Sunday, July 1, 2012

How Do You Create a Successful Brand in the ‘Service Sector’?

“In an era of rapid growth of service firms, both researchers and practitioners have come to acknowledge that employee performance plays a vital role in the success of a service brand. Unlike with product brands, for which consumers’ perceptions of a brand derive predominantly from a product’s tangible features, customers’ perceptions of a service brand depend highly on the behaviour of frontline staff. Thus, the task of getting employees to build and strengthen an organisation’s brand image -  to act as “brand champions” - is a challenge for service firms in many industries,” (Morhart, Herzog and Tomczak, 2009, p.122). 

The concept of ‘brands’ and ‘brand building’ is mostly associated with products, or is discussed where a ‘service brand’ has already been established. But when it comes to the service sector, actually developing a strategy to develop and create your own ‘service brand’ is often left out of most discussions. For some reason it’s assumed that your ‘brand’ which can be mistakenly assumed to be the same as ‘reputation’ is something that either does or doesn’t develop over time, where you have little influence over the speed of the service brand in the market place. But this is a mistake. 

Building a brand in the service industry is just as important as building one in a product driven industry. This means firstly you have to know what service you’re building your brand around – as often the ‘service’ you describe yourself as and on which you build your brand, can in itself be your competitive advantage in a highly competitive market segment.  

Take ‘dentists’ for example – this service industry has been mostly associated with pain and suffering in the past – so the opportunity to build a ‘brand’ around your firm in this industry may appear impossible to some. Yet some dentists have already been able to differentiate themselves from their competition by refocusing their primary service offering, seeking to ‘promote’ positive aspects of their full range of services that will attract the attention of the consumer – where you’ll find certain dental chains and practices that focus their attention on promoting  services that improves ‘your smile’. A service offering that is attractive to many in today’s image conscience society.

Through differentiating the service they offer – they already start to differentiate themselves and create a more positive expectation in the eyes of their potential customers.  

The next thing service firms must look at, though sometimes I’m not sure if it’s done consciously or not, is creating a ‘brand name’ that is attractive and can be used as the foundation to creating a global service brand. 

One of the obstacles for many service firms when it comes to brand development is that they already have a company name and through pride, ego and stubbornness, don’t want to consider changing it, even to create a ‘new’ service brand. So Joe of Joe Plumbing will often not even consider a name change, even when it’s shown that Joe’s Plumbing is unlikely to become a global brand as it stands…. 

So looking at your ‘operating name’ and creating a unique ‘brand name’ that can be developed in the market place is something every service firm should consider as part of its strategic process. 

Then once you have the basics in place – a potential ‘brand name’ and an exciting ‘service offering’, then the brand will be developed through the service you and your firm offer - where the greatest influence over creating a positive or negative brand image with your customers will be your front line staff.  

What can organisations do to enhance brand-building behaviours among their employees? 

Morhart, Herzog and Tomczak (2009) found that different leadership styles had either a positive and negative impact on employees being brand champions, where “a highly transactional style was counterproductive in terms of followers’ motivational condition. Owners and managers would do much better by opening their minds to a transformational leadership approach, which would entail behaviours such as articulating a unifying brand vision, acting as an appropriate role model by living the brand values, giving followers freedom to individually interpret their roles as brand representatives, and providing individualised support by acting as a coach and mentor. This would allow followers to experience the feelings of relatedness, autonomy, and competence in their roles as brand representatives, which would ultimately spill over into the commitment, authenticity, and proactivity that characterise a real brand champion,” (p.138). 

So if you run an organisation in the service sector, however small you may be – it’s worth spending the time to look at your brand strategy – as you may be pleasantly surprised the impact this has on your growth, when you get your brand and your brand image right. 


Morhart, F.M., Herzog, W., and Tomczak, T. (2009). Brand-Specific Leadership: Turning Employees into Brand Champions. Journal of Marketing, Vol. 73, Issue 5, p.122-142.

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