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Today we are getting closer to the surface of our brand, but let’s revisit our last two explorations. In the first episode, I said you have to think of your brand like an iceberg. On the surface are all the manifestations of your brand – things like your colors, your logo, your tagline, and your commercials. But, when you dive below the surface of that iceberg, you find so much more supporting the brand. These things ARE your brand…things like human, emotional and foundational capital. Your brand is not just your logo and tagline. It’s all this other stuff that no one ever sees, but if you don’t pay attention, you could find your brand floating away from you with nothing to hold on to.

Dramatic much? Hmmm…maybe!

First, we talked about the human capital of your brand. Then we went through emotional aspects of the brand – those things that impact the guest experience. Today, as we get closer to the surface, we’re going to talk about some of the things that are at the core – strategy, management, values, and culture.

This might be the most fun for me because, to tell the truth, it’s what I’m most passionate about.

Strategy

Let’s start with STRATEGY. I just finished with the very first Casino Marketing Boot Camp. Months ago, my partner and I set our wish list of topics we wanted to cover and dream guests. I almost have to laugh when I admit to you that we didn’t have strategy on the agenda. Nope. Not at all. When I asked the attendees what they wanted to accomplish during our two days together, it became clear to me that we needed to add strategy. And luckily, I had a former co-worker who was ideally suited to lead that discussion.

Now in true transparency, I was a little concerned. You see, even though I ALWAYS preach the value and necessity of thinking through your strategy first and foremost, I’m often disappointed when I realize that people have confused strategy with tactics or worse they’ve confused it with goals or objectives.

A strategy is when you determine the business and market you’re going to play in and how you plan to win.

Your tactics are the stuff or the tools you will use to achieve the goals of the strategy.

And goals? Well, that’s obvious. I see marketers often approach plans as a list of goals, objectives and then tactics. Do you see something here? If you set your goals

I like to look at strategy as the road you plan to take to get to a specific destination and tactics as the vehicles you will use to get you there in the best way. You need to set your strategy first because it will give you the information you might need to change course if you need to. If you rely solely on tactics, it’s sort of like playing tactical roulette – not my term. I definitely read that somewhere. The point flaw in this roulette game is that you’re continually betting on a different tactic in the hopes that you’ll win.

Culture

Your brand culture, or DNA, is that thing that influences every part of the brand experience and expression. Much like your DNA influences everything you do and how you react, the brand DNA determines how employees solve problems or make decisions, how they innovate and how they create exceptional guest experiences.

Unlike DNA – which is traditionally a mix of family traits- you can CREATE your brand DNA. The first step is defining things like your core values (which I’ll talk about in just a bit), your unique selling proposition, and your vision for the company. These are the elements that will help you define the culture. Once you have that definition, you need to start embracing the culture in a way that will cascade down through the organization. It should be spotlighted as much as possible so that it becomes ingrained in everything you do. Hire employees that are aligned with the culture, values, and objectives of the brand. Then recognize and reward the behaviors that further the purpose of your culture. Most of all, and this is a MUST. You have to make your brand promise non-negotiable. You must stick to it with customers. You have to stick to it with your employees. This can often be the biggest brand challenge of all, but believe me when I say to you that if you allow your brand culture to erode, you’ll soon see your company is no longer aligned and can no longer achieve its vision.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos once said, “If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own.”

Brand Values

We all know what values are. We practice our values each day. When you help a neighbor out, you express your values. When you show your child how to win gracefully or lose like a champ, you’re sharing your values. When you call your parents tonight to check on them, those are your core values at work.

Brand values are the same thing. They are the things that you believe in as a company. They are the way you operate, the way you treat customers, how your source your products and how you treat one another. These are the things that shape the vision of your company and its culture. When guests come through your doors, this is the part of your brand they feel rather than see.

Having a well-thought and executed notion of brand values can give you the edge, particularly in a highly competitive market.

You all know that I’ve worked the vast majority of my career in the casino industry. When you compare three casinos within 25 or 30 miles of each other, the STUFF they have – slots and tables and a players card program, a buffet, steakhouse – whatever it is, it’s pretty comparable. And, yes, I do realize that some of these offerings are better than others, but all these things being equal in the mind of the customer makes you wonder why someone chooses casino A over casino B.

Here’s the secret. It’s your brand values. It is the feeling they get whenever they walk through your doors that is the emotional reason they choose you.

Management

Imagine the disconnect employees feel when you communicate to customers that service and attention are your number one goal and yet your memo to the call center is about cutting down on call times. This is a real experience.

The decisions we make as managers can often come without a brand filter on them, but these decisions can either enhance and strengthen your brand, or they can show the brand for what it might indeed be –  nothing more than a logo and a tagline.

Your brand has to be the underpinning of everything you do and say so that it will create a connection for everyone at the company.

For instance, think about how you communicate with everyone, including your internal audiences. Small things add up to a bigger brand picture.

Is your brand about personal connection? Don’t post memos on a bulletin board and expect employees to read them. Consider handwritten notes when recognizing the actions that grow your brand. Know birthdays and important dates. And, provide tools for frontline employees that will facilitate the creation of relationships with guests such as CRM tools.

Consider how you roll out new programs or change existing ones. How are your communications (and changes) supporting the brand? As managers, we have to recognize that our actions tell a story beyond the message and that employees will emulate our actions. So, the next time you think brand decisions lie in the marketing department, think again.

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