com), a Los Angelesbased advertising, branding and marketing agency. He is the author of the Rapier ReportÔ, a comprehensive strategic plan that provides tactical guidance for the successful planning, execution and measurement of company-wide marketing initiatives. Steve can be reached at steve@artimegroup.com.