In 2009, musician Dave Carroll accused United Airlines of breaking his $3,500 guitar, and his complaints were stonewalled for almost a year. Carroll took revenge by recording a searingly funny music video lamenting his experience and uploading it to YouTube. His video went viral, garnering half-a-million views in just three days, resulting in a public relations nightmare for United. Within days, United’s stock price plummeted by 10 percent, costing shareholders $180 million.
The “United Breaks Guitars” controversy is not the only example of the impact digital media can have on multi-billion dollar corporations. Similar anecdotes underscore that we have entered the age of the consumer. More than ever before, you must say what you do and do what you say.
“More than ever before, you must say what you do and do what you say.”
How Did Consumers Get So Much Power?
Digital gave it to them. The dialogue between your brand and your audience can make or break your business. Whether you know it or not, consumers constantly engage in conversations about your brand online and offline.
Traditionally, external brand communication was the focal point of businesses, but now, any discrepancies between your brand promise and the experience your brand delivers will eventually rise to the surface. This dynamic has created a new imperative for businesses to align products, customer service and advertising promises with consumer experiences. Who you say you are means little; to consumers, who you prove your brand to be means everything.
You must align your brand and communicate from the inside out. This means:
- Internally connecting every employee with the brand, ensuring they understand its full meaning and their role in protecting it, and enabling them with the tools, learning strategy and information to deliver the brand promise
- Externally positioning the product, service or campaign to inspire audiences to action, knowing that the company will fully deliver
Communications Inside Out at EnergyTech
I have had the opportunity to apply the inside-out strategy at some of the world’s leading Fortune 500 companies. Our work with a global water and energy resource technology company we’ll call EnergyTech demonstrates the value of inside-out communication. As EnergyTech prepared to launch a new high-tech product, the company sought to align its internal and external communication efforts.
EnergyTech’s two-pronged communication strategy for the new product introduction included: 1) connecting employees with the brand strategy and promise and empowering them with tools to keep that promise, and 2) articulating the brand to external audiences in a way that inspired them to acquire the product.
“The dialogue between your brand and your audience can make or break your business.”
Inside: Awareness and Empowerment
EnergyTech created an internal communication program to establish the role of automation and innovation in creating and delivering value to its clients. The program included:
- An interactive storyline to position the corporate vision, its innovation in solutions and product roll-out plans
- A simulated prototype of the solution specific to vertical industries so that the sales force understood what the solution would mean to different customers
- Regular communication and social media updates, including feedback from customers on the pilot
- A motivational new product launch at a national sales meeting, showcasing video “trailers” of the new product and story-based videos demonstrating a consultative selling approach
- A formal global sales team training program featuring engaging, interactive story-telling sales presentations, a mobile app for just-in-time training and product support, and an online tool for pinpointing customers and calculating potential savings
The company also initiated an interactive newsletter for regular global sales team updates on new product offerings and an interactive newsletter for executive level sales reporting.
Outside: Creating and Delivering Value
EnergyTech’s external communication program educated potential and existing customers on the new offering and its value. The program included:
- A “day in the life of” microsite to emphasize the role and value of the product in enabling value delivery in specific functional areas
- An infographic illustrating the core offering, value and benefits
- Industry-specific case studies and customer testimonials showing how EnergyTech keeps its brand promise
- A widget for self-discovery of business pain points, integrated with an engine recommending the ideal solution and quantifying potential value
“Companies that bridge the gap between brand promise and brand experience have a tremendous advantage over those that don’t.”
EnergyTech also implemented a customer portal featuring product information, a personal savings and value calculator, links to supporting resources, an avenue for feedback on product use and an FAQ section.
With all of these elements together and everyone on the same page, EnergyTech successfully launched its new product in the true spirit of communications inside out.
Companies that bridge the gap between brand promise and brand experience have a tremendous advantage over those that don’t. The viral nature of “United Airlines Breaks Guitars” demonstrates the unprecedented power digital technology has placed in the hands of consumers. United Airlines eventually apologized to Carroll and even asked to use Carroll’s video in its customer service training program. However, United’s apology did not earn the widespread coverage of the initial controversy.
It is no longer enough to simply tell your brand story – you must live your promise inside and out. The alignment of all parties and messaging, internally and externally, is essential for brands to deliver a consistent message to their audiences and to create enduring brand-consumer relationships.
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Redicka Subrammanian is the CEO of Interakt Digital Communications Group. Redicka has 15 years of experience empowering global companies, including Ecolab, Citibank, The Estée Lauder Companies, Levi’s and Hewlett Packard, to deliver their brand promise by aligning messaging across all audiences, channels and touch points. From developing mobile marketing strategy to building interactive websites and eLearning programs, Redicka leads her company to consistently deliver the right results on target, on schedule and on budget. Founded on the principal of Communications Inside Out™, the Interakt team is dedicated to providing exceptional creative solutions at the intersection of marketing and technology.