The Voice of the Brand – when the promise is broken

Scary title, I know! A brand experience other than what’s been advertised is like a broken promise even before a purchase has been made. When you think about it, this kind of disconnect essentially turns the brand experience’s “first impression” into a lie. Makes me shudder to think of the damage it can cause. Here’s how it happens:

As you know, voice of the Brand is that elusive entity that speaks volumes to potential customers about whether they should give your product a try, or just click someplace else, shop someplace else, and ultimately purchase something else.
Companies invest millions of dollars defining precisely what that voice should sound like, and then spend even more crafting a campaign around it. Take Tommy Bahama apparel, for example. Pretty clear brand voice. If it could sing, it would sound a lot like Jimmy Buffet and would be hosting one hellova party. ING Direct, also crystal clear: Prudent, thunk-on-the-head common sense approach to money management and the consumer’s response to banking (“Save your money”). Who can argue with that? Sounds good, right?
So take this real-life scenario: Company X advertises cell phones direct to the Millennium Generation – the ad features great music and a pretty cool voice-over that says something along the lines of, “Hey, this is where the action is. If you’re not using our brand, you’re missing out.” The promise of “something more” awaits, and is only a phone call away.
Cut to the phone call: The Millennium Generation potential customer is on hold for 8 minutes (hold message reiterates the promise in the ad, so kudos there. And the hold time isn’t a deal killer – kind of like lining up to get into a really good club). The disconnect happens when the call is finally answered by someone who a) doesn’t know the product, and b) isn’t aware of any promotions/benefits the potential customer was asking about. Millennial’s confused response is expressed by three letters: WTF? So much effort and expense creating a brand voice, and it was all scuttled in about, oh, 7 seconds of live contact with the brand.
A bit of digging uncovers the root cause of the disconnect. The contact center is outsourced; “experience” is managed at arm’s length by reports and the occasional monitoring session. And while this approach has been adopted because resources are stretched, one wonders if resources would be more abundant if the “promise” offered in the ad campaign was better fulfilled in the actual brand experience. How many customers are being driven away because of a horrible initial experience – one that essentially breaks a promise from the very first contact?
Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if you like!
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  • Mark Behrens

    Hey Pat – enjoyed the post, and couldn't agree more on the potential disconnect between the customer experience and cost-based outsourcing.

    This gets to a key question about the potential disruptive influence of social media: if Twitter and other social networking and media sites drive us to more relationship-based service and sales, how does a company deliver this with an outsourced service and/or sales function? Is it possible to have a partner relationship with an outsourcer strong enough to have the outsourcer's employees truly embody the company culture and brand?

    I won't say it's impossible, but it certainly won't be likely in outsourced relationships where the primary measure of value is cost reduction – so one way or ther other, if social media change the nature of the customer/company relationship, they will also change the nature of the company/outsourcer relationship – both for the better, in my opinion!