Superficial Branding: A Cautionary Tale

I know a training organization that’s re-discovered branding, and it’s busy ensuring its logo is applied consistently to all marketing communications and training materials. In the process, however, the training firm neglected a critical branding element: the “brand experience” provided its training staff who deliver on the brand.

The instructors work hard to deliver quality content and create an engaging learningexperience for customers. Their efforts are reflected in positive program evaluations along with positive revenue for the training firm. However, in its zeal to re-brand its current programs, create new ones, and issue directives on how to incorporate the logo on all training materials, management stopped listening to those responsible for delivering the training itself.

The result is increasing frustration among the instructors.

What can management do to rebuild its relationship with them?

It can start by proactively listening and responding to instructor concerns:

  • How do instructors perceive the quality of support they’re given to deliver a positive experience to customers?
  • What works and what gets in the way of effectively delivering a positive training experience?
  • What suggestions/ideas do instructors have for improving training delivery, developing new programs, etc.

Two important lessons:

  1. Brand strategy cannot overlook the people who deliver the brand promise. Both internal branding & internal marketing recognize staff as an organization’s “first audience” to be engaged before its customers.
  2. To be effective, branding must also be multi-dimensional – applied at the marcomm AND experiential levels.

Otherwise, it’s wasted effort that if not effectively resolved can result in both turnover and brand damage.


  • Phil Gerbyshak April 27, 2010 Reply

    What a sad state of affairs. Companies often lose their way because they focus on the outside instead of the inside and become donut organizations.
    How do we get through this? Make time to listen, to tune in, and to engage in what’s most important; sharing the information that matters with those who will be LIVING the brand. Forget having a brand ambassador or 5; take time to engage EVERYONE in the brand story. Live the brand. Embody the brand. And then worry about how it “looks” to everyone.
    You can’t live it on the outside until you feel it on the inside.

  • Ron Strauss April 27, 2010 Reply

    They didn’t rediscover branding. They rediscovered ‘trade dress.’ True branding is used as an ‘organizing lens’ for the enterprise, with decisions made on whether brand value will be created or destroyed. Value creation and destruction occurs in the training function and within each department of the organization. The failure of leadership you describe was to not use the company’s brand to ‘pull’ value-creating behavior through the organization to the overall benefit of the company’s network and its stakeholders.

  • Debra Semans April 27, 2010 Reply

    Great post, Sybil – it would be interesting to hear how many marketing dollars are wasted on superficial branding. That might wake people up! A brand is not a brand until you deliver on the promise.

  • Toby April 27, 2010 Reply

    Great case for why people don’t trust marketing messages. Pretty logos do not a brand make! Especially in a service business where the people are the brand. Hmm .. sounds a lot like social media.

  • Mike April 27, 2010 Reply

    Zeal in the guise of branding is still zeal. Organizations/individuals that are zealous about plastering their brand on everything can be arrogant and frustrating. The questions: Was organizational leadership involved in the command? Do they understand the impact on the instructors? Will they listen?

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