The rules for developing and managing brands are laid out in a range of principles and frameworks developed by extraordinary marketing minds. Time and time again, we’re told brands follow these rules to achieve success. But every so often, you encounter a highly successful brand that seems to defy the theory. And there are lessons for all of us in that success as well.
We shouldn’t even think of the term “customer service” as being about something that is valuable to customers. In fact, customer service is worth next to nothing. The reasons are simple. We live in a service-focused age, and the people who buy from you know they’re customers. So the term “customer service” does not describe anything customers don’t expect and it certainly doesn’t envelope anything of particular value to them.
We could argue at length about the influence that social media actually has on people’s thinking day to day, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that the conversations people are having over longer timeframes are reframing their attitudes to sectors at a macro level.
Disclaimers are everywhere. From the websites we visit to the products we buy and the ads we watch, the terms under which consumers read and receive are carefully wrapped in legal bubble-wrap to protect brands from liability. In an age of transparency, such disclosures seem prudent and very much in keeping with the demands of today. You know where you stand. The terms for what you are getting are laid out in explicit detail. Or are they?
Personalisation is the quest of the moment for so many marketers, with 70% of executives interviewed by Forrester saying it is now of strategic importance to their business. (What may surprise you, as it did me, is how generalised so much marketing still is.)
Every brand has a truth point – and that point is always the point of contact: the moment when the customer makes contact with the brand, to buy, to ask, to complain, to enquire … Everyone whose studied marketing for any time nods at this obvious point. But interestingly, whilst all brands acknowledge contact as the truth point and most wax lyrical about customer service and having a customer promise, far fewer resource for it or prepare their people thoroughly to deliver on it. A surprising number still don’t explain to their own people how to apply the brand to what they are working on in their day. They seem to just expect it to happen.
The sharing economy is substantial. Uber’s valuation just hit $50 billion. Airbnb is valued at around $20 billion. And Entrepreneur believes the sharing economy’s size in five key sectors will reach 335 billion by 2025. As this article explains, “The catalyst behind the sharing phenomenon are technology platforms—big data and mobile—allowing consumers to share anything, anywhere, and anytime at an affordable price. Sharing is ubiquitous today.”
It’s tempting to believe that every brand must be vastly different and that every opportunity to push the boundaries should be taken if the brand is to win. But is there a case for normality that we’re missing here? Should, as Jay Bauer has suggested, brands stop trying to be amazing and just get on with being useful?
It’s tempting to think of consumers in binary terms in relation to the brands you are responsible for: in, or out; buying, or not buying; loyal, or not loyal. But for many brands, the status of an individual can be more complex. At any given point in time, people can take on other roles in relation to your brand, and in relation to your competitors’ brands, that nevertheless have a direct influence on your competitiveness.
At his presentation at The Un-Conference, Chris Wren included this deceptively simple observation: “Follow the insights,” he suggested, “Wherever they may lead”. I was struck immediately by the extent to which brands don’t. Too often it seems research functions as something of a confirmation bias – reinforcing beliefs that are already deeply held.