Marketing & Branding Mistake #4: Lack of Character

December 29, 2009

*A version of this post originally appeared on Kyle Lacy’s blog where I was invited to write a guest post.

If your brand were a celebrity, who would it be and why?

This is a question that is often used to define a brand’s character, which is a critical component of the overall identity of a brand.  Unfortunately, because it seems abstract, this type of question doesn’t get asked and answered enough.  As a result, many brands don’t have a real character.

Up until recently, many brands were able to grow without having a well-defined and compelling brand character.  As long as a brand provided a consistent set of meaningful, differentiated benefits to a target group of customers, it had a reasonable chance of being successful.  This was because the brand could control its messaging, as it consistently talked to its target customer.  It had its key messages, and it could stick to communicating these.

The communication framework between brands and customers is now very different.  Gone are the days of one way communication of a brand’s message to its customers.  A brand now must engage in a conversation with its customers to stay relevant to and be embraced by them.  A conversation means that a brand can’t just keep stating its key messages.  It has to respond to what customers are saying and asking, and sometimes the key messages just aren’t appropriate responses.

So in these cases, what is a brand supposed to say?  How will it know how to answer its customers’ questions and participate in unscripted dialogue?  This is where the brand’s character plays a critical role.  The brand’s character rounds out the brand into something more than just a set of benefits and key messages.  It gives the brand a life that enables it to talk with its customers without the key messages while still staying true and consistent to what the brand stands for.  It is more than just a tone that the brand uses.  It is truly the brand’s personality, defining its temperament, attitude and behaviors.  The brand’s character differentiates it from other brands with common benefits and it gives customers one more way to develop an affiliation and stronger relationship with the brand.  So while perhaps the brand character could have been an overlooked brand element in the past when differentiating benefits and messages were enough, it is now the critical component that supports conversations between a brand and its customers.  Without it, who are the customers really conversing with?

Can you identify the celebrity that personifies your brand?  If the answer doesn’t readily come to your mind (and isn’t matching what everyone else in your organization would say), perhaps you should take some time to more fully develop your brand’s character.  It will make the conversations between your brand and your customers far richer and more meaningful.

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Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #3: Focusing on the Sale

December 14, 2009

Once upon a time, companies who measured the profit coming from each transaction, product line, or customer segment were considered to be first in class.  Over time this best practice of measuring profitability has evolved from focusing on individual transactions to focusing on the profitability of the total customer experience. Unfortunately, some organizations have not adapted to this new approach.

In today’s highly connected world, customers are seeking to build relationships with brands, and they do not view marketing activities and transactions independently.  Each of these are just different types of  touch points that a customer has with a brand, and the customer does not really distinguish between them.  For example, a great purchase experience is a superior marketing tactic that will drive future purchases.   For the customer, the overall experience that he has with a brand (which includes all types of touch points) impacts his future relationship (and likelihood of additional purchases) with the brand.

Since customers are evaluating a brand based on their total experience, companies should also focus on this total experience. From a measurement and analysis standpoint, instead of trying to maximize profits for any given product line or transaction type, companies should try to maximize profitability over their total customer experience. As a result, this might mean that a company should lower its price (and profitability) on some products that introduce a customer to the brand in order to maximize the total number of products that a customer purchases over the lifetime of the relationship with the brand.  It also might mean that a company should heavily invest in certain marketing programs with existing loyal customers, if it will help customers recommend the brand to others.

The key to successfully maximizing the value of the total brand experience is understanding the role each transaction and touch point plays in the development of the experience.  Once a company stops focusing only on the sale, but instead on the long term relationship, it will unlock long term profit potential.