I have been thinking a lot about what makes a great brand, and in particular, how does a service business capitalize on it. I asked a good friend of mine, Steve Price, the now-retired CEO of several companies in the services sector, for his thoughts on the topic.

“Steve, some say a company’s single largest asset is its brand. How do you define ‘brand’?”

“The definition of brand is the customers’ perception of the competitive differentiation between your business and the other choices they are aware of, in terms of function, features, emotion, pricing, association, etc. Whether your company is successful or not depends on how well that brand perception matches what the customer wants or needs.”

“How does that definition differ for service-oriented businesses?”

“In services, the challenge of brand-building is more complex, since brand perception is made up of the lump sum of all experiences that the customer has with the organization. The experiences include everything from pre-sales, contracting, sales, and service delivery to all promotion vehicles, customer care, even billing and collections.

Service companies frequently believe that the customer is selecting them because of a rational set of benefits. In fact, they could not be more incorrect. Customers select services companies because of an emotional relationship that can either be built up or knocked down over time, driven by the consistency and customer-centricity of each contact.”


“How does the people element come into play?”

“Interpersonal experiences are critical to building and sustaining a brand, since no amount of marketing can compensate for a poor customer experience. Attitudes of staff on the phone, wait times on hold, responsiveness to requests, billing issue resolution, all can make or break a brand’s differentiation. Because service customers are buying an intangible, the “relationship” between the customer and the company define the brand in the customer’s mind. That means not just the sales relationship, but every point of contact drives brand perception.”

“How can a company know what its brand perception is?”

“The only way to determine a service company’s brand is to ask your customers, both current and former, and prospects what they believe your brand to be. Because the brand exists solely in the mind of the customer or prospect, that makes it the only reality that matters. Then, the question becomes is that the perception you want for your brand, and what can you do to build or change it.”

For how-to’s and practical tips on building your brand, check out the following articles under Mastering Marketing: