Is a strong and memorable brand still important in today’s delivery market or should posts be focusing their time and money on delivering the best customer experience?
Jane Cox, Postal Technology International, investigates:
Delivery providers are more responsible than ever for delivering a great customer experience on behalf of the retailers and businesses they serve. A poor delivery experience is no longer acceptable and delivery companies have upped their game – investing in technology, new processes and customer service. In part it’s the retailers themselves who have pushed for a better service, since it is they – rather than the carrier – that the customer will associate with a negative delivery experience.
“Your perception of the brand you are purchasing from is reflected in who delivers the item and the level of service they provide.” Says Melanie Darvall, Director of Marketing and Communications at postal operator Whistl. “Also, consumers are willing to pay a premium for delivery depending on the nature and value of the purchase,” she says.
But as the carriers and posts have upped their game – and as their role has become more important than ever in the whole customer experience – many have realised the opportunities for stronger branding.
For some, such rebranding exercises have been the result of consolidation in the market or a unification of expanded service offerings. For others, it’s about recognizing that old delivery models – particularly where the balance of mail to parcels is changing considerably – are no longer relevant. Brands associated only with the postal sector, for example, simply no longer reflect the international logistics operators that many companies are becoming.
Standing out from the crowd. The evolution in branding has also come about as delivery partners increasingly look to stand out in a competitive market and to offer more premium products. “Awareness of brands and services in this sector has evolved as people do more online shopping and so have a greater knowledge of the services provided by delivery companies – whether it’s same day, next day or longer,” says Darvall.
In the USA, strong branding is critical simply because of the dominance of main carriers such as USPS, UPS and FedEx, according to David Partenheimer, Manager, Media Relations for UPSP. “Choosing a shipping provider is not just about price,” he says. “Business shippers place considerable importance on the provider of the shipping product used. Research indicates that the brand attribute of being a ‘trusted partner’ is by far the most important factor in choosing a provider across shipping categories. Being trusted comes as a result of being reliable and delivering on what the customer needs.”
Joona Saluveer, Chairman of the management board of Estonia-based Omniva, which rebranded from Eesti Post after its expansion, agrees. He believes that a strong brand can be the make-or-break deciding factor when all other things are equal. “When customers are choosing a delivery provider, we believe the most important considerations are delivery speed and choice, quality and cost, but if all these things are similar between providers, then people are willing to pay extra if it is delivered by a particular brand. At that point, branding has its value,” he says.
Steve Falik, president of Prime Data, a Canadian marketing company, says the strength of the Canada Post brand is immediately evident in how people perceive the company. “When someone says it’s going to be delivered by Canada Post, the customer normally associates that with a person who is in a uniform, has been with the organisation for a long time, and can be trusted in your neighbourhood to deliver in a timely manner in a safe vehicle,” he says.
The importance of customer service
“Customer experience is important,” argues Różycki, Managing Partner at Last Mile Experts. “If a carrier can consistently demonstrate that they offer a superior delivery experience, then brand does matter and will be a deciding factor in the choice of provider.”
This means investing in customer service is a must-do before any investment in marketing since otherwise customers’ high expectations created by marketing will not be fulfilled by the actual service provided. “Good customer experience is a prerequisite for investment in branding,” he says. But this has to be tied in with strategy. “The danger arises if branding is isolated from an overall business strategy – the worst case being where they are conflicting.”
Simply rebranding to lose an old image can be tempting, but is not a wise move, according to independent advisor to the industry and chairman of the Postea Group, Elmar Toime.
“This is the dilemma facing postal companies that have a poor service record. The effort has to be on improving service, but it’s much harder to do that than it is to do marketing, so often their priorities are wrong. If you can also afford to do some brand marketing, it’s worthwhile not just because of the end customer, but also to show your employees what you are trying to achieve,” he says.
Toime cites a DHL Express campaign that focused on showing employees what great service meant in a global company. “It was an indirect brand campaign, but it helped employees value the brand – and that then transfers to customers,” he says.
Quite simply, it seems that delivery companies today do have to create a brand in order to compete. “People [senders and receivers] have to know about you as a delivery agent, so building confidence in the brand does require you to talk about it,” explains Toime.
There is one huge exception to the rule. One of the biggest companies – when it comes to delivery share – is Amazon, which carries no branding for the majority of its drivers or vans. “For Amazon, it’s all about the total experience of shopping,” comments Toime. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in the delivery quality. They are. But they want us to trust them,” he argues.
For the rest, however, the opportunity to brand and delivery really does matter. And it also offers huge potential if the most is made of branding – provided that the offer and customer experience warrants it – given the scale of customers such as branding can reach. “The branding of the delivery company, if it is excellent, rubs off on the products and services it is delivering,” says Prime Data’s Falik.
So just as a negative experience with a delivery company will impact an end-consumers choice of retail, a positive one can mean that retailer preferring the delivery company over others since it leaves customers better satisfied. And that potential is huge. “It’s a powerful tool because such companies potentially have thousands of vehicles and individuals as billboards for that brand,” comments Różycki.
The task of branding or rebranding is huge in such a fast-changing market and must be done correctly. “For me, where branding is aligned with strategy and proper planning, and is researched and executed well, it’s highly likely it will work. Where it isn’t, it won’t, Różycki concludes.”