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Trust as a Tangible Brand Attribute
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  Mary Weisnewski Trust as a Tangible Brand Attribute
by Mary Weisnewski
November 3, 2008

How do you transform your company's core values into a business asset you can see and feel? Investing in branding is a good start.


Unfortunately, too many companies slow their efforts to a grinding halt after the rollout party to unveil the new website design and hand out pens embossed with the new logo. In many ways, this is just the beginning of the most important stage of the branding process. It’s the beginning of a long-term and focused investment in building trust. Now, everyone in your company—from management, to customer service reps, to the receptionist who answers the phone—needs to power up the brand tools into action.

“Investing in brand development is increasingly important to build credibility and differentiate,” says Cynthia Round, executive vice president of brand strategy and marketing at United Way of America, which recently rolled out a completely revamped brand campaign. “People are making purchasing decisions based on how closely aligned their values are with an organization and how much they trust what that organization is providing. This is as true whether people are making donations to nonprofits, buying consumer products, or hiring consultants.”

Revealing your organization’s core values through developing an authentic brand platform, then consistently walking the talk of those core values, is the foundation of employee and customer trust and loyalty—both of which directly affect your bottom line.

Trust: The Core of Tangible Brands
Trust is the engine that powers your brand. When a brand delivers consistently on what it says it will do there are tangible results. When the visual brand is aligned consistently with the experience it communicates an honest, reliable organization and there are tangible results. It’s all about building loyalty and long-lasting relationships.

“Your brand promise is shorthand for everything that your company stands for,” says Chuck Edwards, cofounder of Blue Gecko, a database management service provider in Seattle. “Your ability to keep that promise is critical to establishing and maintaining credibility with both employees and customers.”

Blue Gecko’s brand promise is all about being proactive in an industry where the norm is reactively waiting for customers to call with technical problems. The company makes its brand tangible in many ways, such as proactively scheduling regular check-in calls with customers to identify potential trouble spots, and bringing them trends and new technology that may save them money. “We’re partners in making technology decisions for our customers, not just trouble-shooters,” Edwards says. “That’s a huge differentiator for a small company trying to carve out a market share. So, we can directly see how acting on our brand builds trust which leads exponentially to customer retention.”

Authentic Values: The Backbone of Your Brand
Trust results from a reliable cache of perceptions and experiences, built over time. We think of organizations just like we do people we know. If I have heard of you I am more likely to trust you. If you do what you say you are going to do, my level of trust will increase. If you do this over and over, I will become a raving fan. It all boils down to consistency and authenticity. If you say one thing and do another, or look and act differently each time I interact with you, that will chip away at my trust. I’ll go elsewhere to work or do business.

“Any quality brand is built on authentic shared values, starting within the organization,” says Brien Lautman, system director for marketing and communications, at PeaceHealth, a nonprofit regional health system serving communities in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. “Our mission and values directly influence how we deliver the care and services we provide to our patients and communities. This focus is a thread that runs directly through our hiring practices, our management and caregiver training, and the care we deliver at the bedside. Delivering exceptional medicine and compassionate care is both a brand promise and tangible experience that is understood and delivered every day in every PeaceHealth hospital and medical practice.”

The essence of an authentic brand that can deliver tangible results is revealed at the intersection of the core values shared by employees, customers, partners—everyone who is a stakeholder in your organization. “You have to survey, or audit, everyone involved with your organization to find out what they really think and feel about what you’re offering, and listen to their concerns and desires,” says United Way’s Round. “Our brand audit told us that everyone wants to see themselves as part of the change, so we’re providing even more opportunities for people to do that.”

The organization’s recent brand evolution—the most extensive one since the mid-seventies, is built around the brand promise, “Live United.” The redesigned United Way website has sections devoted to volunteering, donating money and advocacy—and lots of personal stories of how people from all walks of life are getting involved.

The ROI of Tangible Brands for You and Your Customers
What every company really wants, regardless of its size or market niche, is brand equity: tangible results that show a return on investment. When United Way underwent a rigorous brand evaluation in 2003, they discovered that the strong brand was 67 percent of the reason why people chose to invest in the organization. That’s a clear and powerful return-on-investment.

Making Your Brand Tangible Leads to:

  • Ongoing affirmation of purpose
  • Organizational alignment
  • Differentiation
  • Stronger relationships and connections
  • Increased recognition
  • Stronger recruitment
  • Increased ROI
Sometimes, it’s the smaller daily actions and interactions that show you a brand is working beyond the logo and tagline. Every action, however small, has an impact on the brand experience and has the ability to strengthen or dilute the brand. According to Lautman, PeaceHealth employees actively live the organization’s brand daily. Every PeaceHealth meeting—whether it’s a gathering of four or 400 people—begins with a “reflection.” That can be anything, such as an anecdote about a caregiver's interaction with a patient or a prayer. “Employees take great pride in choosing a reflection to share,” Lautman says. “It’s a way to honor each individual and how they personally live the brand promise, as well as remind us as a group of why PeaceHealth is here—to serve patients and communities.”

The bottom line is that a tangible brand is a win-win for your company and your customers. “We can recruit and retain top level consultants because of our core values, and in turn our customers get the benefit of their expertise,” Blue Gecko’s Edwards says.

When a brand delivers consistently on its promise there are tangible results. This is true whether your company is just starting out and looking to build a client-base and reputation, is well established in your region, or has a well-known national or international presence. It’s true whether you’re a service provider, a business consultant, a retail outlet or a nonprofit. Walking the talk of your core values will build trust and ensure that your brand really goes the distance. People will pay more for, and choose faster, the experience and peace of mind a healthy brand promises.

   Mary Weisnewski is principal and founder of Kite Inc., a Seattle-based full service brand strategy and design firm.

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Trust as a Tangible Brand Attribute
 A valuable piece and the best that I have read in a long time. Trust, honesty and integrity are at the heart of long term branding because the core element of the above is developing, sustaining and managing lasting relationships. Stakeholders take ownership of brands this way and deliver consistently for the sake of the brand, and ultimately, the bigger picture. The Health of the Brand, the organisation and its people, its consumers and ultimately, communities and society benefit through the active involvement of a good and sustainable CSR programme. All of this is bound by the thread of relationship. 
Hayley Allen, Managing Member, Head Space Brands - November 3, 2008
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