Happy 2003!

While lounging around in a post-Christmas haze, I was trying to think what must-know information the readers of MarketingProfs needed to know right now.

After all, the readership of this newsletter is a global, sophisticated, and very knowledgeable bunch. I couldn't just write anything while in a food-induced coma!

And as the New Year breaks, I decided to revisit my library of marketing books to share what I thought was the must-have branding book of 2002.

And the winner is…..

Uncommon Practice: People Who Deliver a Great Brand Experience, Edited by Andy Milligan and Shaun Smith.

If you absolutely, positively, only buy one branding book ever again in your life, this has to be the one. Honest, it is that good!

Frankly, it wasn't even a contest, I have been thinking about telling you all about this book for awhile now.

Anyone who reads my musings regularly knows that I hold the concept of internal branding near and dear to my heart and of paramount importance in the overall brand structure. I firmly believe that if a brand is not supported by the entire corporate structure--from the CEO down to the administrative assistants, and everyone in between--the entire brand effort is doomed to fail.

There is nothing worse for a consumer than buying a brand that you feel meets your wants and needs, only to find out on the back end that the brand is all smoke and mirrors.

This book says it is edited by Milligan and Smith. I think that probably doesn't give the pair their due.

The book shows what a great brand experience is and should be, and how it happens, through interviews with key company executives. So while Milligan and Smith put together the executives' words and thoughts into a cohesive tome, the way they did so is exemplary. Each interview segues into the next so the overriding ideal is consistently reinforced and explained. It seems so common-sensical that it is easy to not recognize the skill and insight they used when compiling this material.

But I digress.

The book, to quote from its jacket, “looks at great brands which deliver a unique service or experience. Critical to the success of these brands is the way they treat their own people. Through a series of interviews with key executives, Uncommon Practice gives an insight into how certain companies provide such remarkable experiences for their customers and staff alike and why they are so successful.”

The basis for the book is looking at companies that really deliver on their brand promise, how they do it, and what this loyalty to and understanding of the brand makes possible.

The companies profiled are varied: Manchester United, Virgin, Krispy Kreme, John Lewis, Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, RBC Financial Group, Harrah's, Harley Davidson, and Oxfam are but a few.

Each provides something to learn from. But there is nothing more valuable than hearing successful branding professionals say in their own words why and how the brand is so important, and how they use the brand as the touchstone for every corporate decision--no matter how big or small.

They truly believe in their brand, their employees, their customers, and their company. They live the brand, and make sure others not only live the brand, but WANT to live the brand, which is no easy task!

Now, if you are anything like me, when you are done reading this book (and re-reading, again and again and again...) you will be jazzed--and slightly overwhelmed--by all the great information the book jams into 174 pages.

But have no fear, the wonderful Milligan and Smith sum it all up in a conclusion that could almost be a blueprint for anyone looking to take their brand and make it work harder and better.

The important thing that the book shows--and that I try to impart frequently in my articles--is that when beginning the brand building process, the brand is not the starting point.

You don't devise a brand, then back track and worry about how the whole corporate structure and customers fit into it. As their conclusion states, “The customer experience, the brand and the strategy are inseparable.” Milligan and Smith said that they began the interviews by asking the executive to define their brand. What they found was that frequently the person started by “talking about the customer experience they set out to create; the brand was almost an afterthought.”

The common practice in branding is to “define your brand and then communicate this to the marketplace through advertising and promotion and then you deliver it to the customer.” The uncommon practice the title refers to is that you should “live the brand,” and have the “brand values turned into front-line behaviours.”

Essentially, the customer and their experience help determine, define, and develop the brand. As I have said before, the customer is the secret ingredient in brand success!

So, for 2003, if you haven't made a New Year's resolution, I say make your resolution to buy Uncommon Practice!

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at Kristine@canterburygroup.net.