As marketers, we spend countless hours on brand development—creating the structure, look and feel of our brands.
But how much time do we spend on the risks we can experience?
While there is no official definition of “brand risk,” I define it as anything that threatens our ability to sustain a profitable operation. Generally, those risks can come from operational and regulatory issues as well as decisions that can impact consumer behavior.
Modern brands are more at risk than ever before because they no longer live in the creative department. In our world of social media, word-of-mouth and experiential marketing, the brand ultimately belongs to the customer and other team members more than it does to the marketing group.
Like most successful programs, brand management must be a C-suite down, cross-functional initiative to elevate the importance to the entire organization.
I’d like you to consider being risk aware in your brand efforts. That’s not to say you’re going to examine every decision from 100 different perspectives; that will only slow you down. Being risk aware means you can detect threats early and respond quickly. What follows is some advice on how to achieve this risk mitigation goal:
• Know the signs of brand risk. There are several risks brands can suffer. Attributes of the brand that often come under attack and should be watched include:
Awareness, which can decline as a result of lack of (or inappropriate) advertising, ineffective promotion, or simply not being where your customers are.
Positioning, which can slip when competition puts you in a different position in the customer’s mind. Experience can do the same. Additionally, the speed at which we are now required to respond to customers while simultaneously creating promotional messages can often leave us cutting corners, resulting in inconsistency in our messages. The flip side is that brands that can’t be nimble can often be left behind.
Loyalty, which is built by consistent, aligned customer experiences. These experiences are a by-product of our products and our team members. Minor shifts can quickly bring the brand house down. A solid foundation is a must.
Legacy, in which brands can sometimes be caught resting on their laurels, easily allowing competition to shift, adapt and capture our market share.
• How to strengthen your brand. If your brand shows weakness in any of the above areas, fear not—steps can be taken to reinvigorate your company image. This always starts with the heartbeat of the brand—our team members.
Team members are telling the brand story day in and day out. They are continually interacting with key stakeholders and shaping the image of the brand. The first step we must take is hiring the right people, but this can only happen if human resources and our partner recruiters are knowledgeable about the brand. When was the last time the vision was shared with an external recruiter? I don’t mean adding the boilerplate language to a job posting but rather providing them with a deep understanding of what team members need to accomplish.
An obvious (but often misused) tool is customer experience training. Social media has empowered today’s consumers to quickly spread the word of their dissatisfaction, whether that is with your product, service or experience. Empowering frontline staff to do what is necessary to turn a bad experience into a good (if not great) one and correct issues quickly is essential.
It is not uncommon for there to be a different understanding or view of the brand from one department to another, but also from management to the front line (in the same department). If your internal understanding varies, what do you think the brand looks like from the customer’s point of view? A brand is introduced by marketing but brought to life by the actions of many team members who may not be aware of the vision.
It is our job to invest in the proper tools and training of our workforces so they may realize the role they play in the advancement of our brands. Training everyone on messages and behaviors is critical to the health of the brand.
Brand style guides have traditionally held the dos and don’ts of graphic applications. More contemporary utilization of the standards is a mechanism for bringing the brand to life. Standards should be built to scale thoughtfully, but easily.
Teach everyone how to spot and report potential risks. We naturally think about reporting a spill on the front line a malfunctioning kiosk, but without an understanding of the desired reputation and what things can hurt the brand, team members are left in the dark (like an unreported blown fuse).
Finally, keep your team members happy but creating and meeting their expectations. Nothing kills a brand faster than a disgruntled brand ambassador.
• How to improve brand operations. Are the values of the organization in action? Does your external communication match your internal every day or only for special occasions?
You can guard against potential risks by closing the gap between what you say you do and what you actually do, both back of the house and in front. The operation must be a reflection of the brand with every decision. Let’s look at value as a brand as an example. If your position is value, consider waiving ATM fees rather than increasing them. Some operators think slashing prices projects a value brand, but it really just says “cheaper.” Look for ways to add value rather than slashing prices.
As operators, we must all look beyond our logos, understand the values, and then inform our decisions through that lens.
An additional risk to your brand reputation can come from vendors, partners and agents. It is critical that you proactively educate these third parties on your brand and the values attached to it. If they cannot advance your goals, perhaps you should reconsider the alliance.
• Don’t be afraid to undergo a brand audit. One of your company’s most important assets is your brand and reputation. Consider a brand audit to evaluate your position, strengths, and weaknesses in the marketplace. This checkup should cover internal and external branding as well as the guest experience.
Ongoing measurement (preferably independently) of the state of the brand can aid in keeping score (yes, an actual scorecard) of identifiable risks and how you stand against them versus the competition in the minds of your target customer, as well as how these indicators may have shifted over time.
Maintain ongoing conversations with customers and those of your competition through both informal and formal research. Understand and agree to goals, set benchmarks and regularly check for changes.
Monitor trends that have the potential to impact your brand and your business. This process can help you understand and identify early warning signs and give you a jump on the issues.
For most of us, our markets are often categorized as “mature.” Competition is here, not just from other casinos, but from other entertainment options. We rely on our brand strengths, not only to attract and retain customers but to do the same with team members and partners. Your brand is a priceless asset and damage can have a lasting and dramatic effect.