In an age of total information overload, the brand promise is more critical than it ever was. And I really mean that — as in ever. At no point in history has the brand been such a crucial component of business success. In a world where intelligent agents provide nearly unlimited options on prices and features, customer loyalty is tremendously important.
1. Old habits die hard.
The thing many of the top global brands still have not completely understood and internalized is that a history of success on the street or across a single consumer channel (e.g. retail shopping) is absolutely no guarantee of success in the digital age we live in today. Trust and loyalty don’t automatically transfer from the brick-and-mortar world to the Internet — so brands don’t either. If you’re still relying on physical barriers to competition (which many still do, believe me) to succeed in the marketplace, it’s time to pull your head out and take a look around.
The impulse to buy and the ability to do so used to be two separate things. If you heard music on the radio you liked, you had to get in the car and go to the record shop, and then spend 20 minutes trying to remember what the song or artist’s name was. Not so anymore. Hearing it and buying it are virtually the same act; the individual processes of marketing, sales and fulfillment have merged and now happen simultaneously. And the infrastructure of most large organizations simply doesn’t match this model. Too many decisions at too many levels are made by divisions — whose very title nearly guarantees no one’s talking to anyone else in the organization.
2. Brand value doesn’t match market share.
I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times in the last 6 months that a prospect has tried to convince me that the traditional rules of economics still apply in 2012. Specifically the one that says value comes from scarcity. I’ve got news: scarcity left the building at least a decade ago, if not before.
We’ve all read and/or heard ad nauseam about the network effect. Well, this is all the more true for those brands at the top of the mountain. The more plentiful these companies become, the more essential each individual unit becomes. Companies routinely give away products in order to grab market share, and then come behind those gestures selling linked services. There is no scarcity in this model! And because of that, very few products have a hope in hell of gaining value without widespread, networked acceptance.
Everything is everywhere for all of us — so if your everything isn’t everywhere, you’re wasting time, money and resources putting up the same barriers the Internet destroyed at the tail end of the 1990s.
3. Platform blindness.
All the things people believe brands can do for them — making their lives simpler and more efficient — have to be consistently, expediently available and dependable. Why? Because we live in an era of time famine. At this point there truly aren’t enough hours in any day. So when our customer service emails aren’t returned or customer service hassles us about returning a product or the web site doesn’t suggest alternatives to what we’re looking for, we divorce the brand. We cut it out of our lives almost instantaneously because hey, I don’t have time for this bullshit.
When you’re consistently connected to your customers, you have more touchpoints. The web site, the emails, the call center, the mailbox, the phone app, etc. And every one of those touchpoints is a critical act of branding that will determine the fate of your customer relationships.
You can’t just do the web site. You have to do the website for laptops, smartphones and tablets. You can’t just do direct mail. You have to do direct mail, email, text messaging and tweeting. Plus all that website stuff. Plus smartphone apps. Plus….
Every platform matters to every one of your customers. All of them. Ignore any one of them and you leave a hole big enough for ALL of your competitors to drive their entire fleet of trucks through.