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The Dark Ages

By Tom Petty

I’ve recently been dealing with a large utility company as a customer. I use the term customer loosely, since at this point I feel a bit like a discarded crisp packet being blown around an empty car park. In the rain.

It made me think about something critical to businesses these days: your brand is what you do. It’s not something you pay for and get, it’s the cumulative effect of every single action you take and every interaction you have with your customers.

Recently my interactions with this un-named company have been piped versions of Duran Duran’s greatest hits and a rather fetching mono rendition of Greensleeves. There was also the glossy brochure that came through the door just as the engineer was leaving (the problem unresolved) — it cheerfully told me that prices were going up by a record amount.

The truth is, when you increase prices more than competition, when you can’t call people directly, when you cut customers off whilst they’re holding, when you can’t book an appointment in anything less than 6-hour windows, and when engineers do arrive they absolve themselves of responsibility, your brand is a joke. No amount of identity changes, strategic initiatives, ownable interactions or experience principles will help you.

For a brand to mean something, you have to do something. You have to back up your words with actions.

There are businesses that do this well. First Direct will answer your call almost immediately. American Express will let you text or email, as well as call them. DPD gives tight, accurate delivery windows, and makes it easy to change them.

It’s tempting to see ‘brand’ as a sort of panacea — a way to define how the world perceives your company, but instead what’s important is how customers actually experience your company. Without that, you’re blowing in the wind.

Tom Petty is a designer specialising in experience and interaction at Wolff Olins London. You can follow him on twitter @tp