A solid brand is key to business success, but over the years I have seen many companies try to commit suicide by killing the brand identities they spent so many years and so much money creating. Many are now gone. Others are still around, but in a weakened position.
You must give the customer a compelling, emotional reason to want to be connected to your company and to do business with you on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, they will try different competitors until they find that connection.
That’s what building a brand is all about. It is similar to learning the social ropes when young — learning how to make new friends while hanging onto the ones you already have. Unfortunately, too many executives don’t understand the value a customer puts on falling in love with a brand.
The Power of Brand Building
Executives must keep up with what their company’s brand means to the customer. It’s all about the customer — about creating a long-lasting relationship that can withstand pressure.
Many companies come up with a brand message that resonates with their customers — they love the brand and remain with it for a long time. Why, then, do bright, brand-conscious executives choose to dump their valuable brand message and destroy those customer relationships? That’s the perplexing mistake too many make.
Following are a few examples of some of the damaging mistakes brand-named companies have made and how to avoid following in their footsteps.
Burger King and KFC
Burger King — you know, the “have it your way” fast food hamburger joint that competes with McDonald’s and Wendy’s — used to focus on giving the customer more choices than the other guys. You could customize your Whopper — extra tomatoes or lettuce or whatever. You always got what you wanted, your way.
Today, walk into a Burger King and ask for a Whopper with extra lettuce and pickle, and they charge you for that. They still provide it, but you have to spend an additional 35 cents for one slice of pickle and a few extra shreds of lettuce.
This ticks off the customer. Is that the result they want in a competitive industry? Either the cost of the extras has gone up, or they want to discourage customers from having it their way.
Of course, if you ask for no tomatoes, they don’t charge you less. It’s a one-way street that takes advantage of the customer. Any way you slice it, this practice hurts Burger King and its brand.
KFC, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, used to have a great product. Just ask country singer Reba McEntire, who now wears the colonel’s costume as spokesperson for this finger-lickin-good chicken.
However, the quality today is up for grabs. Sometimes it’s as good as always. Other times the pieces are too small, the chicken is overcooked, dry and greasy, and customers have a miserable experience.
If KFC can get it right at some stores, sometimes, they should be able to do the same in all stores, every time. This is their mistake. Customers are getting to the point where they would rather not roll the dice and hope this time it’s good.
Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme
Dunkin Donuts is another company that has been destroying the brand it built over decades. An old TV commercial featured a cute old man with the mustache mumbling, “time to make the donuts” in the middle of the night. It was funny, and it delivered a brand-building message: Customers could expect fresh donuts. Dunkin Donuts would keep donuts on the shelves for only four hours. After that, they would be replaced by fresh ones.
Customers loved it, but then Dunkin Donuts changed its ways. Now customers never know what they are going to get. One thing the donuts won’t be is hot. The only question is whether they will be relatively fresh or stale. Stale donuts turn customers off — but they get them way too often.
Because Dunkin Donuts stopped its brand-enhancing behavior, customers may not get what they want. That means they don’t stop in as often. The value of the Dunkin Donuts brand has been compromised.
Krispy Kreme donuts built its brand on a red sign in the window saying “FRESH DONUTS NOW.” When that sign was turned on, customers would pull over and line up just to sink their teeth into a hot, soft, flavorful taste of heaven. Some still do.
However, these days it’s much less likely that you’ll find the red light on when you pass a Krispy Kreme donut store. That means the donuts will be just so-so. There will be no long lines wrapping around the building. The loss of that experience is disappointing to longtime customers. The company has damaged its well-known brand.
Stick With a Winning Brand
With so many examples of companies doing the right thing and the wrong thing in building their brands in the marketplace, you would think the importance of doing the right thing would be plain.
However, big name brands that built their entire business on the value of the brand promise they made to the customer keep walking away from the exact things that propelled them from scratch to become leaders in their space.
Companies ride the growth wave or growth curve up, and then it crests, and then it falls. It happens too often. A company turning its back on its brand is one of the reasons. The value of the brand relationship with the customer should be cherished and protected and made stronger over time.
This is not something you can choose to walk away from and expect to continue doing strong business. It just does not work that way. If you are lucky enough to have created a brand that works, stick with it. Don’t walk away, or you will hurt not only your customers, but also investors, workers, executives and everyone involved with your company as you watch its brand value crest and then fall.