Who Owns Your Brand’s Soul?

November 10, 2011 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Companies don’t have souls. People do. That’s never clearer than when company leaders step all over their people, intentionally or otherwise. Crushed spirits turn into crushed brands and broken companies. Rarely have I come across so poignant an example as I did at the gym this morning. As a reformed know-it-all, I’ve engaged the services of a professional trainer to help me sort out my awful form and bad habits. This trainer is a great guy. He’s full of passion for a profession he chose as a kid and is excited to be practicing what he preaches. It’s his calling, and any fitness chain would be lucky to have him representing its brand.

But, today I could tell something was amiss from the jump. It wasn’t anything my trainer said or did. His affect was just different. He was less enthusiastic and his trademark energy had been drained. It didn’t take a long line of questioning to get to the heart of the matter. The gym recently came under new ownership, which seemed to be a positive development. They had invested in expensive new equipment, reconditioned the space with fresh paint and carpet, and re-named the place to underscore the forward progress. The capital improvements have been impressive, but the new owners seem far less concerned with energizing the aspect of the brand that delivers the most important part of the customer experience: the employees.

My friend explained that the gym’s new manager had informed all the trainers that they would now be expected to find new clients themselves. Under previous ownership there had been a sales group charged with this task. Now, the trainers are also expected to sell, and they’ve been given aggressive monthly quotas to boot. From the sound of it, the new manager delivered this news to the trainers with all the empathy of Gordon Gekko. To underscore the urgency of the new requirement he added that they’d be fired if they failed. Upon learning this I was immediately infected with my trainer’s dour mood. It was like a contagion. The new owners effectively turned their most effective brand ambassadors into sour brand assassins with a single stupid move.

It’s an obvious misstep that may seem like the folly of small-time operators who are in over their heads, but that’s not so. Too often customers are greeted with the vacant stares of disaffected frontline employees performing tasks like zombies nurtured only by their paychecks. Joe Calloway, author of “Becoming a Category of One”, says a brand is what people think it’s like to do business with you. Embedded in that important concept is the idea that people do business with other people. In that sense, employees are the brand. It’s great to have a cool place and space and things to sell, but the connective energy that flows from strong brands is something only people can generate.

What, specifically, are you doing to feed souls of your soldiers?

Brand Failuremarketing

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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