A MODERN DEFINITION OF BRANDING
By Matt Huser
We live in a world of buzzwords and sound bites. One of the most popular buzzwords today is “Customer Experience,” and for good reason. Customer experience can mean many things to marketers. We’ll define it as “any interaction a customer has with a company or brand.” Customers include current customers, prospects, partners and employees.
Today, marketers fall under the illusion they can create a brand through the communications they push to prospects. Many marketers within the largest companies continue to invest millions of dollars in advertising campaigns as a way to achieve this goal. What these marketers don’t understand is that customers create brands from the results of their experiences first and then by sharing those perceptions.
Based on this perspective, there are two key factors to effective branding in today’s fragmented media world: (1) know the customer and (2) deliver an experience those customers value.
Understand and Serve Your Customers
The only way to truly understand the customer is through data. Data comes in many forms: research, focus groups, customer interviews, but the most objective and actionable data comes from what customers say and do. Listening to customers allows companies to address problems quickly, before that negative review goes social. It can also allow them to provide experiences that surprise and delight customers by providing a positive memorable experience. Collecting and using behavioral data allows companies to offer better products and services.
In a study performed by Econsultancy, 90 percent of the 276 marketers surveyed agree that personalizing the customer experience is critical to success. Yet, nearly 80 percent of 1,135 consumers stated that the average brand doesn’t understand them as an individual.
Most companies take the perspective of developing and promoting products to wow customers, to get them to talk about it and grow the brand. This approach overlooks the fact customers have problems that need solving. Once its known who the customer is – the behavior that defines them, where they go to for information, how they are influenced and what they desire – marketers can then start to create solutions and experiences to solve real customer problems.
Architect the Customer Experience
Today, digital is the core of almost every customer experience. Whether a company serves Millennial consumers or provides solutions to IT decision-makers, customers expect to communicate with product and service providers on their terms. They expect to set their personal preferences for how they interact with the provider (including screen choice) and how they want to be communicated with.
Successful marketers build experience systems based on customer needs and behaviors and allow for customers to tailor the experience on their terms. This can only be done once you understand where your customers seek information and how they are influenced. The media available to deliver an experience is vast. The key is to understand where the customers are and show up there.
Most consumer purchases require online research (including social reviews), and an in-store visit before purchasing online. And in most b2b purchases, 70 percent of the decision-making process is complete before a sales rep enters the equation. These decision journeys are unique to categories, products and even individuals. They must be understood to create an effective customer experience across all channels.
Deliver and Live the Experience
Some of the most valuable brands do a fantastic job of understanding who their customers are and deliver a compelling, valuable experience that keep customers coming back for more. One of the most memorable for me is close to home.
My wife has a habit of losing her Fitbit. She had recently lost her 3rd one of the year, so I suggested she call the manufacturer, to see if they could track it. Since the product tracks and stores not only activity data, but location data, this seemed possible. Whether they would use that data was another story. She called and within three minutes on the phone, the articulate customer service rep had pulled up her customer data, had seen that she had bought three new Fitbit devices in the past year, had told her where she last used it and asked for her address to send her a new device, free of charge. They created a customer for life by empowering their customer reps to make decisions, based on customer data, in real-time (three minutes, without manager approval).
The opposite end of the spectrum can be found in the way most utility providers and cable companies interact with their customers. These companies put policies in place and teach their customer-facing reps to keep customer service costs down. So in a sense, they act as if they fear their customers, when these are the companies that have the most customer data.
They know our credit scores (buying power) and they watch our consumption behaviors. With all of this data, this category has the most opportunity to offer a personalized customer experience and to enhance customer satisfaction. Ironically, despite the trove of data, marketers in these categories tend to be the most outdated and least modern. They fail to leverage customer analytics in a proactive way to increase their brand’s value, so they are always fighting to stem customer churn, which oftentimes exceeds 50 percent per year.
Measure, Listen and Optimize
The proliferation of technology has made it possible to capture behavioral data, to listen to customers and take action in real-time. There are companies like OneSpot, whose technology delivers digital content based on behavior, in real-time as customers browse websites. Or like Sitecore, with the technology to deliver a personalized experience across a brand’s digital ecosystem.
Marketers can use tools to glean insights from online conversations, to identify and anticipate behaviors in real-time, and to create more relevant experiences.
“The future of the economy and the future of business is no longer about price or geography, it’s about experience,” says Peter Shankman, author of Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans. “If I have an experience better here than there, I will go to that company and more importantly, I will tell the world about that company and my loyalty will show through my posts, tweets, etc.”
This is the definition of modern branding.