Designing and Maintaining a Powerful Brand Experience
Brand investments are not just a matter of cosmetics but rather are the source of value creation. By this same definition, there are steps that contribute to the building and maintenance of such an asset. In economic terms, a brand creates oligopolistic market conditions through the creation of market barriers via preferences. The result is an increased tolerance for higher prices and higher customer loyalty (and increased likelihood of customer retention). This facilitates a longer revenue stream with prices above the pure commodity and protects the customer base.
So, in a highly competitive environment, your brand is the key differentiator and most basic source of competitive advantage in the field. It is delivered through a brand experience. But how do you shape and maintain an experience that consistently upholds your brand?
An effective brand has three key elements
- Offer a compelling brand proposition in a niche that your organization can capture and defend.
- Operationalize the processes and actions that shape the target brand experience.
- Deliver on the brand promise, meeting the functional and emotional elements of the experience along the customer journey.
Design a Compelling Brand Proposition
First, identify the segment of your market that finds a differentiating value in one or more of the attributes your brand can deliver. Then craft an offer that appeals to the market segment and finally, package it in a value proposition (also called the brand promise). This process, called Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning (STP), is perhaps the most strategic effort in shaping a brand. Examining customer needs and preferences can uncover innovative ways to segment a market, develop effective targeting, and as part of it, identify the elements that need to be part of the brand experience.
- Study the potential market as well as the marketplace (competitive landscape, substitutes, and potential entrants) to inform your brand strategy of the opportunities or threats that can come from competitive or disruption strategies by you or by others.
- Gain an understanding of the relevance the potential differentiators can have in attracting new consumers and/or switching, as well as in building loyalty.
- Understand the core attributes expected by consumers in the category, as well as your position relative to the key differentiating factors (yours and those of your key competitors).
- Focus on how differentiation based on your tentative STP strategy matters to customers and the experience needed to deliver the brand.
The result should be that your STP process packages the value proposition in a compelling, differentiated brand promise that elicits a similar response within your target market.
Operationalize Processes to Shape Target Brand Experience
With a well–defined STP strategy, it is essential to identify the ways in which the brand will ensure consistent delivery on each of the elements of the brand. This includes the differentiators that make the core value proposition, as well as those elements that the minimum expectations for any player in the category.
To effectively manage the brand and the experience it delivers, standards, processes, and culture are needed to ensure the promise is delivered consistently.
- Understand and define the desired target experience along the customer journey.
- Articulate corporate culture and values that deliver on promises made to the customer.
- Define the actions under the company’s control that impact the target customer experience.
- Implement the processes, training, and metrics that focus on delivering on the target experience.
- Focus on the emotional factors and not simply the functional dimensions to ensure the brand platform is focused on the customer and not on a product or the company.
Importantly, brand delivery needs to be cognizant of the customer journey, especially in complex or high involvement products and services. The elements visible and important to a consumer change over their experience lifecycle, and the value of influencers.
When operationalizing the brand experience, it is important to go beyond the immediate emotional and functional attributes and examine how the brand fits in the general social context. Increasingly, brand reputation and choice are impacted by social discourse and affinity with broad social forces (e.g. climate change and social justice being two prominent aspects). Those who continuously monitor the environment and trends in consumer expectations act early, while laggards pay the price in loss of reputation and market share.
Deliver on the Brand Promise
Deliver. Deliver. Deliver. “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad,” advertising great Bill Bernbach explained. And then Bernbach elaborated, “the most powerful element in advertising is the truth. If you make a promise about your organization, it should be something that can’t be disputed when people walk through your door.”
A sustainable strategy will be data-informed so that performance can be maintained. Over-deliver, and you incur unnecessary costs and build expectations that you will be unable to sustain. Under-deliver and cognitive dissonance will wipe out the value of the brand. So, closely monitoring product/service delivery to the brand standard and consumer experience can identify the areas that lead to uneven delivery or failed promises. The cognitive dissonance between promise and delivery or fluctuation can quickly create threats in poor reviews, customer complaints, and prompt trials of competing products or outright switching.
Traditional methods that focused solely on consumers, risk being blind-sighted by the power of social interactions among consumers and influencers. This means that the brand promise extends well beyond the immediate target consumer. So, effective customer experience metrics need to be frequent, complete, and calibrated to their weight in overall expectations. Two types of metrics are needed: One that is systematically examining the customer experience against the brand promise and customer expectations, and a second one, a system to monitoring and responding quickly to disruptive events. Poor reviews or even a single comment can sometimes go viral, creating severe damage in a matter of hours.
By building and maintain a powerful brand that consistently delivers on its promise and values, organizations can generate value and returns that exceed what they could potentially achieve in increasingly commoditized markets and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do you have a documented description of your target market segments and their preferences?
- Do you know what are the elements that consumers expect and value with respect to your brand and the brand category? What is their contribution to consumer choice?
- Do you know what are the aspects you can influence along the customer journey and have you implemented processes and metrics to manage them?
- Do you know what are the measures of distance between your position and that of your competitors? And importantly, do you have a plan to improve your differentiation?
- Are the differentiating factors that drive choice and loyalty encapsulated in your customer experience monitoring?
- How is the brand promise conveyed at each key point of the customer journey?
- Do you have internal programs, processes, and training in place to incorporate feedback on the brand experience monitoring metrics?
- Does your customer satisfaction measurement program produce actionable information to influence the delivery of the brand experience?
- How effective is your social media listening/disruptive event monitoring process?
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