Is brand more powerful than strategy in creating competitive advantage?

“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” – Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie knew that the secret to understanding what people really value is to observe their behaviour. Often the visible brand and culture encapsulated by the all too common ‘handy eye candy’ wall poster turns out to be lip service only. How often have you stood in a foyer or store and seen the blurb about ‘we care for our customers…’ only to be ignored or given poor service?

Strategy generally defines the ‘hard’ profit-making elements of your business. Brand and culture define the ‘soft’ people and customer focused elements of your business. Strategy is often easy to copy; brand and culture are notoriously difficult.

If long term competitive advantage comes from the elements which are difficult to copy, why is so much time spent on strategy and so little time spent on brand?

A brand can be defined as “a personal promise delivered via an extraordinary experience”. It is so much more than your logo, signage and advertising campaigns! Ultimately it is the intangibles that differentiate you from your competitors. In business, it is rare to see values that are authentically held and delivered! How much untapped and untouched potential is waiting to be unlocked in your business brand?

The answer to unlocking this potential starts with the culture of your business. In simple terms this is the core values and behaviours that define “who we are and how we do things” within a business.

To start developing your brand and culture as an inimitable competitive advantage, you need to get really clear about who you are, what you stand for, what promises you are making and how they will be delivered. Here’s five quick questions to get you started…

What are the first impressions people encounter in your business?
How do your people treat each other?
How would you like them to treat each other?
What are the promises you make to your customers?
How can the customer experience more accurately reflect your brand promises?

Sounds simple… not always easy! What has your experience been with brand and culture? We welcome your comments!