What’s L&D’s Role in Supporting the Brand Promise?

281560_281560_Handshake_R_orangeOne of the robust issues for organizations is purpose. It’s become a rallying cry for organizations to address the dilemma of lack of ‘engagement’. Another important promoted issue, particularly in the area of customer experience and success is ‘brand promise’. Here, it’s about an offer to the customer that’s enticing and delivered upon.  The question is, is there a link?

I want to suggest that there is. The elements that make a purpose work are nicely aligned with what a brand promise is due to deliver. Can we leverage this to the success of the customer and the organization? If we can comprehend and establish the alignment, we have a possibility.

A Purpose

So, what is purpose?  Dan Pink, in his book Drive, talks about three critical elements for employee satisfaction and success: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  The premise is that when employees are given meaningful goals, the freedom to pursue them, and support to succeed, you achieve the best outcomes. The purpose are those meaningful goals.

Dan Pontefract, in his book The Purpose Effect goes further, and talks about how it’s important to have an alignment between the individual, their workplace role, and the organizational intent. Working backwards, you need a meaningful way in which the organization contributes to the common good. Then, the particular roles in the organization have to have a clear link to that bigger purpose. Finally, the individual in that role has to feel that the role is right for them, drawing upon their capabilities in a meaningful way.

The benefits of this are tangible. In their article, Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization, authors Robert Quinn (no relation ;)) and Anjan Thakor provide examples. They make it clear that purpose has to be authentic and continual, but the upsides result in better business outcomes. It has to be lived, from the top down, but once done, there’s “a positive impact on both operating financial performance … and forward-looking measures of performance.”

So, what should the organizational purpose be?  It’s what the organization does, but that should, ultimately, be how the organization serves. What it offers, and how. Ultimately, it’s what the organization offers to customers.

The Promise

Which is where ‘brand promise’ comes in. Brand promise is the expectation customers have about the offer they’re accepting. And, the important notion is that brand promise goes beyond just product features. It’s about an emotional connection. And more.

As Kathy Sierra points out in her book Badass, it’s beyond what people can do with what you provide. It’s not about how awesome your product or service is, it’s about how awesome your customer is because of your product or service. For example, with cameras, it’s not taking great photos, but being a great photographer. And that’s an important distinction.

The overall process is ensuring that there’s a rabid focus on the capability the user will possess, not the product or even the experience. It’s non-trivial, but the outcome is a promise not of what the user will be able to do, but who the user will be.

Getting there is about more than customer service, of course. It’s about the product or service, but also the resources that help the customer be able to take advantage of the possibilities. Anything of reasonable complexity is likely not going to be self-explanatory. A nice ramp up is making it so the more customers know, the more they can do (what Andrea diSessa called ‘incremental advantage’).

Promise as Purpose

And it’s that element, making customers awesome, that aligns the two elements of promise and purpose. Assuming you’ve got the product down, you’ve got a basis to build on. Empowering customers in achieving their goals is a meaningful role to play.

The switch is for your employees to be the ambassadors and curators that make the customer that new person. The promise is that the customers will be possessed of new capability, and the purpose is ensuring it happens. This, I suggest, is a purpose employees can be excited about: helping their customers be the new person they’re desiring to be.

It is aspirational, in the sense that you have to lift your development and delivery of your offering to a meaningful level. And yet that, too, is a purpose that can inspire people. What I’m suggesting, quite simply, is that a meaningful brand promise is a purpose worth investing in.

The process of course, is non-trivial. First, your product or service offering does have to make people more capable in ways they desire. That may sound difficult if your offering is something like insurance or kitchen equipment, but the process is to reframe it. How do you feel when you’re insured in a way that means you have peace of mind? Or when you’re master of the kitchen?

Then, it has to be lived every day in every encounter. Employees need to know the promise and how to deliver on it. They need to help customers transition from product owner to newly capable. And this is the role of learning and development: to facilitate the recognition of the need, to ensure the skills to deliver the customer capability, and for the promise to be delivered consistently.

With brand promise and purpose aligned, and a clear vision of the link, the possibility is there. Now it’s up to you to make it happen!