How to Create a Better Brand Experience: Move Beyond the Customer Journey
It used to be that brands could think and operate on a transaction-by-transaction basis. People shopped for goods and services, they bought something, and then they and that brand parted company until the customer came back to buy something else. Times certainly have changed. Businesses that want to thrive today need to create a brand experience that isn’t just about what happens at point of sale or even during a protracted shopping experience. A friendly follow-up isn’t enough either.
In fact, the expression “customer journey,” though useful, can at times be a bit misleading because it can be taken to imply that there is an end, a conclusion. Companies that want to reach their full potential now need to understand the importance of maintaining a permanent presence in the lives of customers, an endless relationship not confined to separate episodes of actively considering a purchase.
Here are a few tips on how to achieve that total experience:
Know your audience
One of the benefits of the internet, and especially of artificial intelligence now available for customer service interactions, is the opportunities it provides for gathering more and better information about your audience. Not many years ago, businesses wanted to know who was buying from them, or collect information on audience demographics, in order to tailor a sales pitch. What you need to do now is position yourself so the people you’d like to reach want you in their lives permanently.
What do they care about beyond a certain type of product? What are their broader interests? How can you legitimately and adroitly associate yourself with those interests? Nike built an empire by being not just a shoe but a brand that represented an entire achievement-oriented lifestyle. In a similar way, Starbucks is positioned not just as a place to get a cup of coffee but also as representative of a particular outlook on society.
If you can assure that your brand is about something bigger than the product itself, you’ll not only strengthen your appeal to people who know about and seek the product, you’ll also bring into your orbit a large aggregate of people who come to that product because you connected with other, deeper interests first.
A closely related point:
Educate for trust
One of the most important things you can do is to establish yourself as a thought leader without asking for anything in return. Today’s connected consumer is suspicious of the frontal-assault approach to marketing and is strongly concerned with credibility. More and more businesses are providing free educational content and hoping that customers and potential customers will associate them with helpfulness and reliability, developing brand loyalty in the process. Becoming a trusted source of useful information allows you to cast a much wider net, as your content can be appealing not just to people already seeking goods or services but also to people seeking information on topics of importance to them.
For example, one of my clients with Zen Media, Ashar Group, specializes in life settlements, a financial arrangement of interest primarily to seniors, but much of Ashar’s blog content deals with non-financial senior-centric subjects like health, exercise, and family dynamics. By establishing your company as a reliable authority in a broad area of interest, you encourage the trust that most people want to feel before they consider doing business.
Create relationships and memorable moments
Every interaction with customers and prospects, however small, provides further opportunities for you to get to know them, and vice versa. Every time they visit your website, encounter you on social media, place an order, or chat with a bot or a person, a memorable moment is created. Make sure the memory is a good one by practicing empathy and remembering that today’s consumer, though hi-tech, is also hi-touch in terms of expecting the internet to make interactions more personal and customized, not less. You want to make people happy, and you also want them to tell their friends and social media contacts how happy they are. First Direct, a telephone- and internet-based bank headquartered in the U.K., actively recruits personnel from the caring professions, as well as hiring 40 percent of new staff on the recommendation of employees who already know the ethos of the company and what it expects to bring to the customer experience.
Businesses today need to make sure not only that customers like the product but also that they enjoy becoming informed about it, acquiring it, using it and being reminded of the company responsible for it. A totality of positive connotations should be your goal.
Influencer marketing is now very much the mainstream, and with good reason. In both the B2C and B2B contexts, customers like to rely heavily on the recommendations of third parties they encounter on social media and regard as experts in relevant subject areas. By associating yourself with an influencer who believes in you and whose reach, resonance, and engagement meet your requirements, you avail yourself of the credibility that goes with an already-established relationship or bond of interest. Slogans and sales pitches and the traditional spokesperson are seldom as effective as a recommendation from a friend, and influence marketing is a similar idea carried out on a larger scale.
No matter how good your product is, you’ll fall short of your potential if too few people know about it, or if you put it in front of the wrong people, or if you don’t provide a positive experience. The health of your brand is about much more than the goods or services themselves. It’s a matter of assuring that the customer or potential customer has an enjoyable experience not just at particular points but along a continuum. A personal relationship is more than a series of encounters or incidents, and the brand experience should be no different. Relatedness is the key to getting the events right.