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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.

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Steve Rapier is Vice President of The Artime Group (www.artimegroup.com), a Los Angeles-
based 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.