We are all aware of the evolution of the brand as a tool. A tool through which businesses have sought to increase margin, differentiate, and inspire consumers emotionally - as well as rationally - through incredible communications planning, creative execution and activation programmes.
The relationship between brands and the businesses that own them has been an evolving and complex one that has grown over many decades. In fact, it goes back to the 1960s when the American Advertising Association coined the first definition of its use commercially, to inform a growing breed of marketers what a brand manager might do…
“A name, term, design, symbol, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from competitors.”
It was very much an advertising lead concept then. And this was true for many decades to follow. Some would argue that this thinking is still predominant in some areas of the brand environment. Many people still see it as a communication and presence creation tool, rather than the wider concept that we use to define its role in today’s multi-channel world.
A new era of brand
The world has changed.
Consumers have become enabled, inspired and empowered by the technology they have been given access to over the past decade.
The outcome of this empowerment is that they look at their relationship with brands and businesses in a totally different light...
Baby boomers have grown up with brands using persuasive communications to create emotional bonds through limited channels and no interactivity between them and said brand - the ultimate transmit model. Logos helped popular brands standout on the shelf as the FMCG world led the change in brand thinking, and presence was key for brands both in terms of advertising share and distribution.
This is a completely different world to today’s.
Today, in this multichannel world, brands have to survive and thrive amongst all manner of complex solutions required to engage and inspire customers who have become ever more questioning.
Gone are the days of the transmit model; we are deep into the new era of branding that sees customer experience at the heart of this transformation.
The old transmit model is by no means dead - especially if you are a convert to the work of Professor Byron Sharp and his mental and physical availability approach to how brands grow. (Although, it can be argued that this is very much an FMCG driven concept and the role of brands outside of this framework may have other assets than just their logo and communications etc.)
However, no matter how much communication a brand does, how much digital transformation it undertakes, or how amazing the promises it makes are, one thing is for certain in the new era: if the whole business is not aligned to delivering those promises, the whole thing can fall over in the customer experience.
Transparency throughout the business
At a conference I hosted late last year, one of the speakers from a very large financial services business said that they had identified that 80% of the customer friction and complaints were generated by 20% of the people of the business.
None of those people felt that they were customer facing or influencing. To change this, they need to be transformed from brand destroyers into brand builders.
This is, for me, the single fact that defines the task we all have to undertake in order to deliver brands in this new era and ensure that the brand not only keeps its promises, but does so profitably.
This will balance what the customers want with the needs of the business for financial return. It will build both the margin return and the longer term volume growth of loyalty and repeat purchase.
If brands deliver both the mental and physical availability, and leverage that through an engaging and inspiring customer experience that delivers the brand and not just the narrow concept of customer service, then the world looks a very exciting place in the new era.
This is not an easy approach. But organisations that are already thinking and working with the new era in mind - and have worked through the pain barriers of starting transformation using brand focused customer experience delivery - are already seeing massive returns.
I use the phrase ‘brand focused’ because we see too many businesses looking purely at customer experience as a means to an end; to improve service levels at touch points throughout the customer journey.
As in the old era of change management, everyone improved their businesses to the same end and therefore did nothing to drive differentiation or more intimate brand relationships. It was a generic improvement and they all ended up in the same place down the line.
Building irresistible customer experiences that transform businesses and brands
We all have access to the data we need – we just need to use it wisely...
Voice of the customer – from all sources, be they digital or analogue, having a deep understanding not only of your current customers but also those that have lapsed and those that are passive rejecters
Voice of your people – they know more about how the business really treats its customers than anyone else. They also know what is getting in the way of delivering the right customer experience.
Voice of the business – the brand is a business tool designed to help achieve its ambitions, therefore it must always be a key voice that should be heard, otherwise why would the management of that business take this journey seriously? It is after all a critical business investment.
After all, empirical evidence trumps making it up every time!
It’s a journey for the whole business, not just a project for a singular department.
It must start and be led from the very top of the organisation. If you don’t have at least one board sponsor, don’t start as it will be doomed to failure.
Get the right governance to guide the journey and help the business form new alliances on behalf of customers to deliver the promises the brand makes.
Keep customer experience connected to business value and related brand measurement to business performance. This is journey critical - without it, how can the business make the right investment decisions or have faith in the journey and its capability to deliver against the ambitions of the business?
Deliver your brand basics. It’s the least you can do and if you don’t, the evidence shows that your customers will get angry and rightly so. So before you plan your ‘wow moments’, which I know are very sexy and innovative things, make sure you can deliver the brand promises first. There will be plenty of opportunity to build moments of brand amplification later.
It’s about them, not you
The old era was about how customers fitted into your business model. Now it’s about how we fit into their lives.
Too many companies are still seeking to fit customers into their way of working. But this is a real piece of “end of the line” thinking.
Use the data and insights you have gained from all the voices you are listening to, to understand what customers want and need from their experiences. This is a journey of transformation, not a one off improvement project of a silo somewhere in the bowels of the organisation... remember the 80/20 observation earlier!
Our futures look even more exciting with the development of proactive experiences and technologies intended to help build better, customer-inspiring experiences. It will also help define this new era as the one where brands finally came of age as a business tool and not a load of fluffy stuff!
There will be those of us who get through this stage of the evolutionary process and those who do not. As our friend Alfa from Forrester said recently...
“In the future of the customer experience world, you will be either predators or prey. We need to make sure we are the predator.”