Beyond Brand Visibility: A Take on Services

– Prof. S Ramesh Kumar (IIMB) and Rangamani Kala

The objective of this article is to provide a perspective on how different kinds of services can conceptually approach their respective brands by considering a service that is relatively low on tangibility associated with brands in the sector. The moment of truth experienced by the consumer is the trust that matters to the brand.

“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department”

-David Packard (HP Co-founder)

Services vary on the continuum of their tangibility, meaning that services like hotels, airlines, retailing, or telecom have certain tangible characteristics that are more observable to consumers than services like
insurance or psychological counselling. The objective of this article is to provide a perspective on how different kinds of services can conceptually approach their respective brands by considering a service
that is relatively low on tangibility associated with brands in the sector.

Insurance on a basic psychological plane is all about security and peace of mind. There are several promises made by brands through several routes (emotional advertising, enthusiastic agents /sales personnel, digital channels, and word of mouth).

However, the consumer who is lulled into the security of the a brand’s trust will have a new phase of experience when he/she makes a claim (with or without a third party involved in processing the claim) when the need arises. The moment of truth experienced by the consumer is the trust that matters to the brand.

Trust is beyond advertising blitzkrieg.

Dr. Paul Zak (who was later known as Dr. Love) was a pioneer in the area of neuroeconomics, that
combines economics with neuroscience, biology and psychology. His work was based on a
neurotransmitter called oxytocin that facilitates love and warmth between the mother and the infant.
Later studies established that oxytocin is also induced by our thoughts and imagination besides the
physical contact associated with warmth and love. The implication of such a phenomenon especially
for brand with a low degree of tangibility is that trust is something that needs to evolve during the
entire consumer decision making journey and cannot be an outcome of a transaction/ brand’s

Service Quality

Drawing from the marketing literature on services , there are three kinds of service quality associated
with services -search quality , experience quality and credence quality . Search quality is something
that consumers may be able to evaluate even before they purchase a product /service(for instance the
“no frill” bus services in cities ) . Experiential quality is one where consumers can evaluate a service
only after they have experienced it (visiting a new restaurant) and credence quality is one where
consumers may have complexities in evaluating a service even after they had consumed /experienced it
(psychological counselling). Marketers make an attempt to raise the involvement level of consumers
even in search quality based, services essentially if they are closer to commoditized offerings or if
there are minor differentiation amongst offerings (ads for banking services with celebrities). Consumer
reviews are useful for experiential services (Trip Advisor for instance ). The authors opine that
insurance service is closer to search quality aspects (especially for consumers who are yet to have an
opportunity to experience the utility of services). There are consumer reviews but given the nature of
services, these reviews are essentially applicable to the individual’s situation and hence becomes
relatively more subjective than a travel service (for comparison purposes).

Importance of three basic factors that are interlinked

Given the nature of service quality of a service like insurance, there is a need to highlight the
importance of expectations, consumer experience and the touch points in consumer interaction.
Expectations are pre-consumption beliefs, that are generated through advertisements / social media
/sales executive’s promises and through word of mouth associated with the brand besides the brand
associations if the brand is a reputed one. Expectations play an important role in consumer’s
perception of assessment of service quality and needs to be realistic to ensure that they are met
subsequently. Consumer experience and touch points may be closely related to each other, as they
capture the feelings/perception of consumers when the consumer interacts with the brand with respect
to several touch points. It is only when the three important factors , expectations , consumer experience
and touch points are managed effectively, the service quality will be enhanced . The outcome of such
initiatives will be the trust associated with the brand.

Touch points, organizational structure-the basics

The three basic points mentioned earlier in the article do not depend just on the marketing department.
The entire organization is involved and there needs to be a synergy between the organizational
structure, technology, and the objectives of customer satisfaction. Without such an approach, the three
factors cannot be envisaged.

The following factors may be useful indicator to revisit the customer satisfaction cycle:

Timeline – Sell the expectations to the consumer.

Process – Make it transparent to the consumer.

Communication – Trustworthiness to be developed without hyperbole.

Post-claim relationship – Explain the limitations of the policy with credible real-case examples.

Application of technology /digital interface

Almost every aspect of a brand in any category of products/ services will sooner or later go through
technological interventions. One important aspect to be noted is that application of technologies need
to focus on the core proposition of enhancing the service quality . There are several ways in which
technology can be applied of services While some of the brand initiatives associated with technology
may not be focused on the core proposition , they may still help in consumer engagement . For
instance , Vitality platform based on gamification (shared with several partner insurance companies
was introduced by Discover Group an insurance company in South Africa), helps the consumers with
tests on health , tracks the health analytics of consumers and provides several incentives for them to set
and meet goals concerning health . There are incentives /discounts on membership of health services
and several other offerings that include Apple watch. But these initiatives cannot substitute the
experience of a claim settlement especially if it is not done directly by the brand (meaning that when a
third party is involved in the settlement of claims).The focus on the core proposition will have to stay
intact .

Consumers do not expect unconditional love from a brand ; they will be delighted with conditional
love from the marketers , if such a brand love is genuine.