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Branding through ‘traction’

Professor Nader Tavassoli, a marketing expert at London Business School, puts the people behind the product at the top of the priority list in the branding…

For many companies, producing a great product has proven to be far less challenging than creating a winning brand around it. Case studies abound of enterprises that have struggled to shine in a dizzying world of abundant choices. Often the problem is an exaggerated focus on design, pricing and promotion – at the expense of people who deliver the goods, argues Nader Tavassoli. In his view, the attitudes, skills and loyalty of employees can significantly help companies make – or break – their brands in marketplaces that are inundated today with commoditized products and services.

Differentiation in a globalized economy is challenging, to say the least. Unique selling points, Tavassoli argues, are exceedingly rare and short-lived largely because most competitors target the same customers with similar products.

Traction is the buzzword Tavassoli uses to describe a means to bridge this gap. It requires embedding the brand philosophy into the daily behavior of employees across the enterprise and aligning business operations to support this process. The aim is to have the workforce fully engaged in delivering what the brand promises. As Tavassoli sees it, branding lives and dies by employees’ actions, which in turn are shaped by, and reflected in, their organizational culture. It’s the many small actions that add up to a unique culture, and it’s the unique culture that differentiates one company from another.

“It’s very hard to be different these days, even if you have a patent, and to protect this unique difference,” he says, adding that it’s much the same with costs. “Because pricing is very competitive, you’re going to be very close to your competitor at the end of the day.” The reality of the “great product-great price” strategy, in his view, is that the best, most competitively priced product doesn’t always win.

Add to that the tendency of company leaders to immerse themselves in strategic design, leaving delivery to the rest of the organization. Marketing professionals, Tavassoli asserts, operate in much the same way, creating and communicating “brand promises” with little influence over how they are fulfilled. This behavior creates what he calls a “brand-delivery gap.”

Nader Tavassoli is a professor of marketing at London Business School and non-executive chairman of The Brand Inside consulting group. As a consultant, Nader has served as an expert witness in international brand disputes, provided brand due diligence in several mergers and acquisitions and designed and directed brand and digital transformation academies for several global companies. He is a recipient of the prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award at London Business School, where he was the founding director of the Customer Focused Marketing Programme and the Walpole Luxury Management Programme.

Essentially, the brand is the personality of the company – embodying its people and values – and the promise it makes to customers. It’s what makes a lasting impression long after the final sale. Or as Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, once put it: “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

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