August 1, 2012
The Service-Oriented Brand — A New PR Imperative
By David Warschawski, Founder and CEO, Warschawski
One of the most frequent comments we hear is, "We are a service-oriented company and not a product-based company and therefore branding doesn't make sense for us, or it just won't work."
This statement couldn't be further from the truth and, in fact, is completely backwards. Service-oriented companies are in greater need of creating brand-centric experiences for their current and potential clients than product-based clients. Why?
Today, almost all companies are selling a commodity in the eyes of the consumer. You sell moisture wicking shirts or coffee to go… so do lots of other companies. You sell legal, accounting, or chiropractic services… so do tons of other companies who all claim to be very good at it. Which means the consumer is now looking for a way to differentiate between you and your competitors. But most service-oriented brands aren't providing their target audience with much help here.
It used to be that quality and proximity/availability became the differentiators. However, in today's interconnected world, those competitive advantages are fairly fungible. Which leaves only price — and trying to win on price is a game you almost always lose in the long term.
The smart companies have realized that their brand DNA and their brand values — the emotional experience they want their target audience to have whenever they interact with them — is the only real way to differentiate themselves from their competitors. If their brand is created correctly, it allows them to stand out from the pack and give their potential clients a reason to choose them over the competition.
In today's world, there is also a misguided distinction being made between a service and a product-based company. Are Starbucks, Southwest and Nordstrom really product companies? No. If the vast numbers of representatives for each of these companies provided inconsistent service and didn't live their brand every day, they would die a quick death. That is because for consumers today, almost all companies are a place we go to get what we believe will fulfill our needs the best. They don't care whether you call yourself a service or product oriented company.
When making a purchasing decision about a service, the way most consumers make that decision is fundamentally and psychologically the same as whether or not they decide to buy from Starbucks. Yes, at Starbucks you walk out with a product and at a law firm or an ad agency you walk out with advice and concepts. But at both, you are buying the experience they create for you, the relationship that is provided to you and how you believe that will make you feel.
That is all brand, and although we might not like to admit it, to the consumer, the baristas are really no different than the accountants at an accounting firm or the account executives at an ad agency. They create and reinforce the emotional connection with the client.
Now a consumer goods company does have the extra advantage of selling a tangible product through which they can demonstrate their brand — in the product itself, its packaging, and the point of purchase experience. This is all the more reason that companies that don't sell something tangible, need to ensure they have clarity of brand and their entire internal team shows it to the outside world consistently. They have one less avenue of opportunity for demonstrating how they are highly unique and relevant for their target audience — ultimately why a potential customer should choose them.
Sadly, we see way too many "service-oriented" companies out there that say their brand is all about integrity and reliability, or some other overly used and vapid term. Please understand this just positions you and makes you sound all the more like a commodity. Think of it — would you buy from a company that said, "Well… we're not so into integrity or reliability." Of course not! It is assumed that you will have integrity and be reliable, otherwise I would never work with you.
That's why it is so important for "service oriented" companies to go through a process that mixes science and art to clarify their brand DNA and brand values – ways in which they can truly and consistently be unique. Then they need to roll it out to their entire team in such a way that empowers them and encourages them live up to those brand standards every day.