Monday, October 5, 2015

What does it take to define your brand experience?

The old adage said that companies defined their brands, and through simple advertising and marketing, customers embraced the brands and bought products.

As a matter of fact, customers – not companies – define brands. Brands are only relevant if they resonate with customers. It’s no longer the brand who spends the most money in advertising and marketing that gets customers’ buy-in. In today’s advanced technological world, customers are not brand loyal anymore, or at least they are loyal to a brand as long as the brand remains relevant to them, which can be a few weeks, or a few seconds at the speed of the click of a button on their mobile phones or tablets.

Brand experience draws customers to connect with the brand and buy products, but only if the brand delivers on its promise. Brand experience must be simple, contextual (engage with the audience at the right time and place), and personalized.

So, what does it take to define the brand experience?

Company leadership must be committed and lead the definition of the brand experience.
Leadership sets the vision, the purpose of being in business. Selling products and making money is a consequence of doing business, not the purpose. What are the customers’ needs that you can satisfy and how do you create an emotional connection with your customers so that they believe in and adhere to your value proposition?

Show empathy.
The brand’s purpose is not defined by what you do for your customers. It is defined by why what you do matters to your customers. By focusing on the why (watch Simon Sinek’s video on why/how/what), you show empathy to your customers.
Not only do you understand their needs (which leads to innovation and new product ideas), but you also understand their emotional journey (which leads to defining a roadmap of the customer experience, the foundation for your brand strategy).

Many companies develop their products on what the CEO thinks his wife or children (or even himself) would want; on what the R&D team or Software development team think is cool to create based on the engineering complexity of it; or simply on the principle of what-competitors-do-and-we-can-do-it-cheaper-or-better. It sometimes works, at least in the short time, often time it does not.

That’s why consumer research and consumer insights are so important to uncover unmet needs, understand customers’ behaviors, and define the customer journey. If you don’t focus on customers, customers won’t focus on your brand. Your brand will mean nothing to them.

Brand promise, internal buy-in and collaboration.
Once you’ve identified and segmented your key audiences, it is important to define what messages you want to convey to them, what your brand promise is. What companies often miss is that if there is no internal buy-in on the brand promise, it is hard to define and convey these key messages to your audiences.

Painting your brand promise on a wall, or repeating it at every staff meeting doesn’t do it. Internal buy-in is critical because you want to stimulate, inspire your employees to develop innovative products, create engaging marketing campaigns, provide great customer support, etc.

How you get employees’ buy-in is by getting them involved in defining and carrying that brand promise. R&D, marketing, sales, customer support, finance should not work in silos. You must encourage, foster collaboration between teams. R&D can’t make products customers really want to buy if marketing does not tell R&D what customers want. Sales can’t sell if they don’t understand how the product works, or if the product is too expensive because of its engineering complexity while customers want just a simpler and cheaper version, etc.

Communication between teams is important, but what’s more important is to get teams work together on projects. By bring together engineers, software developers, marketers, finance guys, customer support experts, you get different perspectives, you confront ideas…

Collaboration, internal buy-in not only help define your brand promise, but more importantly collaboration keeps it alive. Your employees are your first brand ambassadors.

Keep delivering on your promise.
Gone are the days when once your brand was established, it was in the customers’ minds for the long run. Now customers are more versatile then ever, brand loyalty is a matter of seconds, or best of a few days, before they switch to a different brand. What’s critical is for your brand to STAY relevant.

You’ve got to ask yourself these questions over and over again.
- is your brand deeply focused on what drives experience within the market? You can no longer rely on the market research you did 5 years ago, because it’s no longer relevant.
- are your marketing messages in sync with the customer experience? As agile process and design thinking work for product development, it also works for marketing. Customers’ needs evolve constantly, thanks to the simplicity of buying products anywhere at anytime, the plethora of similar products available, the convenience of buying online vs. in stores, the technological improvements that make an iPhone 6S obsolete in 3 months, etc.
- do customers (still) share your view of who you are and what you want to be? Think of the Apple brand which in its early years meant that the buyers were the mavericks, the anti (PC) system, the rebels. Think of the Apple brand today, mass-market, ubiquitous, mainstream, to the point that many early Apple adopters have gone away because they’ve lost the connection with the brand (“too mainstream”, “now, everyone has an Apple”, etc.). Worst cases: Kodak, Nokia, Borders…
- are your products easy to use? If you make a product that is too complex to use, doesn’t provide a gain in time, is not convenient to use, you won’t succeed.
- what’s your roadmap for new products? You can’t rely on your laurels and your cash-cow product. You must always look for what’s next, what are the customer needs that we haven’t met yet. Innovation is key to keep delivering on your brand promise.

Do you want to be the next Kodak, the next Apple or the next Uber?