The Demands of Sales vs. The Importance of Brand

A few days ago, a friend asked me a question that really got me thinking. (That seems like a total BS excuse to just go ahead and write a blog post, but I assure you, it really happened.) And no, it wasn’t from Mr. Richard Fader of Fort Lee, NJ, either …

The question actually came from someone who works for an organization that’s highly dependent on sales. Sales people have a tough job, we all know that. Endless hours in their cars, on the road, making 20 calls trying to make sure one person will see them. Despite all these challenges, salespeople are the lifeblood of many companies – living, breathing representatives of the brand and the customer experience.

To do their jobs, they need marketing materials – brochures, letters, and other collateral. And, do to the pressures of their job, they usually need it RIGHT NOW. Often, they can get frustrated by the lead times require to get the materials produced and in their hands. As a result, some salespeople will take matters into their own hands – putting together a brochure on their laptop … dashing off a product description …

(The way I see it, this question goes beyond the outside sales model. How about the business that needs to send out collection letters? The bank that has to let a customer know about an overdraft? Is it OK to just send out some basic communication that covers the bases and runs the engine? )

The answer is … well, it’s a bit of a yes and no thing. Salespeople are probably the best
— no, scratch that, they are THE best — choice to handle personal, one-to-one communications. E-mails. Thank you cards. That sort of thing. Anything that represents their personal voice. Anything that reflects the brand’s voice, though, should be crafted by an expert in brand communications.

The good news is, anyone can become and expert in these kinds of brand communications. That is, as long as they given the right foundation:

Everyone needs to know what the company stands for.

No, I mean what it REALLY stands for – beyond just selling more widgets. Every company wants to sell more widgets. Well, nearly every one. But customers and prospects … they want to know WHY they should buy a widget from you. So you have to be able to tell them.

What you tell them goes by a few names. Unique Selling Proposition. Brand Promise. Core Values. Mission Statement. Hell, it can be a single word, if that one word really conveys what you are all about. Whichever of those you have, make sure everyone in your organization knows. And, if you don’t have any of these yet, enlist them in helping you figure it out. So often these important building blocks are generated by ad agencies and senior marketing executives. And, most definitely, they should guide that discussion. But, in my experience, it’s essential to include customer-facing associates in this conversation. They’ll have insights the agencies and execs never would have dreamed of.

Everyone needs to know the principles of your brand voice, and how to apply it.

Do you feel it’s more important to be official or conversational? Is it okay to use abbreviations or contractions? Is it ever okay to use humor? If it is okay, is the Adam Sandler humor or Stephen Fry humor? It can cover the tactical stuff too. Do you hyphenate e-mail or not? Where do you stand on the serial comma?

Your brand voice guidelines can be as high-level or as detailed as you want them to be … really, anything can work as long as the voice reflects what you stand for and everyone who communicates on your behalf knows what the voice is and how to use it. If you do a good job on this, you’ll have a lot less to worry about … and a much more empowered team. This is true especially if …

Everyone goes through some sort of training on your voice.

Again, there’s no set way to do this. The way you handle this training should reflect what you stand for. It can be a formal training session, with a detailed powerpoint (if you must) and a quiz at the end. It can be an interactive, self-guided discovery. You might even require that everyone get some sort of voice certification as part of their onboarding. Whatever you do, don’t just let everyone to their own devices. (And, yes, this also and especially includes social media.)

Everything you put in front of customers and consumers REALLY matters

The big, bold mass media messages are easy to get right, voice and brand-wise. They get a lot of senior attentions … and you’re usually paying someone a fair chunk of change to do it right. But is that really where a brand is built? I’d argue that the really successful brands are built not just at the mass advertising level, but at the customer experience level. People probably tune out most mass media messages. But you can be pretty sure they’re reading that letter that tells them that they’re account is past due. They have no choice but to listen to the voice-response unit that’s telling them which button to push next. And they’re definitely listening when the customer service rep is telling them why or why not they are eligible for a refund.

Because all this is true, everyone in your organization who either directly or indirectly communicates with customers should be able to speak in the voice that reflects your brand, and your brand promise. They won’t get there by accident. Or osmosis. You have to show them the way. And figure out a way to make sure it sticks. The bookshelves of Marketing America are groaning with unused brand standards guides. It’s up to you to come up with a system that requires – and demands – active participation, genuine collaboration, and frequent assessment.

NEXT TIME — I’ve been lucky enough to work 3 brands widely considered to have the best, most authentic voices. I’ll tell you what I learned.

Case Studies

AdWatch: Apple, Maya Angelou and The Human Family

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