By Tom Paquin
In their book about navigating the collapse of the US Auto Industry, Branding Iron, Charlie Hughes and William Jeanes describe a brand as “A promise, wrapped in an experience.”
That’s always stuck with me, and it’s been a lens by which I’ve viewed brand ever since I read those words. A brand, at its best, is clear, simple, and focused, based on a balance of outward messaging from the organization, and inward perception from the customer.
Think about a brand with which you interact on a day-to-day basis. What is the core message at its heart? Typically, that messaging can be diluted into a few very broad categories: A brand can be affordable, or high-quality, or have a social consciousness, or illicit a feeling of nostalgia, and so on, but a brand, at its best, takes the many moving parts that make up a business and points them towards a singular focus.
This is harder to conceptualize for companies that deliver some form of service. How do you centralize a brand that both sells physical products and provides service? How can you create a singular thread that passes through both business functions in a meaningful way?
The easiest way to see this done well (and poorly) is to go to your local shopping mall. Brick and mortar businesses are eager to servitize themselves, and in doing so, are helping to create unified brand experiences that encompass both products and services.
Step into the Apple store and pick up a phone that is considered easy and accessible, or walk to the back of the store, where customer support is engineered to be just as easy and accessible. Sephora and other makeup stores like it provide a mid-scale beauty solution, and patently mid-scale makeup artists to slap it on there for you. LEGOs offer hours of creativity and imagination for kids, and a gigantic mess and foot injuries for parents, and the LEGO store certainly captures that unique energy. Look, too, at the way that Toys “R” Us is rebranding itself. It’s making service part of its DNA, and trying to capture the same fun and excitement of the toys that they sell.
That’s fine with retail, sure, but can brand synergy like that really happen in the field? I’d argue that it needs to, for all businesses. In many cases, your service technician will be the only way that a customer will interact with your brand in person, at all. How do you want that interaction to be perceived? What should the outcome be? How can this be used as a differentiator?
A service brand can’t just be a fast turnaround time when things go wrong and making scheduling easy. That’s the bare minimum of expectations for any service firm today. The way to best unify your brand is to see service as a product. This product, sitting alongside other products in your portfolio, will have certain attributes that tie it to the brand’s promise, and differentiate it versus its competitors. Perhaps this will require a consideration not just of the act of service, but of the outcomes that service provides, or it’ll require a thoughtful and functional audit of what customers actually think about you to begin with.
We’ve previously discussed Spencer Technologies on Future of Field Service, and they’re a company that understands their brand promise implicitly. They’re ostensibly a pure services company, providing setup, teardown, and support to retail clients of all sizes. They pride themselves on their unobtrusive service always delivered by a technician in a Spencer van, never a contractor. They deliver on this brand promise for service in a simple way: Creating dashboards powered by their customers’ SLA agreement and providing visibility of service duration, technician information, and turnaround directly to the client, who often is remotely associated with the issue at a specific retail outlet themselves. So—a little forward thinking and the right technology is more than enough to align your service with the brand promise.
You might be wondering where to start with this, and I’d say there are three steps:
- Start by getting a picture of how your service business runs. That’s not just to say the actual service delivery, but also the serviceable assets, the contractor network, if it exists, and also what you want your service practice to actually say about you.
- From there, adjust the business parameters surrounding service and consider whether contracts should be adjusted from break-fix to outcomes-oriented.
- After that, think about any technologies that can help you thread the needle, what tech is currently in place to support that today, and how you can bridge that gap.