What is a brand? Is it what organisations say or is it made up of what people think, feel and experience? I believe it’s the latter.
On the face of it, this may not seem revolutionary, but I disagree — adopting a customer experience-led mindset promises to change how we structure marketing teams and organise the businesses of the future.
Most meaningful brand experiences do not happen when you’re browsing online, watching TV or reading a newspaper. They happen when you’re using a product, talking to a sales rep or listening to a customer success agent. While marketing campaigns make the brand promise, it’s these three components on which you judge it.
Too often a slick marketing campaign makes a brand promise which is instantly shattered when you interact with a particular department. What organisations say in their marketing communications is effectively a vow and if they fail to keep it, they’ll be held accountable. Look up any brand on a search engine, and on the first few pages you will see people on social networks, blogs and websites who have been discussing their customer experience. This is effectively the organisation’s reputation. This is the new reality for all of us.
If people’s experience of your brand is a poor one, it doesn’t matter how many marketing dollars you spend, how many slick adverts you make or how great your content is, your marketing, in the long run is worthless. Nada. Zilch. Nowt.
Does this make me fearful for the future of marketing? Not at all. Just think back to the last time a product delighted you, a sales rep wowed you or a customer success agent went the extra mile. How did it make you feel? Did the experience align with the organisation’s brand promise?
This is the future of marketing. Don’t believe me? Consider this for a moment. Customers don’t want to hear marketing messages. In fact, they try and block out the hundreds, if not thousands of marketing messages they are bombarded with each day (just look at the rise of ad blockers in 2015). But when a customer is using a product or talking with a customer success agent, they are at this point infinitely more receptive to a brand.
At this moment you have people’s attention and they want to listen. I’m not suggesting you hit them up with marketing messages, but this is an opportunity to authentically deliver on your brand promise — so people can truly experience and remember your brand.
First and foremost, organisations must invest in getting their product, sales and customer service right, then look to marketing to raise awareness and communicate their brand promise. Again, I’m not fearful for the future of marketing. What we’re seeing is change. Everyone is now part of marketing.
The leading companies will be the ones which embrace this change and understand that product, sales and customer service shape customer experience — marketing may make the promise, but it’s these departments which live, breathe and deliver it. It’s the experience you provide the customer with at every touchpoint which truly matters.
Does any of this scale? Absolutely. But it’s a cultural and organisational challenge, not just a marketing one. Take a look at Airbnb, HubSpot (my employer and pioneers of inbound marketing), Uber or any other company that has been labelled disruptive, innovative or nimble in the last decade. Buying from them is easy. They have fantastic customer service. And their products are category-changing.
This wonderful customer experience is what has driven growth and created fantastic brands that will live long into this century.
In contrast, the challenge for many established organisations is removing self-created barriers that inhibit them from providing the excellent customer experience they promise. They must narrow the gap between what they say and what they do.
A brand is the reality of what people experience — not what you tell them. This isn’t the end of marketing. Quite the opposite, the definition and scope of marketing is broadening, and the whole organisation must now adopt a customer experience-led approach that is faithful to the brand promise.