Your Brand: The Missing Piece ThatBuilding brands are the cornerstone of marketing, and for good reason: it’s a direct spinoff of how the brain categorizes and organizes products and services. It is parallel to how we engage with products and build bonds and alliances with others, with experiences, with concepts, and with products and services.

But when numbers begin to fall, the customer retention conversation begins. What’s going wrong?

Are we missing the big picture?

Most people are familiar with the idea that brands are logos and that they include attributes such as, “our tools represent durability”. You may also know brands as the look-and-feel, or the different touches added to an overall experience.

These aren’t incorrect, but they’re not the full picture—they’re just a small subset of what a brand truly is.

A brand captures the meaning behind the entity, product, or organization. Brands are also the experience that the product or service has created for the customer.

So what is a brand? A brand captures the meaning behind the entity, product, or organization. Brands are also the experience that the product or service has created for the customer. Which means there’s a very clear distinction we need to consider:

1) The brand as defined by marketers
2) The brand as experienced by the customers.

Where can brands start to fall down? When they overlook this difference. If the actual experience, the actual takeaway doesn’t align with what the marketers planned, your message and your efforts are falling on deaf ears. It’s the customer’s experience that spreads through networks and out into the marketplace.

This is a distinction I encourage all marketers embrace, but I’m not the only one: Eduardo P. Braun discusses this discrepancy in this great article on the Huffington Post. And Scott Cook, co-founder at Intuit says, “A brand is no longer what we say it is. It is what consumers tell each other it is.”

Let’s take a look at some real-world stats of this issue out in the marketplace:

  • The Chartered Institute of Marketing surveyed 100 businesses in their 2012 Branded Customer Experience Study, and found that 69% of brand leaders felt an investment in strong, day-to-day experiences outweighed other investments such as marketing collateral. And yet only 25% felt that employees were able to uphold that brand promise.
  • Also found in this study, only 19% of marketers strongly believed in their organizations’ ability to link the quality of brand experience to an impact on business value.
  • In Oracle’s 2013 report on Global Insights on Succeeding in the Customer Experience Era (surveying 1,342 senior-level executives from 18 countries), respondents estimate that the average potential revenue loss for an inability to offer a positive, consistent and brand-relevant customer experience is around 20% of annual revenue.

Delivering the experience, cultivating the relationship

Your brand is the meaning derived from experiences. Which means that as marketers, what we define for our customers are really just prompts—they’re suggestions we provide, hoping they’ll agree with us. So we’ve got our work cut out for us: we need to drive programs that deliver the experience we’re trying to convey.

More than just colors, more than just messages: what it means to create a brand

Our actual role in branding? To design, create, attract, and funnel our customers through the experiences we are trying to create. To actually have customers walk away agreeing that our brand is indeed what we say it is. To build experiences, to cultivate relationships, and to make sure we deliver on the story our brand is here to tell.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Consistently solicit feedback. One perspective is never enough, and yours may not represent the opinion of the whole. From focus groups to soliciting informal (but honest) opinions, build a culture of gathering feedback and having the agility to incorporate your findings on the next round.
  • Monitor conversations before the sale, during the product experience, and afterward. Feedback comes from a direct request, but monitoring conversations happen through listening. This may be social listening, it might be observing a potential customer’s interaction with the product, or it might be listening to what customers say when you’re broaching the topic of a repeat sale. Here you’re looking for patterns and clues that tell how your brand is being received.
  • Build feedback loops into the brand experience. I love seeing examples of brands requesting ratings after a customer experience because it serves two initiatives: the customer has the opportunity to share his or her thoughts and the employees know they will be rated. Both approaches can nip issues in the bud.
  • Make it measurable. Initiatives that include KPIs not only lend themselves to keeping your finger on the pulse, they also serve as a forcing function to incorporate the objective into your overall strategy. And even better, numbers allow you to track progress and map significant upswings and downturns to their possible causes, which is valuable intel.

The gap between customer experience and brand promise is a pervasive challenge for us as marketers, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. A fan of this article? Tweet me to let me know. Comments are welcome (and encouraged), opinions are valued, and sharing is caring!