Is your brand issue really a company structure issue?

More often than we’d like to think, what is described as a problem with a brand is actually a problem with a company’s structure. I found myself in a meeting last week where this was particularly evident to everyone but, it seemed, the company concerned.

The client (a large financial services brand who shall remain nameless) was telling us that we need to look at the brand’s messaging and its imagery and tone of voice — the usual stuff — as their website doesn’t seem to be delivering the growth they’d expect.

All the latest fashionable stuff is trotted out: how important storytelling is. How we need to revisit the brand’s message house. How we need to workshop some new positioning statements and ensure we have a firm grasp on the customer personas we’re dealing with.

Absolutely nothing wrong with doing all of the above from time to time, if necessary. But the real issue in this instance (as it often is) was nothing to do with “the brand” per se.

It was entirely an issue of how the company structured its product offering.

Put simply, the company was offering two main types of financial service: protection (ie insurance), and pensions (ie savings/investments). Each had their own sales and management team. Each had their own revenue and profit targets. They even had separate buildings in different parts of town.

As a consequence of this internal structure, each had, effectively, their own website with just a shared initial homepage. Plus, each had their own advertising campaign with markedly different imagery and messaging.

In other words, each product area was pretty much a separate brand.

So the customer would, to all intents and purposes, be dealing with two separate entities. She couldn’t get a statement that showed her protection and pension products on a single document. The documents she did receive were entirely different in appearance and structure. She couldn’t manage her two products through a single online portal. She had to log in separately to two different dashboards. She received no cross-sell benefits or discounts. In short, as far as the company was concerned she was essentially two different people.

From a company perspective, this can make perfect sense. Often the structure comes about through mergers and acquisitions. A company buys another company’s insurance ‘book’ or sells off its pension business. The new bit is just bolted on to the old bit and remains a separate entity in everything but name. Why change anything other than the product’s name and logo?

Because it’s unbelievably frustrating and confusing for the customer, that’s why. And that’s bad for business.

You arrive at the website expecting a clear UX journey. You want to feel like you’re a loved and appreciated customer of The Brand. You don’t give a monkey’s that the company behind the website is operating out of two separate offices in different parts of the company and that the management of one bit rarely talks to the management of the other bit.

What you care about is being able to look after your finances simply and confidently. You don’t want to have two different logins and two completely different website journeys. You couldn’t care less that each brand has a slightly different version of the logo and a different ad campaign.

In your mind, the brand is a single entity and you want it to help you manage your financial affairs as best it can. If it’s not delivering this, you think bad things about the brand. Perhaps you think about moving to competitors who get it right?

My point is this: we must always remember that The Brand is the impression of your company/product/service that exists in YOUR CUSTOMERS’ MINDS. It’s not a logo, it’s not a TOV, it’s not your values or mission statement.

If your customers think your website is clunky and confusing, your service is sloppy, your communications unnecessarily complex and wasteful, it doesn’t matter that your advertising is sensational, your logo is beautiful and your TOV is warm and witty. Your brand is what your customers feel about you, not what you tell them they ought to feel.

Nobody’s saying it’s easy to change a company’s structure to reflect what your customer needs, it isn’t. It’s complex and expensive. It puts massive numbers of noses out of joint and, of course, can even result in redundancies. So it’s entirely understandable when the main board refuses to even consider it.

But if you genuinely believe all those customer-centric promises in your latest brand values document, you need to do it.


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