Which is more likely to succeed: a great idea left to languish or a good idea skilfully and closely developed over time? The answer is that building a durable and profitable brand requires an exact blend of both nature and nurture.
Advertising agencies tell us that the character and tone of a brand, how it speaks to its audience and what it means to them, is all about first impressions.
This I do not necessarily dispute. Nonetheless, for those of us running a business in the long term and for a brand to succeed beyond the great initial idea, it must be nurtured over time. And this is all about the great people behind it.
What happens when the advertising does not deliver in reality? A brand is only ever as good as the customer’s last experience and for that experience to “wow” every time the person delivering the brand has to be completely engaged in it.
If you have not been able to fire up your staff with the enthusiasm, brand knowledge and sheer magic of it all, the brand will not succeed in the real world. This is felt particularly keenly in the hospitality business, where we rely upon our customer facing people to communicate the brand values that underpin our business.
People are also the biggest potential variable within the company. With different locations, people, managers and a higher-than-average rate of staff turnover in the restaurant sector, ensuring a consistent service and brand is the main challenge.
Communicating with every member of the team so they feel part of the whole is essential. There is little point carefully penning brand values, thoughts and ideas, developing them through focus groups and with expert consultancies, if they never make it out of the office and on to the floor.
It is often said that entrepreneurs who start a business with an innovative idea may not always be the best people to take the business to the next stage. And while most people focus on the need for different management skills, when you operate a big brand it is just as important to secure “brand-nurturing” skills.
This is about the ability to grow a brand beyond the inspirational first stage while at the same time preserving the essence and spirit which made it a great idea in the first place.
This doesn’t stop just because the company becomes bigger and more successful. As brands grow, the nurturing must continue. An essential part of Howard Schultz’s remarkable turnaround at Starbucks was his focus on creating brand value by supporting those working in the business to deliver every detail of it.
His core philosophy is to “take care of our associates so they will take care of the guests…executing even the smallest detail to perfection is the difference between a great guest experience and a failure.”
As a restaurateur for virtually my entire career, perhaps it is easier for me to make the connection between people and brand, but I believe that is a sound principle to follow whatever industry you are in. When it comes to fostering the brand it is about making sure that everything you do is real, genuine, believable and distinctive, from the boardroom to the grass roots.
There’s little doubt that nature triumphed with the acorn, but try to rest in its shade on a sunny day and you’ll really appreciate the importance of nurture.
Robin Rowland is CEO of YO! Sushi, which in 2012 celebrates 15 years of serving Japan’s most famous delicacy in the UK.