Once again, it is brands' turn to take the romantic stroll. So is glowing James Surowiecki at The New Yorker#. Attention pleas aside, the economic value of brands is still driven by perception, some elements of which are transactional and appeal to reason, and some are part of the engagement layer and appeal to emotion.
It is a process of active construction based on content (the product) and presentation form (the service/experience), plus other forms of context. Like under what circumstances we experience something, who, where, when, and why this is happening.
We are information-rich and theory poor
Because change happens constantly, we become very good at tracking success according to the framework we know, and often miss nascent opportunities or entire new developments: they just don't look like much until we do something with them.
The brands that consistently close the gap between the promises they make and those they keep are an asset -- in some cases, indeed an important asset the business trades in flow for greater market penetration.
Fragility comes from poor decisions that deliberately break promises. That includes making a bad product.
Good brand strategies have always been about building a solid product, planning the right marketing executions, and delivering the most appropriate experiences. Since people care most about what happens to them, reading ratings and reviews is a proxy, something they use to hedge risk, and it's a more accessible option than asking cousin Harry, who might have no direct exposure to that product.
Mature brands provide direction
Brands that keep their promises are also proxies, they help with decision-making, including the decisions people make about themselves, how they choose to read Consumer Reports, what their trade-offs are between features/functionality/price, for example.
People are loyal to their own worldviews -- entire cultures and civilizations are built on this principle. Troy anyone? Contemporary culture has accelerated something we have had for a long, long time.
Along with speed has also come hegemony, a less risky proposition (not to mention less expensive operationally) to build from similar models and parts, which in fact makes the service layer more important to established brands. To put it in the classic marketing "war" metaphor, growth for mature brands = war of movement.
In addition to the smart decisions the business needs to make, mature brands look for growth by waging a war of movement. They:
- Own the movement, a direction
- Reflect flexibility and speed in holding the course
- Bring customers on a journey, a specific path moving forward
The game then becomes about who is going where. Let's not forget that perception is a process of active construction based on prior experiences and memories.
Brands are also stock, the durable stuff, what people discover and helps build fans over time, to the daily flow of experiences that remind people the brand exists. In addition to building a solid product/service, the biggest challenge companies face today is building continuity and consistency in organizing experience and interactions around it.
Why is this such a challenge? For several reasons:
- Many organizations operate in an environment where buy in by multiple groups is a necessity -- with too few people who can say "yes", and too many who can say "no"
- Thinking ahead and over time is hard when immersed in the day-to-day operations of the business -- what have you done for me lately?
- Planning experiences is different from organizing programs and launching campaigns -- it requires coordination with several groups, some internal, potentially many external to the company, especially in the enterprise
- Companies are still having a hard time reconciling putting a name to the person on the front lines that is not the same as the name on the logo -- issue of individual recognition vs. using a completely branded approach online
- Analysis-paralysis or inability to get started -- when in doubt, get more information, when we are already data-rich and theory poor
- Over reliance on the opinion of experts with little attention paid to the ideas and feedback of the people on the front lines
More choices does not necessarily mean better choices when none of them in the set do the job that needs to get done. Which is where upstarts find a way into the mix. Conversely, mergers and acquisitions cut down on the roster of available choices often enough in the name of scale.
Brands redeem themselves by making better products -- e.g., Hyundai. They also do better when they take control of their promises and start closing the brand dissonance. Brand is an asset, and it is far from done.
This is a conversation along the same lines of no, big data should not replace thinking. Far from done.
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.