Podium: Multiprotocol Label Switching Brings Brand Identities Mojo

Growing companies all struggle with the quest to identify the "mojo" of their unique brand identities. A company's identity must pervade its corporate culture and enable it to stand out from competitors. It must travel well as the company rolls the brand out to branch offices, even in faraway locations.

Execution of the brand experience is everything in today's hypercompetitive world. Teen fashion stores want every location to be equally trendy. Execution ensures that a Big Mac tastes the same in all 50 states.

Increasingly, midsized firms are turning to an unlikely source for branding and executing: new-age telecom offerings. They're moving to Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks at distributed locations worldwide. At Virgin Entertainment, an MPLS network ensures that customers can listen to tunes while staff can place calls over the corporate network without disruption, regardless of network load.

Even cheapskate retail companies that used to rely on dial-up service are embracing broadband and MPLS. One retailer plans to replace all paper signs with electronic ones; the network load, including wireless, music, voice communications, and real-time inventory, will require MPLS. While such networks are initially challenging to cost-justify, they serve up several benefits that reinforce brand integrity, such as reduction in voice telecom costs; multimedia capabilities (kiosks connecting people to the Web); and empowered sales associates who can access customer information at will.

Consider these examples from the field:

Fine-tuning voice recognition. In a bilingual country like the U.S., voice recognition is useful. Companies are deploying it to better direct customer calls to the right place. AutoZone, for example, has offshored its store service center to Mexico. Many of its store managers speak Spanish, so it's easier for them to get answers to technical questions in their native language.

Expanding broadband services. Take a conservative industry like retail, add broadband in stores, and what do you get? Wireless handheld kiosks to help time-starved customers locate merchandise. Next-generation kiosks that provide Web access for customers who didn't find their size in the store. Electronic signs to keep prices current and save a fortune in labor every week. Music piping through the store, rather than the babble of commercial-filled radio stations, to better reflect the brand. And headquarters getting faster information about what's selling and what isn't.

Assisting the untethered workforce. Your best people may need to hold a meeting in a Starbucks in Columbus rather than your office. Deliver the flexibility they need by allowing them to hear their email or see their voicemail.

Training the workforce and reinforcing the brand. Some retailers have turned to MPLS to manage bursty in-store applications such as store associate training. Hannaford Bros. Co., a 120-year-old grocer based in Maine, deployed MPLS to manage network traffic and save money on associate training.

Moving to MPLS may mean hiring a consultant to assist you with Internet Protocol addressing and quality-of-service issues. But for growing firms that need to create a single customer experience, new-age telecom capabilities should rank high on the priority list. They may provide just what your business needs to move your mojo to new locations.

Cathy Hotka is a principal at Cathy Hotka & Associates in Washington, D.C.

This was first published in August 2006

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