Rob Rush, president & CEO of LRA Worldwide in Horsham, Pa., was one of the featured speakers at the 2002 LCT Leadership Summit in Boca Raton, Fla. At the Summit, Rush spoke on the many challenges facing limousine operators and shared his views on building a better brand. We recently asked Rush some questions to get his perspective on building brand loyalty.
LCT: What does brand management mean?
Rush: In our very complicated world, every human being is exposed to so many brands, so something really memorable or unexpected has to happen - you have to stand out from the crowd somehow. That's what I would call brand management. It's the number one job of a board of directors - to protect position and enhance a brand. In our company view, brand management is a company's or corporation's most important asset, because when you mention a brand name to a consumer, it conjures up all kinds of emotions and thoughts within that person's mind. And hopefully, you want that brand to promote a feeling of goodness, competence, quality - all the qualities that are important that would attract you to a brand.
LCT: Why is brand loyalty so important to a business these days?
Rush: In tough times, there's a lot of knee-jerk reaction to cyclical markets. Sometimes you cut prices, and this isn't just the limousine industry, it's many industries - cut prices, cut staff, reduce quality levels (the product experience), cut back on advertising, all of those things. But in our view, in tough times, consumers are actually much more disciplined when it comes to product choices, and they typically will be attracted to, and flock to, brands that they know and trust. That comes, for the most part, from personal experiences, because they don't want any surprises. The consumers' pocketbooks have been impacted as well, and they want value for their money. Their income is not growing and they don't want to make mistakes. So they go to brands that they feel consistently deliver the experience that they want. They're less apt to try something new in times like this.
And loyalty is so important because loyalty drives retention. If times are tough and you can't do a lot of advertising or hire salespeople, then it's much less expensive for a company to maintain existing customers and keep them coming back than it is to go find a new customer who doesn't know anything about you and try and convince them to use you. So the real benefit of loyalty is retention. A good salesperson or marketing department can convince a prospect to try a product or service once, but once that customer's in the door, essentially everyone else in the business is in the retention side. Ten percent of the iceberg is getting somebody to give you a try, and 90 percent is, how do you perform once they're in the door? Talk is cheap. Great brands walk the talk. The great brands really only spend about 10 percent of their focus on the message, and 90 percent on the execution, the delivery.
LCT: How can an operator start to incorporate branding into his or her business? What are the first steps?
Rush: If a small mom-and-pop operation wants to grow, then they have to look at the game plan that people like WalMart or Starbucks, great brands like that have used. That means to start and build it right from the beginning. Customer by customer, word-of-mouth - and as you get great customer experiences you'll get a "buzz" about your brand. A "buzz," meaning good feelings and getting people talking about your product. But that doesn't occur, in our view, unless something really memorable or unexpected happens. In terms of building a brand, try to differentiate your product from the rest and focus on operational excellence. What's very important to consumers with any product at any price is consistency. Consumers don't like surprises. They like to know that they're buying into a brand that will consistently meet and exceed their needs. If you think about the brands that you're loyal to, embedded in there is probably that whatever they do, they are pretty much consistent, and you can pretty much expect a similar kind of experience, time after time.
LCT: What is brand equity?
Rush: Brands are measured by various methods. Ad agencies and Wall Street - they measure brands by various methods and they have a statistic called, "brand equity."
Brand equity is the product of two elements - one is top-of-mind awareness, such as if I mention Coca-Cola, you immediately know what I'm talking about. There's power in that, because we're attracted to things we know. The other factor in determining brand equity is perception of quality. If I mention Mercedes, you might immediately have good feelings about the engineering of that vehicle. If I mention Kmart, you may have other feelings about quality level.
It's very important in managing a brand that you work on not only promoting the awareness of the brand through your advertising and marketing, but that you also provide a great experience. Build it brick by brick, because research indicates that consumers do not buy into advertising claims about a product or service's quality. Quality is driven by personal experiences with the product or service, or recommendations from someone you are close to. So if you want to be the number one brand in a category, you need to do a good job on your marketing, but you also need to do a great job on your delivery.