(Or How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Customer)
By Samuel Greengard
Businesses all like to think their brand and product are indispensable. We fill our heads with narratives in which our brand plays a very important role in making the world a happier or better place.
In reality, we know all know that the world goes on without any business or brand. The dustbin of history is filled with once-adored brands. Think Blockbuster, Gymboree, or Toys R Us.
So, the question isn’t whether the disappearance of our brand would impact the world in a profound way. The answer is, probably not. The more interesting question is: Would people care if it disappeared?
The short answer: maybe.
It’s no secret that the world’s most adored brands establish a deep emotional connection with their customers. At the most basic level, they evoke feelings of happiness, empathy, or pride.
Some refer to this as “brand intimacy.” According to marketing agency MBLM, which issues an annual report on this topic, brands that achieve intimacy averaged profit growth of nearly 37 percent from 2009 to 2018. This figure compares to about 16% for Fortune 500 firms and 7 percent for S&P Global firms.
Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, and Disney do this very well. For example, 33 percent of Amazon and Apple customers say they can’t live without the brand; 27 percent of Disney customers say the same thing.
What’s the secret sauce? In today’s digital-centric environment, it’s all about making connections count. At the center of everything is the smartphone. According to MBLM research, the common theme among successful brands is they are part of a smartphone ecosystem.
Success is increasingly hinges on connecting to customers through apps (Uber, Airbnb, Instagram) and delivering relevant content and information (Disney, Netflix, Amazon). The common denominator is these brands enable and enhance the smartphone experience through videos, information, feature stories, and other components that establish a strong emotional connection.
Although the concept varies somewhat by generation and age, all successful brands find the connection points and then leverage digital media and physically elements to constantly reinforce the positive feelings.
Ultimately, brand intimacy results in greater price resilience, loyalty, and social influence. Simply put, such a connection creates customers that are likely to pay more, buy more often, and share their positive experience with others. In other words, such attention elicits customer affinity and generates business acceleration.
Putting connections to work
Such success doesn’t just happen, of course. It requires a strategic focus and the right framework.
Today, too many marketing campaigns are defined by disjointed, vague, and poorly designed emails and other communications that simply ratchet up the noise level. An onslaught of these messages causes recipients to switch off. Once they mentally disconnect, it’s difficult to reel them back in.
A more enlightened approach revolves around a hybrid experience. This means reaching deeper into the marketing toolkit to detect signals and adapt methods according to behavior and other factors. This requires a more advanced and holistic framework to connect and engage.
A hybrid experience focuses on delivering the precise right experience at the right moment in time. It takes the idea of personalization and contextualization to a more advanced level. So, while the primary connection takes place through the digital device—for instance, the smartphone or email—it can also extend to the physical world.
This means sending the right message at the right moment in the customer lifecycle. It means creating websites that deliver richer and more relevant experiences—and adapt dynamically to specific customers and their needs. It also means tying in sales calls, conferences, webinars, and other meeting points. It means creating authentic physical experiences that delight customers.
When a brand can map this customer data effectively and put it into motion, the dynamics of the relationships change profoundly. A blunt-force marketing and sales approach disappears and is replaced by a more orchestrated and nuanced framework.
Putting all the pieces together
In the end, it’s important to ask the right question. This isn’t whether anyone would care if your brand went away; it’s about how do you make them care enough so your brand doesn’t go away?
In an increasingly complex digital space, it’s all about building the right data platform to pick up the right signals from the marketplace and customers, communicating effectively with customers, empowering employees to act on data more effectively, and creating a technology foundation and mindset that supports agility.
When brand do these things right, and when they create integrated, orchestrated and impactful experiences at scale, they’re suddenly able to establish connections that transcend a simple transactional. Customers feel the love and willingly return it. This is the recipe for deeper and more permanent customer relationships that will help make your brand future-proof.
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology. His latest book is the Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2021).