What kinds of companies come to mind when you think of the world’s most respected brands? How do you suppose those companies became the most respected brands? If you answered “marketing” or “advertising” you’re only partly correct. The complete answer is “customer experience.”
A brand can be thought of as an “identity or image regarded as an asset.” In some cases, ‘brand’ now suggests the values and promises that a consumer may perceive and buy into. I think it originated from the idea of branding livestock with a unique shape or mark to indicate ownership. Later some of those shapes (or, the brands) came to signify higher quality and value than others.
When people speak of brand management I think of transitions through various phases of brand maturity. Marketing and advertising impact the first two phases as they strive to make an impression on buyers. To attain the third phase, brand loyalty, companies must deliver consistently excellent customer experience.
Why? One (or more) poor experience(s) can damage and destroy a brand the same way a series of exceptional experiences can establish, reinforce, and strengthen a brand. No amount of advertising can save a poorly executed experience. Once a poor experience is “out there,” companies spend mountains of time and money to recover. Even then, ample evidence suggests that the act of recovering from failures doesn’t ever solidify customer loyalty.
Companies often stumble trying to cross the chasm between promise/possibility and reality. Earlier in my career I worked at a successful company whose tag line declared that we were “experts” in our field. If you spoke with our engineers, salespeople, marketers and support team, you would agree we knew what we were talking about. Although we were definitely experts, we missed an opportunity to reinforce it by delivering an end-to-end customer experience. Our experience wasn’t intentional. In hindsight, if we had linked our “expert” promise with a sales method, service delivery, and life-cycle support we would have had even more success.
What does this mean for businesses? Quite simply, as companies establish a name for themselves in the marketplace, and as they attempt to earn loyalty, they must make commensurate investments in customer experience to solidify the brand. For example:
- Marketing and any advertisements must reinforce the brand promise.
- Engineering and product management must develop products that highlight the brand.
- Pre-sales and sales must sell in a way that strengthens the brand.
- Operations and customer care must deliver the brand values.
These elements of delivering a seamless customer experience combine together harmoniously to link possibility with reality. Indeed, in companies with high brand loyalty, brand management is customer experience management.
You can’t advertise your way to brand loyalty. The pivot point is that connecting corporate brand promises with corporate capabilities (reality) in an end-to-end customer experience is the only path to brand loyalty.