Service Branding: Implications and Strategies


By

Mohammad Rizwan Alam
Sr. Lecturer - Marketing
Preston University
P.O. Box: 20488, Ajman- UAE
 


Service has historically been a vital sector for any economy. And this got impetus in the wake of information technology revolution and globalization towards the end of 20th century. And today, service is arguably ubiquitous. Just think about numerous services in pour daily lives! Despite its powerful role in commercial and civic life, building service branding through various strategies is faced with intrinsic challenges . This article attempts to detail the implications and strategies to build a service brand.

Zeithaml and Bitner (2003) view, "services are deeds, processes, and performances". Service is primarily characterized by intangibility, heterogeneity, perishabilty. Here intangibility means service product cannot be touched, seen, tasted or patented precisely like tangible good. Example is the lecture of a professor. Heterogeneity implies a service product is not the same all the times as service delivery often involves human beings- both, customer and employee who essentially influence the service performance. The performance of the students does not remain the same for the same subjects in different semester's examination as service provider- professors and service recipient, environment, among others largely influence the performance of the students while perishability means that it cannot be "saved, stored, resold, or returned". Vacant seats in a public transport, for instance, once lost are lost for ever.

Brand as a word takes root to "the Old Norse word - brandr meaning to burn" as the owners of the livestock used to mark their animals to identify.  Keller (2008) defines a brand as  a, " name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competition." While, "A product is something that is made in factory; a brand is something that is bought by a customer. A product can be copied by competitor, a brand is unique. A product can be quickly outdated, a brand is timeless" (Aaker, 1991).

Managerial Implications

In the above backdrop, service brand is a unique identity of a service product, organization, entity, etc., which occupies its perceptual share in the customer mind against competitor in the industry. Service brand tells the purpose of its service product, promises its performance, and demonstrates consistencies in delivery.  It shows and fulfils the commitment of satisfying on three fronts- function, emotion, and symbols. It catalyses the service recovery and maintains overall efficiencies and effectiveness. If customers find brand as enduring, honest, sincere, caring, reliable, disciplined, and 'humanistic', they start preferring and advocating for, and even romancing with the said brand without which, they feel deprived of companionship of such brand. In such a situation, if the customer does not find such service provider or organization, he is just restless and even the substitutes are hard to offer emotional or symbolic satisfaction.

Management needs to strategically design, develop, deliver, and communicate to the right customers usually in a competitive climate. This can be achieved when the firm is equipped with the right service, adequate tools, right employees, and communication program all directed at delivering the satisfying deliverable to the customer. Besides, customers, too, needs to understand the unforeseen complexities and challenges associate with services. Often, they need to participate and co-process the service activities together with the providers. Sharjah based Air Arabia, for instance has been posting an impressive growth year on year basis, which can be attributed to the factor beyond low price, which is good value for money, among others.

Frameworks for Service Brand

The diagram below contains organization which is service firm, internal marketing includes the financial and non-financial benefits motivating employees to perform their best, external marketing involves the marketing program of the said service firm directed at the customers and publics. Environment includes internal environment like people, process, culture, policies, physical evidence, etc., and external environment includes political, economic, legal, technological, and socio-cultural; all these factors have bearing on service brand.


Though this framework is not comprehensive, it captures the key variables having impact on service brand in a broader sense.

Strategies to Empower Service Brand

Alliance

Alliance here entails the fit of organizational philosophy or mission with the service brand in hand. Different brands of the same firm essentially need to possess the same ultimate firm's corporate or social goal, though a variant or category may have separate brand rather than family brand. Park Hyaat, ANdaaZ Grand Hyaat, and Hyaat Regency, for instance, share the common goals in alliance with the corporate goal.

Positioning

This is a way of planting the image of service brand in the customer's mind usually against the competitors in the industry. Positioning is needed as this tells the purpose of a service being a brand. This is formulated to educate the customers and let them form positive attitude and finally make buying decision on the brand. It acts as a light house to the wandering customers in the cluttered bazaar. Singapore Airline, for instance, has positioned its services presenting iconic Singapore Girl image, while Air Arabia has demystified whole business philosophy through its apt slogan, "Pay Less, Fly More".

Targeting

Right offering to the right customer in the very beginning is vital to sail through the branding empowering journey. Understanding the customer needs and wants in regard to segmentable variables through formal methods like market research way before the service is even designed is an absolute must. For example, Wal-Mart offers services to the price sensitive customers, while Spinney's targets middle and upper class income groups. Thus, firms can achieve the economies of scales, efficiencies, and effectiveness in its operation on time.

Service Development

The entire continuum of new service development should be studied and furthered matching the firm's overall environmental compatibility and sustainability. While doing so, quality is a top of mind criteria for the fate of ensuing service. Once the service becomes deliverable, the five elements of SERVQUAL reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy, and tangible should be demonstrated by service employees, "especially service spanners".

Research and Intelligence

The brainchild of powerful brand is and should be research savvy. Research is what offers brand builder information vitally useful in decision making process. In achieving this, the company engages a formal and systematic consumer, media or other research. The output of the research is undeniably the highly needed input to the decision maker. Engaging in intelligence brings the secret information about the market, competitor, etc., which is otherwise very hard to gather, though the approach of data collection for intelligence purpose could be informal.

Internal Marketing

Internal marketing is intended to hire, develop, and hold the best possible talents to deliver the same as or in excess of the promised services. The firm needs to provide benefits, environment, growth, and opportunities to the employees which can sufficiently satisfy, motivate, and inspire them to deliver the best to the customer, organization or any other stakeholders. The firm should treat them like customers. "Happy employee makes customer happy" often holds true particularly in service settings. Burj Al Arab Hotel, "the world's most luxurious hotel" and Kingfisher Airlin, for instance, are known for internal marketing.

Customer Centricity

The organization with practice on customer centricity puts the customers under laser-sharp focus. The syndrome of "Customer is king" is unquestioned in so many companies, though some have to compromise on this saying. The firm is advised to build functional silo of comprehensive database using tailor-made Customer Relationship Management (CRM) package. This helps the users to design and deliver the offerings and operation in a more efficient, effective, and profitable manner. Customer equity and Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) can also be better computed through CRM. SAP Arabia, Oracle, IBM can be consulted in this perspective.

Integrated Communication

The service brand builder should design the various marketing and communication mix like Advertising, Public Relation, Event, Marketing Research, physical evidence, aesthetics, symbols etc., with the same theme which reinforces the impact of message on customer. But caution is to avoid overdoing and ensure that promises are well kept against the promises made during the campaign. If possible, practice the syndrome, "underpromise and overdeliver".

Build Brand Equity

The service firms should conceptualize the strategies and tactics is on consumer based brand equity whose constituents, as per Aaker (1991) are "brand loyalty, brand awareness, perceived quality, brand association, and other proprietary assets". The brand strategist should leverage the service brand in line with such elements with the ultimate objective of maximum wealth generation to the organization. To do so, the overall differential brand value, that is brand equity must be built over the years.

Conclusion

The article gets concluded with the note that service brand is more complex and challenges to build and empower. However, the management can build a "unique, strong, and favorable" brand by conceptualizing and executing the necessary "moment of truths" of services like service mixes and the related paraphernalia.

Reference:

1. Aaker, D. (1991): "Managing Brand Equity: Capitalizing on the Value of a brand name", originally from Stephen King from WPP, The Free Press, USA

2.  Zeithaml, V. and Bitner, M. (2003): "Service marketing", 3rd edition, Pub. MacGraw-Hill, USA

3.   Keller, K. (2009): "Strategic Brand Management, Building, Measuring, and managing Brand Equity",
3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall, India

4.    http://www.hyatt.com/hyatt/index.jsp, accessed on May 15, 2012

5.    www.jumairah.com, accessed on May 15, 2012
 


Mohammad Rizwan Alam
Sr. Lecturer - Marketing
Preston University
P.O. Box: 20488, Ajman- UAE
 

Source: E-mail May 15, 2012

          

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