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Brand Values 2: living up to the promise

Author: Nick Johnson

26 February 2015

Last month’s piece on brand values seemed to strike a chord with several of you, so here I am braving a sequel. For every Batman & Robin there’s a Godfather II, so here goes...

My last blog discussed the importance of trustees’ previous experience of a brand, in a market where ‘try-before-you-buy’ isn’t an option. (“I may buy your insurance. Let me just make a claim first to see what it’s like”. Don’t think so...)

So brand is king. But how do BPA providers prove their brand values – and to whom do they prove them?

Any brand – big or small – which fails to live up to the promises it makes is nothing more than a name. The essence of its identity lies in the set of values with which it wants to be associated. There are a number of important ways in which these values can be demonstrated:

Making a stand for what you believe in

A brand’s values need to be defined and demonstrated in the service it provides and the literature it produces. Talking the talk simply won’t cut it.

The literature – or the online presence, for that matter – shouldn’t just tell you the brand is good. It has to show you why... or lead you towards finding out for yourself. This means substantiating bold statements with hard facts and proven abilities. No brand is simply what it declares itself to be. All brands are what they do.

The people who provide the service have to be the living embodiment of the brand. In Aviva’s case, this doesn’t mean that they have to look like Paul Whitehouse, or bleed yellow if you cut them. (Please don’t try this for yourself. We really don’t.)

Big news: Aviva’s brand is not yellow

The thing is, Aviva’s brand isn’t ‘yellow’, though this may be the first thing a lot of people were to say if asked to define it. Instead, it’s what we stand for, how we operate, who we are.

This means that an organisation’s core values have to be instilled into every member of its staff – not just the sales staff and other ‘front line’ employees whom clients will meet face-to-face. If the people behind the scenes don’t all share the same customer-led, ‘go the extra mile’ attitude the truth will always out sooner or later.

The logo on a product isn’t the brand... but the product is

The products a company sells and services it provides, as much as its people, are a tangible part of its brand. In essence, a brand is a kind of shorthand for everything the customer can expect when they choose it: a shortcut to understanding that they will receive a certain level of quality. Every time that product – be it an idea, a way of life or a bag of crisps – fails to deliver on that expectation, the brand is degraded. And the promise is broken.

How media affects brand in the BPA world

In an ideal world, there would be some way in which brand perception might come unfiltered to the end user, so that their own judgement and personal experience would be paramount in their decision-making. In the real world, however, there’s a fine line between word-of-mouth and Chinese whispers when it comes to product or brand recommendation. And this is complicated still further by the part played by the media in influencing brand perception. Increasingly this means social media.

Clearly the media play a crucial role within the marketing mix, and publicity can make or break the reputation of a brand just as easily as advertising or first-hand experience of its products. And this is all well and good. But, particularly in the case of a larger brand, there’s a kind of domino effect to consider.

Last month we said that trustees may have personal experiences with a brand which may influence their decision on which BPA providers have the opportunity to present to them. But this is a long way from saying that the game is skewed in favour of the big guy.

Big boy problems

Big brands with multiple product lines can be more susceptible to negative media criticism, as a perceived failure of one product or service can have a knock-on effect across the whole business. Let’s say someone knocks a motor insurance claims process in a national newspaper. Before you know it, a trustee is having second thoughts about using that particular brand to de-risk his company pension scheme.

Of course, the process can also work in reverse and positive associations can have a ripple effect of their own, prompting favourable awareness of a brand from the outset. And even a perceived failure somewhere down the line of a lengthy product range can have the advantage of leading to open discussions on expectations and how brand can and should meet them.

So we’re certainly not grumbling. Like most sizeable brands, Aviva isn’t about to recoil in fear at the consequences of being a widely-recognised name. We are confident in our core values; confident in our colleagues, and in particular, confident in our bulk annuity team.

After all, we’re not yellow.

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