Are you learning as fast as the world is changing? It’s a question posed by The Harvard Business Review, which states that “the longer you’ve worked in an industry, the more success you’ve achieved, the harder it can be to see new patterns and possibilities, new paths to what’s next.” As the overall pace of change only seems to accelerate in business, it’s a helpful reminder to not let what we know limit what we can imagine.
One area of rapid change is in the area of branding. Decades ago, branding was mistakenly thought to be limited to a visual look and feel. Your brand was your logo, and maybe your tagline. In time, a larger view began to take shape: Branding came to mean all of the comprehensive messaging and visuals around the business—from signage to websites to all the tangibles that built emotional connections and influenced customer perceptions. Behind the scenes, we developed the underlying pillars to reinforce this wider brand framework. We refined concepts such as brand promise, brand personality, brand identity and “proof points.” This is largely what is still in place today.
That’s about to change.
To understand what’s happening, we must first consider the most desired outcome of any successful branding effort. That’s always been to build mindshare and grow business by achieving brand consistency. Those of us who have worked in or around any serious branding effort know that we have spent a significant amount of our careers pursuing that brand utopia. If we are honest with ourselves, we have also more often than not been frustrated when our target audience actually experiences something far different than what we had worked so hard to develop and promote.
With word-of-mouth now weaponized via third party review websites and social media, our original toolkit in the marketing world is simply not as effective as it used to be. We still need to generate demand through creative campaigns and a strategic use of marketing technology, but it’s all incomplete without a more intentional plan to think about the entire customer journey, from acquisition to services and product delivery to the very last touch point with your organization.
Here is why: At the end of the day, if our organizations don’t measure up to the expectations we set, our brands suffer. This is basic cause and effect, and not really novel or some kind of new pioneering correlation.
What does feel new is the level of convergence occurring around what has traditionally been thought of as branding. The conceptual borders themselves are expanding, right in front of us. Customers simply want and expect much more. We already know they want great service that’s convenient and responsive. Now, though, that dial has been turned up another notch, and customers want something far harder to consistently deliver: a brand experience driven by empathy.
One easy way to think about this is to paraphrase Maya Angelou’s quote about how people will eventually forget what you say and may even forget what you do, but they never, ever forget how you made them feel.
When customers recall your brand, do they believe you are in the trenches with them, with their best interests at heart? Do they feel like you actually care about them as humans, or do they feel like a transaction?
In these ways, adopting a customer experience (CX) strategy as part of your marketing toolkit finally completes the picture for a truly authentic branding effort. Through the panoramic lens of CX, we can bridge the gap between how we are marketing and what is actually delivered. Forbes calls this gap “the degree of consonance—or alternatively, the break between expectations and performance.” It’s precisely this break, if severe and frequent enough, that can kill a brand and do irreparable harm to a business’s bottom line. Why is the brand experience so important? There has been a shift from the experience being an important part of the brand to being the brand. As Diane Magers, Interim CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), puts it: , “It’s not about the products or services that you sell; those are easily replaceable. It’s about the experience provided. That’s what people actually buy.”
Given this hard truth, why wouldn’t we take the reins and get involved in customer experience? Having mined customer survey data for clues on target audiences’ preferences (or pet peeves!), as marketers and communicators, it’s natural to adopt CX into our portfolios. We’re already familiar with customer conversations about the brand. We’re well-positioned to use this knowledge as a springboard towards creating richer relationships with customers and providing experiences that are relevant to them.
Understanding how to operationalize emotion, then partnering with other departments such as HR to more intentionally manage our work culture, will very soon be a basic expectation of marketing. After all, we have been talking about wanting brand ambassadors for years. From human-centered design thinking to systems thinking to cultural analytics, proven methodologies are now ready to be picked up by the marketers of the future.
Ready for next generation branding? By adding a customer experience and culture change strategy to your portfolio, you can begin to future-proof your role in marketing.
Want to hear more from Ed? Learn more about next-generation branding at Ed’s AMADC talk on December 10th, “The Coming Convergence of Marketing and Customer Experience.” Register here.
Edwin “Ed” Bodensiek is the founder of Cravety, a design thinking firm specializing in brand experience and work culture. He is the former Chief Experience Officer at Miles & Stockbridge and head of brand and communications for Select Medical, a $5 billion public company in Pennsylvania. Ed is also the host of the X Dive Live show, a podcast dedicated to the convergence between brand, culture, customer experience, and employee experience. Connect with Ed on LinkedIn.
Plus, stay tuned for a hands-on brand experience workshop called Futurefy Marketing, coming to the DMV Spring 2019.