Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Branding Is All About The Customer Experience

I have been focusing a lot on the customer experience as of late and how it shapes a brand strategy. I have realized that their is probably no other area that has as great an impact on the success of the company as the customer experience. Now, to me, the customer experience is many things. It is far more than any marketing or advertising campaign. It includes the sales process, advertising, customer service, product design, packaging, POS, purchase, 1st use, hopefully 2nd purchase and more. It is every interaction a customer (or potential customer) has with your brand.

Well, how does that shape a brand? If you break down the customer experience into scenarios, what happens in each scenario, who is involved and what is currently happening, you will see from a customer's perspective what your brand stands for. This is so important to be able to look from your customers' point of view, because it is what they believe your brand is that's important, not what we as brand creators think. This relates to a quote I once read about personalities. It says a persons true personality is how one acts when no one is watching. The same holds true for your brand. How your customers think and talk about your brand when you are not communicating to them is what your brand is. No advertising campaign or innovative product alone can tell a customer what to think about a brand. It can begin the thought process, but without the positive customer experiences to back it up, all that advertising and innovation is going to waste.

I've had a couple of experiences with companies as of late that have made sure the customer experience at all phases of a purchase cycle were what they wanted it to be. I recently purchased furniture from West Elm (westelm.com) and Pad/Calligari's (www.calligarisshop.com/Pad - part of Su Casa in Baltimore). Both of these have a modern, upscale line of furniture for those hip and trendy creative types. Okay, that's my description but you get the idea of who they are. Now oddly enough, both of my shipments from both companies were delayed for different reasons. But, neither were discovered until I called inquiring. Now, they could have just said nothing and told me they would deliver as soon as possible. But, what both customer service reps did was find out what the problem was, call me back with an explanation and offer me a refund on shipping charges, not to mention expediting the shipments and following up after the shipments were delivered to make sure they were to satisfaction. Now, do you think I'm going to go somewhere else the next time I'm furniture shopping? They made sure a potentially negative experience turned positive and actually created a loyal customer. Now, isn't BRAND LOYALTY what we are all striving for?

I would love to hear how you have taken a customer experience scenario to make a dramatic change to your brand.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What is your brand's "Guinness Glass"?

I'm sitting here drinking from my one and only Guinness glass. And I'm not talking about the standard pint glass either. This glass is the one that is smaller at the bottom and then rounds outward halfway up - the Tulip glass. But, unfortunately today, there is no Guinness in it. But, as I look at this glass, I realize an amazing brand element that Guinness has created - the glass the beer is served in. Not the the bottle the product comes in. Not the packaging the bottle comes in. Not the product itself, but a glass that the product is served in. It is not a product that Guinness even makes (as far as I could research), although I'll bet they have a stake in it somehow. Creating a brand association from some other company's product – that is truly branding perfection.

Think about that. I look at a glass (that I can use for Cranberry juice if I so desire) and I am instantly reminded of Guinness, and how nice it would be to have one right now! How many companies can say their brand has that kind of emotional bond and brand association with something that they don't even own. It's like going in to any restaurant or fast food chain, ordering a Coke and getting a glass or container in the shape of the Coca-cola bottle. That is the kind of branding that elevates you from your competitors. Okay, having a product like Guinness doesn't hurt either, but hopefully you get what I mean.

It is about creating emotional and cultural capital through experiences and associations that connect your brand to your customer. It isn't about new creative or marketing, although that can usually get the ball rolling, it's about understanding and delivering a consistent promise through whatever means will achieve that connection with your customer over and over and over…

So, does your brand have a "Guinness Glass"? How did it come to be? I want to know. Tell me what your brands "Guinness Glass" is?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Branding As A Company-Wide Business Strategy

I've been doing a lot of reading about companies focusing on branding and how to use it to improve business. One such article was from www.brandweek.com dated January 28, titled "Nike Seeks To Undercut New Under Armour Line". The article is about the new athletic performance trainers that both companies are coming out with. Now, as I read this article, it occurred to me that Nike was being positioned as the under dog? How can that be? A giant like Nike, who has always been the leader in innovation and technology in sports apparel.

It appears that Under Armour is a company where the brand has been created, not by mistake or some new marketing campaign, but through a business strategy rooted in the understanding of who their customer is, what is important to them, and what experiences will make them believe in Under Armour's promise. Now, Nike is and has been the model in product innovation and performance since their beginning, but Under Armour has created a fanatical following who believe 100% in the brand. No competitor's marketing campaign is going to change that.

Let's look at how this is possible. A quote in the article by Under Armour's VP of Brand Marketing, Steve Battista, sums it up by saying "It's about reinventing and revolutionizing how athletes train for competition". This comes from an complete understanding of what their customers' functional needs are, what experiences they are looking for, and what will affect them emotionally and socially. Creating this "cultural capital" is where companies need to be. It makes the customers want to spend time with you. Because only then, does price become a non-issue (okay, price will always be a factor, but a much less important one). This is what creates brands, creates loyal customers and grows companies. Not a new marketing campaign, but an entire company delivering the same promise over and over.

- The Brand Man

Monday, March 3, 2008

Branding Experience from a musical point of view

Recently, I started taking guitar lessons. Being a music lover and having played the drums growing up, the guitar is something I always wanted to learn to play. This lead me to two different music stores - The Guitar Center and Music and Arts. How ironic that Music and Arts now owns The Guitar Center. 

I'm going to start with The Guitar Center. What a store! Talk about creating an emotional experience the second you walk through the door. It is rock 'n roll heaven. Guitars are everywhere. Of course, being The Guitar Center, they should be the first thing you see. But, what really creates the emotional experience that all brands should have is that you can pick up a guitar, plug into an amp and just jam. This is true for the rest of the store as well - there is an Acoustic Corral for those wanting to unplug, a full drum area as well as keyboard section where you can sit and play. Is there any better way to get to know a product or company than by being able to demo it first? I know this won't work for everyone, but all brands need to have an experience like this that connects with the customer on an intimate, emotional level. Because, only then will you begin to receive the social and economic benefits of such an emotional brand. 

As for the Music And Arts Center, this is tailored to a completely different musician. This is for the school band musician - it covers everything from classical instruments to guitars and drums. What's interesting about the store, is the bright, uncluttered, straight-forward feel to it. It is almost the opposite of The Guitar Center. And it probably should be, being that it is really catering to the parents of the musicians. They want to make it as easy and unimposing as possible for these parents to come in, purchase what they need for their kids and get out. There is no lingering area, no area to jam, just straight forward, high end musical instruments and accessories for school age musicians. 

Now, is this experience any less effective or emotional than the one The Guitar Center presents? I don't think so. It is all about understanding who your customer is, what is their need, what experience do they want to have, and delivering exactly that. 

The experience that a customer has with you is what will get them to come back. Obviously, you have to have a good product or service, but by creating an emotional experience you will get them to come back, tell others about your company and, eventually, become a lifelong customer. And isn't that a whole lot easier than having to get new cusotmers over and over?

-The Brand Man

Friday, February 29, 2008

Real Commitment

Being new to the blog world I am finding I have a lot to say, especially since I am one of those opinionated creatives. But, then again, who in the creative/branding/marketing world isn't. That is what is beautiful about blogs. Everyone can participate in the conversation and offer there own opinion. That is why I am committed to sharing my thoughts and methods on branding that I have learned over the last 18+years in the industry. And I want you to do the same. Please share with me your views on the importance of a brand and all things creative so that we can continue to show the boardrooms across the world why our profession deserves a permanent seat at the table.

-The Brand Man