What does a brand mean to a consumer?
What does a consumer mean to a brand?
By Andreas Weber, Head of Value. | German Version
Many brands boast that they “create worlds of experience for our customers.” The question I ask myself is: do brands still meet the momentum which really determines customer needs, or rather: customer satisfaction? Or does an increasingly enforced brand experience approach not just miss the mark, but create more frustration than enjoyment?
Preliminary remark: learn from the best! Before any initial questions can be answered, looking back will help to bring us forward (‘Back to the Future’ style). Apple is a prime example to learn from. In the mid-90s, the company was at an all-time low, almost to the point of bankruptcy. Despite this, they managed a turnaround. Today, Apple has been the world’s most valuable brand for years. How was this possible? — “Communication first” was a central statement of the legendary Steve Jobs at the ‘Apple confidential meeting’ on September 23, 1997.
With the “Think Different” Campaign he launched shortly afterwards, he initiated a tremendous upheaval in the industrial industry. 10 years later, they went on to break the sound barrier with the release of the iPhone. Since then, Apple as been making a higher per capita profit than most companies in terms of per capita sales.
Although Jobs emphasized that products, marketing and distribution are important, he put smart communication above all else and made it a top priority. With his iPhone presentation on January 9, 2007, he achieved an ad-hoc gain of around $1 billion (media coverage, share price growth) before the product was even on the shelves. The trick: Jobs personally demonstrated the new device in great detail, and thus made himself identifiable with his customers and their new experience possibilities.
The credo: Smart Communication puts the central focus on the customer experience. This has made the pioneer Apple the number one premium brand to date. As an iCEO, Jobs was also a dedicated Chief Communications Officer, which enabled his ideas to become part of the DNA of Apple, its partners and, in particular, its customers. This is a principle to which other companies, such as Berkshire Hathaway by Warren Buffett or Virgin by Richard Branson presumably also owe their success.
In my opinion, Apple is by far the most capable Smart Communication Company — and that includes maximum loyalty to their customers around the globe.
Personal note: Anyone who buys an Apple product can experience
this — I’ve just bought the new iMac 27” with a Retina 5K Display and a MagicTrackPad. From (online) procurement including leasing to
free-of-charge delivery, the incredibly easy setup (just unpacking the iMac is a beautifully designed experience) up to the iCloud registration following Apple’s welcome email — which offered the very best professional support — the new computer seamlessly became a part of both my personal and professional life. This includes marvelous surprises, numerous technical innovations and quality features at the highest level. In conclusion: benchmark!
So let’s ask ourselves:
What distinguishes customer experience from brand experience?
Learning from the best: If you take a closer look, Apple and many other of the world’s most valuable brands follow a similar principle. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber and Airbnb – all of which are highly successful companies of recent times – have internalized and practiced the customer experience principle.
Experts like to claim that their success is due to the superior innovative platform business model. To an extent, in my opinion, this is true: exponential growth is possible with this model, as you are able to address millions, even billions, of customers directly. However, business model innovations, as well as new digital technologies, are ‘only’ a means to an end — and not necessarily a guarantee of success.
It is crucial to exploit the innovation and technology mechanisms in such a way that dialogues or conversations with customers take place in real time. This enables us to perfect services and create products that are tailored to the customer’s needs. Smart Communication ensures all of this!!
The brand itself is no longer the center of attention; instead, it rather becomes a common vehicle for companies and customers. Mass Marketing becomes Customized Mass Marketing. The majority of established brand companies put their focus on brand experience in order to impress customers with the strongest possible brand impact. This is a way to impress your customers with the strongest possible brand experience and thus induce them to buy your products. However, the best case scenario in this: you end up covering your costs, but you can barely manage to grow profitably and organically or achieve double-digit margins.
Reality is inevitable: customers often feel more and more disappointed if they feel that brands have lost personal contact with them.
Adobe’s study, “Reinventing Loyalty: The New Loyalty Experience” (Fall 2017) found that 75% of CMOs admit that customer loyalty/customer satisfaction need to be improved, or that they don’t even know what their customers are dealing with. “This clearly demonstrates that CMOs feel that there is huge room for improvement when it comes to implementing new loyalty dimensions.”
In my opinion, these new “loyalty dimensions” are entrenched in “old” values: trust, satisfaction, and relatedness. These values also form the core of Smart Communication.
In this context: The usual “digital” transformation efforts of many companies miss the point. Instead of focusing on customer experience, many companies focus instead on the optimization of internal processes.
While these do save the company time and money, they tend to drastically increase time and effort for the customer. Personal, human-to-human consultation opportunities are thus almost impossible. Anyone who’s spent far too much time on hold knows what I’m talking about.
In my view, in order to avoid customer dissatisfaction and loss of loyalty, it is not necessarily a matter of changing qualifications, but of changing the mandate of those responsible for marketing.
- Brand experience puts the focus on buying. It mainly uses expensive media and creative services from third parties (although Nielsen reports that in Germany, Europe’s premium market in 2017, gross advertising expenditure declined in some cases, despite high growth in mobile advertising). The corresponding strategies and measures are aimed at, almost as if on a hunt, bombarding customers with advertising, anywhere, anytime. So-called bonus programs make the hunt all the more dynamic.
- But: Customer Experience, on the other hand, relies on customer satisfaction and service, through methods of direct contact and dialogue. Customer Experience follows the principle of ‘Listen & Learn.’ Real-time capturing of customers experiences is used to continuously improve products and services. Communication and transaction are interlinked as closely as possible, preferably seamlessly. The credo: It’s all about interaction and relatedness by smart communication.
The Brand Experience Principle no longer applies. Customer sensitivities and expectations can best be met with an individually-tailored Smart Communication architecture, which should be designed with a customer experience focus.
If the Smart Communication strategy, which is so successful for Apple, is structured in a systemic way, adapted to your company, and precisely understood in detail, the essence of Smart Communication, you will be able to respond extremely quickly to individual customer needs. There is no other choice! ‘Communication first’ thus goes hand in hand with ‘Customer benefits first.’
- Think different! Put your current branding and customer experience strategies to the test and discuss your findings with others.
- Rethink and critically assess the values of your company’s current communication approach and processes (i. e. via the ValueCheck questionnaire).
- Listen & Learn. Understand and use the insights that my White Paper on Smart Communication offers, including specific instructions for action and organizational models.
- I am always available for further explanations and support.
About Andreas Weber, Founder and CEO of Value Communication AG
Since more than 25 years Andreas Weber serves on an international level as a business communication analyst, influencer and transformer. His activities are dedicated to the ‘Transformation for the Digital Age’ via presentations, management briefings, coachings, workshops, analysis&reports, strategic advice. — Andreas Weber’s Blog inspires readers from around 130 countries around the globe.