I have always been a great believer in brands and not surprisingly I have chosen it as a career. I always thought that I was in the business of helping companies profit from building great brands. But after much reflection, I am really in the business of authentic transformations. My goal is not to promise profits for my customers but rather the promise of a journey of transformation that if followed through, will lead to profits. It is not an easy journey and demands much courage and tenacity from the brand owners, but the pay-off is highly rewarding in more ones than one.

Many companies in Malaysia see brand building as a good to have, but only if budget permits. For them it is very much – lets get our operation and process right first, lets design that great store, lets get a great advertising campaign to bring people to our store and then when the money comes in, then we will invest in branding. Now this may have worked for some companies, it has also been the stumbling block for sustained growth. How do I know this, because many of my clients from traditional industries are coming to me to help them cross a crucial threshold from local to world brand and they know that great process and ads alone are not enough.

When I commence any project, I always begin with a question – what business are you in?
A very simple question, yet you would be surprise how many decision makers are stumped by it. Or how in a room full of decision makers there is are disparate answers ranging from, making money to increasing shareholder value to providing solutions.

Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh says that he is in the business of delivering happiness, Southwest Airlines calls themselves a customer service company that just happens to fly planes. Both are companies that have been highly profitable with an army of loyal employees as well as loyal fans; fans who are more than happy to shell out money time after time to get a piece of the Zappos or Southwest experience. A while ago I wrote about Steve Jobs’ commitment to making his customers happy and this has made Apple the most valuable company in the world. In his book Delivering Happiness Tony Hsieh writes about the importance of culture. In his view, his culture which stems from Zappos’ 10 core values, is his brand. At Zappos every employee has a story about how he/she has lived each one of those values either with a fellow employee or with a customer. Their 10 values is not just a poster put in a gilded frame and stuck on the side of the reception area for customers to see. Zapponians as they like to call themselves, live and breathe their values everyday. Now that is authentic branding.

In a post financial crash world, consumers and customers alike are now looking for brands that are authentic and trustworthy. Throw in a exploding social media scene and you have the makings of a highly informed and discerning target audience. So why is it that in this new age, we still witness countless cases of brands that promise one thing and deliver another? Brands who spend millions on advertising that promises you opportunities, closer ties, relationship building etc. on one hand, and deliver very little of what they promise.

Why do brands believe that a world class SOP (standard operating procedure) coupled with an investment in great call centre scripting will be enough to garner long term customer loyalty, when all they do is just wind the customers up without really solving their problem. And the biggest insult is that in a world of shared servicing and decentralisation, they can make your life hell one day and then try and sell you another service the next, completely oblivious to the pain they have just put you through. This disconnect is the reason why brands lie. They can’t help it. They have been structure and programmed to do so, pulled apart by management decisions purely based on the bottom line. This disconnect when done well, often affects employees’ and customers’ experience in the worst possible way – it totally dehumanises the brand and reduces it to nothing but a mere commoditised service provider.

But the biggest tragedy of all is that we as consumers let them dehumanise us in the process. When dealing with them, we too leave our humanity aside, becoming either robot-like in our interactions with them just to survive the service. Or else we become highly irrational, ranting beings snarling like wretched beasts as the stupidity or the ridiculousness of the situation reaches new highs. Surely there must be a better way?

I feel the time has come for us to reject brands that lie or make it a point to help them cross over the the ‘light’ side, that is, if they have not reduced us to quivering idiots in the process. So if you do feel yourself sliding down the evolutionary scale in your encounters with these brand, do yourself and all of us a favour – let them know and then feel free to blog, twit, google+ and fb it.