Brand Vs. Customers, which one should be the main focus of your strategy? Is there a real difference between brand-centric and client-centric companies? Truth is, there are many misconceptions about what each means and the role they play in business success. Brand and customer experience are rarely considered equals in the same strategic plan. Even when that happens, the brand usually takes the center stage. It’s time for radical change in perspective.
2014 was the year digital customer experience became a major issue in the agenda of all entrepreneurs and marketing specialists. We have witnessed a thrive of articles, webinars and reports focusing on the key value of customers. They depict the dawn of a new era, called the Age of the Customer, shaped by disruptive technologies and mobile devices, where the customer, not the brand, becomes the real mean of your business.
There is a takeaway they all have in common: they insist that “you need to engage with clients, nurture their loyalty and retain their trust and love”. Easier said than done: watch companies in action, and you’ll see that many - too many - are still all about the brand. Wasting time and money on old marketing tactics and thinking in terms of acquisition rather than customer retention.
We’re not saying that the brand is not important, that you should forget about it or disregard its value. Your brand is - and will always be - the beginning of any marketing journey, but it’s slowly being replaced by the empowered customer as the main purpose of business. You can consider the brand as the framework of your strategy, and the customer the reason why you build it in the first place.
Brand, customer and marketing should all flow into an omni-channel strategy, and you need to learn how to make them work together to deliver the best customer experience possible. The journey map should be based on an integrated view of the various business operations that support the experience across all touch points, physical and digital (even more so if you are a retail firm).
If you can’t see the bigger picture, you miss the many factors that may support your efforts to improve customer experience. We are facing a convergence that will bring us to a new entity called ‘customer-centric brand management’. Marketers are finally agreed upon the concept that all actions they plan and execute should aim at growing the journey lifetime value.
To enhance engagement, build loyalty and improve customer retention, you need to align the organization around the bridge that connects your brand with customers and prospects. In one word, the ‘experience’. According to a recent report by Forrester, there are three actions to align your architecture to the new demand:
Ground customer-facing decisions in the brand strategy;
Define a strategy for the experience that supports the brand strategy;
Have marketing execute based on customer expectations.
To step from a brand-centric to customer-centric point of view, you need the ability listen, learn, and ultimately look at yourself from your client's perspective. It is surely harder than focusing just on your brand identity but, in the long term, this is the only way to win the race to digital transformation. You should always prefer the experience over the brand, because it enables you to:
Deliver with human touch - in an era of deep changes driven by technology, where objects don't even need people intervention to communicate, customers search not only for products but for human relationships.
Think and act omni-channel - if you focus just on the brand, you miss the wider picture of the omni-channel experience clients have with you across all ponts of contact. Digital first and mobile only become the rule.
Engage in a two-way relation - social media have a great lessons for all marketers: customers of the Internet era don't act as passive consumer of contents created by third parties. They want to be active participants in a two-way communication with brands.
Personalize content and context - globalization of markets have brought us to do refuse the homogenization of tastes and culture. The 'glocal' and micro-local trends have effects on marketing and E-Commerce strategies, with the birth of Me-Commerce and personalization of the experience.
Integrate Big Story and Big Journey - a big story is one of the foundational elements of a great digital strategy. Your brand is the core of your big story, but it's not enough to engage with customers of the new era; you also need big data and, most of all, a big journey. Amazing and innovative.
To become a real customer-centric company, you have to move yourself away from the center of the message and use technology to adjust your journey for the specific customer's wants and needs. Merging brands, clients and marketing will not only give a whole new meaning to the story you narrate, but will actually help you connect with people in a compelling, innovative and relevant ways.
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