A guy named Steve McKee wrote about branding and brand management over at BusinessWeek lamenting the fact that a lot of companies don’t back their slogans and catch phrases up with action. That’s a bad thing, he points out. His advice: stop doing that. Good advice, I’d have to say, although not too terribly helpful. He is a marketing and ad guy, however, so I suppose our expectations should not be too high when it comes to serious business insight, so I thought I would take a few minutes this morning to help him out.
The reason the company does not ‘walk the talk’ is that their processes do not support the image created by the marketing folks. One of his examples is:
“Not long ago I purchased a fountain drink at a convenience store that featured a pithy slogan on the cup: We always treat you like royalty. I’m sure the people who came up with that line had the best of intentions, but the clerks charged with carrying it out didn’t get the message. The unkempt counter and sticky floor made that clear.”
Seems pretty obvious: The folks peddling the drinks in the store are in a different department – different silo – with different metrics. Perhaps the sales and marketing silo measures itself based on the degree to which customers are treated like royalty, but the people working in the stores are measured by something else – labor cost, sales per square foot, inventory turns, yada yada yada … but not on regal treatment.
That’s always the case with the disconnect between advertising and reality. Management doesn’t understand the cross-functional processes from beginning to customer, and measure the entire process based on the outcomes promised in the ads. They somehow think that if each unit along the path is managed and measured in isolation – typically some accounting based metric that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the advertising promises (in fact, quite often in direct conflict with the promise) that somehow – by magic I assume – the brand reality will mysteriously live up to the brand hype. Fat chance. When it all breaks down, of course, the next move is usually to change ad agencies and conjure up an even more clever image.
Same thing happens with corporate values statements. 'People are our most valuable asset', followed by laying of those assets by the thousands. The execs may well have believed that when they wrote it, just like the marketing folks really, really, really wanted the customers to be treated like royalty when they bought the drinks, but the business and operational processes dictated otherwise.
People can’t be valuable assets and variable costs at the same time. Variable costs, by definition, go down when volume goes down. For the cost to go down, the headcount has to go down. Asserting that people are the most valuable asset, while managing by an accounting system that classifies them as a variable cost means the statement about people being so important is a lie waiting to be told.
The well intentioned fellow writing in BusinessWeek should take a little time to learn about lean, value streams and process management. He would find that it is pretty easy to lay out the cross-functional processes and see how they are managed and measured. It is pretty easy to predict whether the promise of the ad campaign has a snowball’s chance of being true. Same with corporate value statements. Doesn’t take an Einstein to see why most of them fall into the category of bovine scatology (a technical term, for those not familiar with it, usually abbreviated to B.S.).