It strikes me that, as marketers, we are all still learning about the new era of branding.
The current situation sees us in a place where what you do and how you treat consumers is more important than what you say. And these days, with social media, the consumer has a voice and the power to both advocate and destroy brands.
Consumers simply don’t care about company balance sheets, strategic plans, logistical challenges, legacy systems, HR problems or internal KPIs – why should they?
They want experiences where they are treated as people rather than as a part of a system organised for the company’s benefit.
In many cases it is internalised thinking that drives the businesses. But this is possibly the biggest danger to long-term brand-building at the moment, and is certainly something brands have to adapt to.
The danger is that with this learning process, it can sometimes take time to get right and in many cases consumers don’t stick around.
They move on quickly and companies don’t have the luxury of time if they want to adapt.
Take two recent examples: Ryanair and Tesco.
Ryanair thinks about its customers – but too late
Ryanair used to have a poor reputation for winding its customers up and treating them like idiots, or worse still, seeing them simply as data points to be shuttled across Europe.
Their numbers told them all sorts of things, and they provided a service without listening to customers with stomach-churning self-confidence and arrogance.
Thankfully, consumers responded with equal honesty, while many critics were not surprised to see a sequence of profit warnings.
It was only after this that CEO Michael O'Leary ditched his public contempt for its passengers and discovered that being nice is actually an intelligent business strategy, and as the changes to his organisation begin to take root, they started making money again.
The shift from inside-thinking to outside-insight rebuilt the brand and revived the balance sheet.
Tesco belatedly discovers the importance of customer experience
Matt Atkinson, CEO at Tesco, recently went on record at the Mumstock conference to declare that these days, brands are not built by the old transmit model of advertising but instead are built by customer experience.
It took them 15 years to catch up with the rest of us, but better late than never.
It looks like a touch of self-confidence again, combined with an unhealthy over-reliance on BIG data, fuelled a level of internalised thinking that has brought them up short.
Quite rightly the new team sees that the answer is in the hands of consumers, not advertising people and that they need to add a touch of humility, treating staff as humans and not numbers.
Ignore customers at your peril
The issue is that often the BIG data insights and internal KPIs may conflict with consumer needs.
Most KPIs are used to drive business behaviours and are designed to maximise internal activity and shareholder return, but there are no returns if customers don’t willingly transact with the brand.
So to be successful, blend BIG data and qualitative insights with a little humility. This way you’ll have the most powerful force for good in your business. But if you ignore your customers you need to be prepared for a rollercoaster ride to the bottom.