As a marketing student, brand management was the most enticing profile I could imagine. We were told that a brand manager is the most important principle driving force behind for the brand. How wrong I was!
No, I am not saying that brand manager is just for the namesake or don’t have the veto at critical juncture but brand manager is the director of this movie called brand and the real star (the crowd puller) is someone else for me.
The text-book defined brand as name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's product distinct from those of other sellers. But over the period I have realized that brand is nothing but the trust – the emotional connect between product or service and the end user. One can always glorify this connect from the ad campaigns or PR but spare a minute to understand origin of this trust. This trust comes from 2 things – the inherent product quality and the brand’s efforts to ensure the customer enjoys product the way they have promised (i.e. sort out all the jerks, niggles if need be). And who ensures this? Your service vertical!
Be it consumer durable giant or savvy IT solutions provider, service is the only function that is in direct contact with its end consumers taking care of all the hygiene factors for the brand. And this is just the tip of iceberg for service vertical.
Have you ever thought that, the interaction between the service executive and customer is the only real conversation between an organization & the market. Yeah, there are other regularly practiced avenues but they are tools for market research. And aren't you interested in ‘market reality’? In this sense, the service vertical is a great listening tool for any organization. If the service executives are trained well not only in repairing the products but also in customer handling (just the way the sales guys are), they will be the best brand ambassadors. The celebrities one hire for promotions are may be the necessity in today’s market condition but they are just the promoters. They might help to achieve financial goals in short-term but there would hardly any benefit once the contracts are over. But if you invest little time & effort in training service executives and consider them as organizations eyes, ears and most importantly voice, they would be the real image builders.
But sadly & irrespective of the sense above paragraph is making, in reality the service vertical is not the charming hero (or even a second lead) but one of the extras in a movie. In all of the organizations I have worked with (read: most of Indian organizations), service vertical is always treated as a secondary function & someone which doesn't contribute anything tangible to bottom-line. And just for sake of bottom-line, revenue generation targets are given to service vertical which at the end of some month are even more critical than customer satisfaction index. And precisely this approach is eroding the brand value of such organizations. In today’s fiercely competitive market where the meaningful product differentiation is getting harder to achieve due to technological advancements, an effective service vertical would be the game changer. Organizations must focus on changing this culture and transforming service vertical into a front-end customer-centric function similar to sales.
Why do Indian customers choose Toyota over Maruti, Samsung over Micromax while doing so pay premium? Shiny products, fancy advertisements? That would not be the complete answer. These brands have not only have built quality products but have imbibed on consumer’s minds that they would go that extra mile to ensure best user experience and to do so have extremely strong service verticals.
In my opinion its time that every organization should focus on the service vertical. And one don’t need to hire a fancy consultancy to understand the ‘how to’ here. Start with empowering them - build the confidence that they would be taking the center stage and would the brand advocates. Let them have say in product and campaign designs. It’s good to have a star salesman of the year but better if you have a star serviceman as well. And the basic would be start working as units – have combined conferences of marketing, sales & service (this surprisingly most Indian majors don’t do)!
To sum it up:
Considering service vertical as one of your brand pillars is a win-win strategy. It would not only give an organization competitive edge but also create goodwill in all stakeholders – which is one of the most important asset.
Working as a marketer for an Indian organization has some unique advantages. First you are the rare cool guy who is admired for your overall knowledge about technology, gadgets, etc. Second you are also referred as the lucky guy who gets to interact with all beautiful agency people. But somehow the admiration or fascination for / about marketer or the marketing team stops here. Nowadays everyone is so engulfed in fitting their to-do list in accordance with their KRAs that most of us have stopped thinking about how we can add value to the organization beyond our KRAs. Well, certainly, a marketer can certainly participate in discussion related to network (sales), a sales guy can have valuable inputs about distribution model (logistics), while an operations guy can share his thoughts about team management with the HR guys & so on. In same sense everybody in an organization can be a marketer or rather try & be that.
Today, how you present is your product offering is as important as the product itself. It’s no longer enough that you offer a quality product / service and leave rest to your good karma. You must promote it well. And even sometimes that is not enough as there is strong competition that may have deeper pockets. So what you can do? In such situation you also must market your organization well in order to gain trust of your customers. And can you leave this just to your marketing team? Or rather should you? Need of the hour is – every employee should consider himself / herself as a marketer or rather ambassador promoting his organization.
It’s of paramount importance that an organization maintains positivity in & around it & the product offerings & it’s not that you can make a positive statement about your product / organization only through the advertisements, website or POS & PR materials. An e-mail containing link to latest product recognition or campaign from production manager to supplier is equally important to a Facebook post on official fan page. (One could argue that there could be no comparison of likes / shares of Facebook page to email seen by handful of guys. But what if these guys share this in their communities or social networks? Would not getting such un-paid visibility would an ultimate dream of a marketer?) Everyone must try and be the messenger of organization such that they are passing the positive signals and sharing the success stories with external world and just not leave this to paid PR. Every interaction of an employee with outside world, every communication he / she sends out is a possible avenue for building your brand. While one don’t need to start shooting videos about how happy the employees are how excellent the manufacturing facilities are & upload them on YouTube – everyone knows the truth behind such things. But important aspect is to imbibe the culture where everyone actually understand the vision & road-map of organization & are really motivated to share that with rest of the world.
Would you bet on the horse whose jockey has just told you that he is not sure if the horse is ready for the race?