It may sound obvious, but a crucial element of a winning brand is consistent, reliable delivery of its products or services. If consistency and reliability is a problem for your business, you're going to have a really hard time developing great word-of-mouth and an excellent reputation for your brand.
Sorry, but this is true even if you have an awesome, fabulous, knock-your-socks-off product or service. If there are chronic problems in getting this amazing product/service to your customers efficiently, your branding traction will be seriously hampered.
I'm sure you know the kind of business I'm talking about. It's that place that has an innovative or high-quality product or service, is cute and charming, is obviously run with love and passion, has lovely well-intentioned staff -- but just doesn't have its act together. Sound familiar? It is so frustrating for consumers to want to love a place and want to be regulars, only to be disappointed time and again by snafus, errors and system failures. It's painful to witness a business that almost has all the elements in place but just can't make all the parts work together.
Systems Create Consistent and Professional Results
Every now and then I get into a baking jag, and have had some awesome successes with things like flourless chocolate cakes and lemon bread. Then a few months go by and I'll try them again only to have them turn out crumbly or fall flat (literally). A big difference between me and a professional baker is that while I can occasionally make something beautiful and delectable, a professional baker can do it over and over again. And not only will the pro baker make consistently good baked products, but they'll look and taste just about the same every single time.
In more general terms, successful businesses are able to replicate their products, their services, and the delivery of these products/services consistently and reliably. When a business's operations are spotty or sporadic, the business is just considered unprofessional.
Here's where systems play a huge role. Systems benefit businesses in many ways, but one of the most fundamental effects of a system is that it enables your business to produce and deliver your product consistently. When procedures are well-defined, documented and followed carefully every time, they will produce consistent results, whether you're making cupcakes, providing accounting services or developing software.
Ideally the product or service will be of consistently high quality, but for now I'm focusing on consistency -- not quality. As much as quality is a good thing (pun not intended), consistency is arguably even more important for a business.
One reason for this is that consistency is less subjective than quality. For example, customers could argue endlessly over whether a restaurant's breakfast burritos are good, great or abysmal. But it's generally easier to agree about whether they are consistent in terms of size, ingredients, whether there's the same amount of cheese or bacon every time, etc.
Customers crave consistency and reliability -- and they reserve their strongest loyalty to the businesses and brands that offer this. If they're never sure quite what they're going to get from your business, they're likely to keep looking for a source they can really count on. The company that offers this is building a strong brand.