Every day and all day, whether you’re aware or not, you consume service brands. When you search the internet, make a call, watch TV, go to the theatre, take a bus, see your doctor, use software, take the train, or stay in a hotel, you are consuming a service brand. In fact, it’s more than likely you actually work for a service brand company.
So what makes a service brand a service brand?
In its simplest sense, services are the abstract equivalent of goods. It’s what solicitors, gardeners, banks, teachers, dry cleaners, estate agents and accountants provide you with that doesn’t manifest itself in the ownership of a tangible product. It results in the use of their service.
Because a service brand is consumed the moment it is produced, it makes a service brand the ultimate perishable. There is no arrangement of atoms in the shape of a shiny new thing that exists as evidence of the money you have just spent. No new Jimmy Choo’s, sleek new car or iPad that you can admire, show-off or touch. Your entire experience of a service brand is created, consumed and disappears as it is provided. There is no article. All that remains are memories, invoices and receipts.
So, how do you brand something that can’t be seen, that has no shape, no texture, no colour and no smell?
Let’s take a law firm. The secret of branding the intangible lies in precisely what does define it. This means looking at the tangible parts of a service brand that audiences can experience. It’s how does the law firm’s website look, navigate and deliver; the way the receptionist answers the phone; the quality of its name and tagline; the way its employees dress, talk, and act; the way its offices look and feel; where it is located and what it is surrounded by; its client service levels from A to Z; the quality of its published insights; the impact of its messaging around what it does, how and why; its advertising and public relations efforts and the impact of its marketing collateral. The degree to how consistent and compelling all these elements are when they act together becomes critical to how that law firm’s prospective audience perceive the brand never having experienced its service.
Only until that law firm’s clients have used, and therefore experienced, its service will those clients really know what they paid for. They can’t window shop for it, try it on in a fitting room, take it for a test drive or play with someone else’s to see whether they like it. In short, service brands need to talk to their audiences using all the brand tools they have at their disposal to brand everything around their offering, because the one thing they can’t truly brand is the offering itself.