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If your brand was a road sign and didn’t have context, emotions and expectations attached to it, it’s like there was no sign at all and the road to destination wouldn’t look comfortable or secure. If the sign does have a meaning for the customer but you are trying to sell something that is out of that world, it’s likely that you face difficulties creating interest, demand and closing deals. Brand extensions are not an easy game either and you should be prepared to work a long time to change and expand your brand perception before making money. Brand can be associated with very narrow specialty or more generic qualities. However, brand is not brand if it’s not recognized and it doesn’t stand for something. Virgin is a great example for a branding of attitude and founder’s mindset more than specific product or service range or Apple, which has done usability and design profile along with technology. Technology isn’t why people pay more for Apple than PC though. You can become a mini brand having all qualities of the brand in smaller area or niche business and then expanding that area. That’s the most likely way of actually succeeding in brand building profitably. (Check another article: Brand as a roadsign)
Real brands can emphasize optimisation of buying when they are considering customer journey. People pay attention to their signs and are likely to consider them when choosing a solution from the brands context. It’s about keeping the customer’s attention and closing the deal. For labels, it’s about selling.. and selling cost money. No one will buy a label unless it’s much cheaper or someone actively sells it to the customers. This is a major challenge when trying to penetrate a market and getting your product or service noticed and approved. Gillette is a great example of using brand as a defensive force. When new brands have tried to enter a market, Gillette has issued 3 at the price of 2 offers and stuffed people with their products for a year resulting zero sales for the newcomer.
The most profound brand related KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that influence the customer journey and commercial success most are:
- Brand perception = attributes that translate as customer perception of context, value and personality
Brand awareness, spontaneous and aided, are profound figures. A roughly acceptable brand heuristic is that awareness often equals trust. If the brand is well-known, it is likely to be considered and trusted also. However, there are eg. Car brands that are very well-known but don’t have appeal resulting sloping sales regardless of their brand awareness. If the brand is un-known it doesn’t exist in customer’s consideration and therefore has no way of making major sales without very pro-active sales activities or increasing the awareness of their brand. Even if a customer would notice the brand, he is likely to ignore it.
Top-of-mind is a figure telling which brand people first think of, when asked to tell which brands they would consider. In many cases top-of-mind is very important. Especially, in fast-moving consumer goods and e.g. Phone services in which people call to ask for advice. 911 must have almost 100% awareness and a top-of-mind position in order to be able to help people when they need it.
Preference rate could be considered as a GPS device that takes the driver to the right destination. When you are driving with a GPS on, you don’t actually pay attention to alternative options and act on the directions the GPS is giving for you. Strong habit and strong preference rate have very similar behavioural influence. Preference is often asked from customers before they actually initiate buying process. It’s a measure telling what brand people think they would most likely buy. It’s an important indicator of brand health and should be treated that way. It is a meaningful KPI figure. However, it can also be misused. In most brand-tracking cases that we have seen people have been told to choose the most preferred brand even if they didn’t have one. We have allowed customers to give none as an answer. No preference combined with potential brand options has been a very efficient way of capturing business dynamics. In some businesses we have analysed 76% of customers had no preference but a majority had three brand options that were equally good in customer’s eyes. There is no GPS to consider in those markets. No preference percentage gives a meaningful indication of customers consideration but it requires from the tracking that it also track brands that customer consider as option for the most preferred brand. If the brand you are working for is not in top three as a preferred brand or is not considered as an option, your brand doesn’t exist in the customer’s consideration. The very first thing to do in case of any business is to become considered! If you are not considered, no one will buy you unless you sell the brand in actively.
Let’s consider a practical case in travel for example. TNS and Kantar Group are offering national and international studies that have very large sample size and concentrate on customers’ perception of brands, their most recent purchases and lifestyle. In case of travel you can share customers to roughly three groups:
- People preferring your brand (Lower distraction sensitivity – driving on GPS)
- Neutral customers, who consider you as an option along others (no GPS) and
- Those who wouldn’t even consider you or would certainly not buy
Based on such data, mostly used by media agencies for their clients, you can tell how many people are in each group nationally, what have they purchased most recently and what are they like, demographics, lifestyles and behavioural preferences. Having this knowledge is a great eye opener and really supports management work in defining priorities and how to engage with people. Behavioural differences between preferring customers and neutral are very important. Considering sales the ratio of preferring customers is around 2/3 most recent purchases and in case of neutral customers around 1/3 or less. Customers who are neutral let all competing brands to their consideration and check all available offers or use comparison platforms, which narrow comparison and democratize brands to same level of information. In such environment brands lose their opportunity to create unique experience and services in a meaningful way. Preferring customers on the other hand come directly to company’s website or directly contact their customer service and thus allow direct service experience by the brand.
Brand perception has to do with people’s heuristics of the brand. What the brand means for them? What is it related to? What is the context? In different businesses there are clear factors in brand perception that have a clear connection to sales. Such factors could be eg. Trust and security, technically advanced, great design, cool, fun, high quality, leader in trends, most durable, etc. In each business it is important to leverage qualities that influence decision-making most and stay in touch with the market and what kind of qualities drive it. The change of drivers could be fast and profound like it was in case of Nokia. Nokia is no longer the most appreciated mobile technology brand it used to be. Apple’s iPhone and Google Android are shaking the business profoundly. Understanding which attributes drive sales, marketshare and preference should guide the priorities in brand development.. in all customer interfaces and communications.
Preference often require conscious consideration, comparison and decision making. It is best suitable for product and service areas where you make “bigger” decision. Liking is more subconscious and spontaneous emotional reaction to the brand. Liking could also be the first step to preference, an opportunity to become noticed and considered.
Liking the brand is a figure that has become more and more important due to digital influence. You can have high preference without liking because of superb product price/quality without being liked very much, but liking the brand has direct influence in preference even if your qualities were not quite that superb. There’s more to liking though. People have more currencies than the content of their wallet. They can speak their mind, write blogs, rate your product, influence your search results or offer you very important feedback or ideas for improvement.
Brands cannot be “created” one way – it’s the people’s perception of a company or product. Brand is no longer a noun; it has turned in to a verb. You could actually think brand as an agreement between a customer and company. Customers can agree or disagree with the agreement, resulting a perception, which could be good or bad. However, a brand cannot exist without the other party. Brand is social by nature. Still, a brand has never been as social as it has now become because of social media and online influence channels that customers are now very effectively and actively using. Customers have real power now that is global, not just local peers. No doubt that customer behavior has changed. It has completely changed in many areas and will continue doing so. Digital influence is the biggest disruptive force along the customer journey.
In current automated communications and self-service oriented world where customers are made responsible for servicing themselves there are many practices that don’t really support brand’s emotional development. Majority of companies consider customers as mass medium, measure “cost to serve” and try to push cost down, build loyalty programs that ask you to buy more and show loyalty in order to get higher discounts and benefits or offer time based commitments as agreements for discount. It’s very much a world of rational thinking. Rational is good but also neglect customer’s social currencies as value. You could call this approach “the indifference marketing”.
In social mediums people interact with their peers. It’s often, but not necessarily, a private space. In this space a brand could gain enormous value if customers would accept it within this context. A customer has enormous social capital. He can judge the brand as stupid or embrace the brand and support it. Customers are actively using their capital and they are getting more and more effective tools at their disposal just to practice this capital to the most. For example WOT, Web Of Trust, crowd sourced trust-rating of websites and brands has currently almost 60 million people rating brands and websites. Any people who have WOT application in their browser has reputation score visually presented after every single link available online.
WOT is a wonderful example of customers’ currencies becoming more and more influential. WOT is an ultimate rating tool. If some company act unethically, spam, or in any way prove not to be trustworthy, >30 million people in WOT start giving red to the brand . As an outcome, company’s online reputation score will become lower and eventually red. Red means, that if you try to enter the company’s website, you get a full page size warning stating that other people have rated this site to be dangerous and not trust worthy. Would you do business with such a company? How likely are you to do business with a company like that has bad trustworthiness?
Social influence online has an enormous steering power. As people treat brands and companies as entities anything and everything the company does also influence their trust rating. If a brand is misusing child labour or employees, has unfair practices, questionable ethics or doesn’t respect environment, it shows in their trustworthiness score. Customers currently rely very much on other online users feedback, even if they are complete strangers. As companies have noticed that people love to rate products and brands and are interested in comparing them, new companies and services emerge constantly. The power is moving a way from institutions like traditional mediums, which have made product reviews and thus defined which products sell and which don’t. Currently smart brands are turning customers to their ambassadors and creating same effect, only it’s completely dependent on people, the customers, which make it feel very interesting and trustworthy.
Currently customers are taking the ultimate power and becoming sellers them selves by turning blog pictures in to online retail channel with Kiosked –service (kiosked.com). E.g. A fashion blog can sell every single garment or accessory represented in photos appearing in the blog. People are creating their own audiences and creating their own image by blogging and making their bellowed products available for followers and readers. Brands are just chips in customers’ games, which they can endorse or decline. Again, liking the brand is the number one thing driving such endorsement.
Liking influence all currencies the Customers have:
- His personal detailed information
- Promise to record purchase history (loyalty card)
- Decision power to all his own purchases
- Freedom of speech and opinion
- His own time
- His personal peers and personal status amongst them
- Own creativity, experiences and ideas.
Of all the currencies above, I argue that most are not rationally driven and liking the brand influence them all! You can’t tell people to tell others they love your brand or tell them to recommend your products and services to others. Also, you can’t expect people to help you make your products and services better unless they do it with their own free will. It’s all about liking.
The most advanced brands have understood that these emotionally driven assets could prove to be extremely valuable and find ways of harnessing them. Open innovation and customer boards are great examples of just that. The good companies will win. Forget about the Adam Smith’s invisible hand, it’s become very visible and very effective. Blogs, ratings, discussion forums, Twitter, Facebook.. It’s written all over the digital canvas.
How segmenting 3.0 changes marketing and management https://futurecmo.org/2016/03/16/segmentation-3-0-disrupting-marketing-media-and-management/
How to take advantage of Brand’s position very fast with Behavioral Economics Making millions with pennies – Behavioral Economics approach
- Branding = Change Management & Operational Excellence
- Marketing’s new and re-designed 7P’s
- CMO’s inside Tornado
- Marketing has an identity crisis
- Customer Journey stage 1: Brand as a platform
- Customer Journey stage 2: Initiation
Author: Toni Keskinen, Marketing Architect & Customer Journey Designer
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