"Office Space." It's a classic.
Remember Jennifer Aniston's character? She worked at a restaurant (called Chotchkie's) next to the cryptic and soulless corporation (Initech) where our protagonist Peter worked. Her job was miserable. She was forced to wear pieces of "flair" on her clothes to convey a disturbing sense of perpetual fun.
We feel that companies should study her experience closely because while it's easy to laugh at her pathetic employer, her plight underscores what we'll inelegantly call "brand disconnect."
"Brand disconnect" occurs when your company gives an appearance to the public that is wholly different from its internal culture. In this instance, customers visiting the restaurant are treated to a goofy and fun experience; meanwhile, behind the scenes employees are trudging through their shifts in a bleak purgatory. Now we're not saying every company needs to install XBoxes and Ping-Pong tables like their dot.com counterparts, but managers should remember that the company "brand" works both ways: it affects customers and employees. And in doing so, creates a kind of feedback loop where each party can influence the other.
Your brand needs to be intertwined into all elements of the business, from sales and marketing to how you treat your employees. It needs to be, for a lack of a better term, a "lifestyle." That said, we admit that viewing branding as such can be a bit cryptic. So we'd like to give a few examples to show how this idea plays out in ways you may not immediately expect.
Where Branding Extends Beyond a Single Product. If you're a small business with a single product line, odds are you're embracing a "niche market" strategy. If you sell and install solar panels in Southern California, odds are you won't be rolling out an energy drink anytime soon In cases like these, your brand management strategy is generally predicated on nouns: "affordable solar panels with experienced technicians."
That said, it's a worthwhile experiment to sit down with your team and brainstorm how things could look in five, ten years, especially if you're in the brand "adjective" business: "adventure," "down-home," "edgy," "modern," etc. These brand-adjectives can allow you to think outside the box of a single product or service offering. Look at Starbucks. What started as brand constituting "good coffee" is now more of, well, a lifestyle: urbane, sophisticated, erudite. And by embracing this expanded brand, it's allowed them to branch out into new product categories, ranging from espresso machines to curating and selling CDs. Our point: brand-as-a-lifestyle can open doors down the road.
Where Branding Extends Beyond The Product and Customer. Amazon's brand is characterized as "getting anything you want, at any time, and cheaply." Yet if you read analyst reports, you'll know that Amazon isn't as profitable as it could be because, as Henry Blodget recently noted, it sacrifices short-term profitability for "customers, the employee, and the community." Ultimately, Amazon's brand of being all things to all people from a product perspective even extends to it's financial management strategy: providing amazing service even if it affects short-term profits.
Where Branding Creates its Own Kind of Capital - Good branding can be a proactive force in improving a company's reputation with the general public. But it can also act as a powerful hedge against bad publicity. The fact is many companies accumulate — for a lack of a better term — "good branding capital" that they can use to effectively put out public relations fires. The classic example, of course, is Apple. After all, this is a company founded by a man who ripped off(arguably) his childhood musical heroes and generously "borrowed" ideas from Xerox. Throw in recent anti-trust whispers, endless litigation, and less-than-stellar working conditions and partner factories abroad, and you'd think Apple's brand and reputation would be in the gutter with, say, large oil companies. But of course, the opposite is true. And why is that? They make "beautiful" products aligned with a brand that suggests sleekness, sophistication, and quality.
Now we're the first to admit that these above examples pertain to large companies, but key takeaways can be applied: "branding as a lifestyle" can expand your product offerings, influence non-traditional elements of your business and inoculate you from bad press.
To bring this idea firmly back to earth, we'd finally ask you to view this "brand as a lifestyle" concept through lens of your own experiences with other small businesses. Think about the small businesses you admire and their brands — how does the brand manifest itself beyond simply the products? How about that fantastic pizza place in Berkeley where the pizza is great, but perhaps more importantly, the atmosphere is laid-back and unique? The staff are equally relaxed and you sit there admiringly, thinking, "Hmmm, it probably would be fun to work here." Of course, we can't know for sure what truly goes on behind closed doors, that level of enthusiasm, but that totality of experience can't be faked.
Where such an experience can be faked, of course, is at Chotchkie's, where Jennifer Aniston's character, as we all know, eventually quit. It was a pretty good scene. Very triumphant. Although it wasn't as good as the scene where Peter and his co-workers take the printer out into a field and destroy it with a bat. That was amazing.
Looking to strengthen or extend your brand? Then download our quick Brand Audit to evaluate what your brand says about your company: