The power of brand integrity (saying what you do and doing what you say) is at the centre of many friction points between brands and their customers.
Saying what you do and doing what you say (particularly the second part of the phrase) is incredibly powerful, and cannot be replaced by advertising spend, spin campaigns or investor calls.
In transparency lies the strength, and power, of integrity.
What is brand?
Your brand is your promise to your customer. It is the sum of their experiences and knowledge of your brand, not your pushed messaging and advertising.
Brand is intangible and linked to subjective qualities, defined and informed by your customers' perceptions.
It might have tangible attributes like a logo and visual identity - a visual translation, a reminder, of your brand promise and the experience, but it is not the sum of your brand.
What does it mean to have integrity as a brand?
Let's start with what it means to have integrity as a person because essentially your brand is an extension of people - the decisions they make and the actions they take.
Personal integrity is the demonstration of moral and ethical principles, to know what you stand for and will deliver upon and why. Integrity is the accuracy of one's actions, corresponding to a consistent framework of beliefs.
Personal integrity is demonstrated, for example, when you call out behaviour that is against your values of equality, rather than witness it without trying to influence the situation and the behaviour positively.
When we extend this into the world of brand integrity, there are two components. The obvious, of course, is integrity - demonstrating behaviour consistent with your implicit and explicit brand promise.
The second part is the intangible nature of brand - brand integrity comes through your people and processes demonstrating alignment with your brand promise.
Brand integrity is not making sure the logo is used correctly.
Brand integrity is not having consistent messaging through your marketing and sales.
Brand integrity is delivering on your messaging.
For organisations larger than a sole trader, brand integrity isn't necessarily a simple proposition. Your mileage may vary, of course.
It is simple to say you put the customer at the centre of your brand and experience, but a lot harder to do.
Firstly, for many organisations, there often are stakeholders as vital to the success of the business as customers, whose needs and expectations don't align with those of customers'.
Secondly, processes may mean non-customer centric metrics are in place, leading to misalignment of brand promise and action.
Rather than measuring a phone call on a genuine resolution, time to answer and length of the call become the operator measures. Implementing a change quickly might have the emphasis instead of achieving the right change, even though it may take a little longer.
Lack of budget and resource might be a barrier to delivering on your brand promise - you know the experience and perception you want to build but 'Champagne tastes on a beer budget' means you can't.
Misalignments of brand promise and actions
It's such a bland way to describe an almost cataclysmic friction - the misalignment of brand promise and actions - but this misalignment leads to spectacular examples of damaged brand integrity and broken brand promises.
This misalignment can occur when brand integrity gets chipped away. It gets chipped away when people make decisions for themselves instead of the promise and the customer. It doesn't happen in one fell swoop, it happens when someone makes a non-brand promise centric decision and isn't pulled up on it, by peers or superiors, and it becomes acceptable to move to chase other goals ahead of brand integrity.
Brand integrity weakened at Facebook
Facebook's brand promise is to make the world more open and connected. Their brand integrity - and their share price and market valuation - have been damaged by the results of their poor decisions. A 'scandal' doesn't damage brand integrity; it is damaged by the decisions that led to the weakening or breaking of their brand promise.
From the lack of governance over Russian advertising attempting to influence the 2016 US Presidential election to Cambridge Analytica unauthorised data access to hacking to smearing critics through a PR campaign, Facebook is now further than ever from their promise to make the world more open and connected. When you position yourself at the centre of a personal and social intersection, it matters how you keep your brand promise - people want to feel good about using your platform.
Diesel emits brand integrity issues for Volkswagen
The #dieselgate drama of 2015 damaged the brand integrity of Volkswagen when it was discovered they were cheating the EPA's emissions measurement with a piece of firmware installed in their diesel cars. VW's positioning is a brand built around family and sustainability.
Criminal charges were eventually laid, awards rescinded and VW paid billions of dollars in fines. The damage to the integrity, however, continues with sales still down three years later and the scandal bought up every time an article about VW is published. The power of their brand integrity continues to be diluted every time this happens.
Mamamia's brand integrity takes a hit
Mamamia's stated purpose to make the world a better place for women and girls, and the integrity they hope to gain from this focus, is damaged every time they re-publish an article written by a woman, without permission, and without remuneration.
Brand integrity occurs when your stated purpose and your actions align.
Sometimes the brand integrity is damaged when your overt, loudly promoted brand promise doesn't match your actions, and sometimes it can be when the implied promise conflicts with the organisations' activities.
Baking integrity into your brand
The best way, indeed perhaps the only way, to build and maintain brand integrity for your organisation is through people, the right people.
A promise is words, but integrity is the lived and demonstrated experience.
The right people, hired well, with the right systems and processes to support them will execute the organisations' vision and brand promise with integrity.
Empowering your team to call out behaviour and actions that belie your brand integrity, and supporting them when they do, will ensure integrity is baked into your organisation, and therefore your customer experience.
You can have a long code of conduct, signed by everyone, but unless the right people are there to act with integrity and are supported when they call out behaviour not in line with your promise, the entire brand takes a hit.
The power of brand integrity means
- Every person fulfils your brand promise, every time.
- Make decisions to support your brand promise with the aim of enhancing it and bringing it further to life.
- Build KPIs around your brand promise.