Execution: How the Brand Becomes Reality

This is the area where most companies fall down. They make a lot of big promises and then they don’t deliver. Or maybe they just don’t realize what they’ve signed up for. In any event, when the Expectations a company creates and the company’s Execution are not aligned, disaster usually ensues. And it’s perfectly understandable. Most often, the people setting the Expectations are the not the same ones delivering on those Expectations. And if, there isn’t a lot of communication, education and trust in that relationship, there’s not really much hope the Execution is going to deliver what was promised.

It’s important then to think through the issues surrounding Execution. First and foremost, Execution needs to be mapped back to Expectations. In other works, what is the customer expecting from us and what do we need to do to make sure they get it? What operations need to be in place for us to be able to meet our commitments? And how everyone in the company, as well as the company as a whole support this effort? And in what way does the delivery of our product support and build its value?

This is a critical point because while not everyone in the company may  be responsible for setting customer Expectations, everyone in the company can execute against those Expectations.

Because Execution is everyone’s job.

If management promises a killer new product and engineering doesn’t deliver that, what happens? Or if it isn’t shipped on time? Or the documentation is wrong? All of those things impact the brand value the product was supposed to create. So everyone needs to know how Expectations and Execution match up, and how they can do their jobs so as to add their value for the customer.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of how Execution matches Expectation is the story of Avis, and We Try Harder.

In 1963, Robert Townsend, Avis’ CEO hired advertising pioneer Bill Bernbach to come up with an ad campaign to help lift the company out of obscurity. At this time, the rental car business was dominated by Hertz and all the other little companies like Avis, were scrambling to pick up what was left over.

After looking at the company’s and competitor’s businesses, Bernbach could find not discernible differences between what Avis offered and what every other company offered. Except for one thing. He theorized that if Avis employees were willing to work a little harder to make the customer’s experience a little better, he might just have an idea that was big enough to make the company stand out from the crowd. In a nutshell, that idea was, “Avis is only #2. That’s why We Try Harder.”

Townsend loved the idea and asked Bernbach to implement it immediately. But before he would let Townsend buy the campaign, Bernbach insisted on meeting with all Avis employees and explaining what they were signing up for. Bernbach knew that it would be easy to make the promise of trying harder, but if the employees didn’t actually back it up, it would be nothing more than a big expensive lie.

Avis Rent-a-Car’s “We Try Harder” not only went on to become one of the most famous advertising slogans of all time. It became the foundation for the operating manual for the entire company. Avis’ entire operation is built around this one simple idea. The train their people in it from the first day they’re hired, they measure their performance by it, and the incentivize their employees based on how well they deliver on the promise of trying harder.

Avis management may have set the Expectations for its customers, with “We Try Harder,” but it is the employees who make it true, with every customer, every day. It has been, and continues to be, their efforts that have built one of the most valuable brands in the world, and turned a slogan into an operating manual for one of the world’s most successful businesses.