Brands are like Faberge eggs - precious and delicate. Last week,
we talked about how the survey process needs to be carefully designed so as to not taint your brand. "I felt fine about your customer service till you started sending me those pesky reminders about filling out a survey to rate your customer service" pretty much sums up the sentiment. This week, let's explore what other elements impact your brand affinity. Our brand research reveals that when it comes to asking consumers about brands, they are able to share how they feel about a brand. When asked why, however, they find it difficult to articulate reasons behind the feelings they express. This should not be surprising to marketers since the connection consumers have with a brand is an emotional one. However, this becomes a problem when a brand's equity is trending downwards or research data reveals that consumers are losing their connection with a brand. How can marketers generate actionable insights to enable them to take corrective action? Projective techniques in qualitative research can help "peel the onion" and reveal the reasons behind the emotions, but knowing what questions to ask is a challenge.
As with our personal health, the best cure is prevention.
The following brand preservation rules are applied to creating and maintaining your brand experience:
- How you do something is how you do everything. There is a private elementary school in New Jersey with a very strong focus on ensuring that the kids attending get the best nutrition possible. The school serves vegan food and is therefore somewhat controversial. However, they make their own cashew milk from scratch. Not that we are advocating for a particular diet here, but when parents of the enrolled students are asked to express how they feel about the school and why, they frequently refer to the fact that they strain their own cashews to get milk that they feed the children. They reason that if that is how much attention they pay to this small detail, the school is surely that dedicated to providing the best quality education to their students. The old adage "your brand is only as good as your weakest link" applies here. On the flip side, a brand's equity can be strengthened by deliberately re-engineering and even over-engineering elements of the overall brand experience.
- What have you done for me lately? Apple losing some of its luster recently comes to mind here. The company known for its innovation is lately seen by consumers as making incremental improvements to amazingly innovative customer experiences it once created. It's difficult to keep besting yourself. One of my favorite artists from yesteryear, Christopher Cross, could never top the success of his amazing Grammy award winning debut album. Once you stake your brand reputation on ground-breaking innovation as Apple did, there is no resting on your laurels. The brand expectation has been set. It seems Samsung and LG are the innovators in the space, and they too will have to learn not to plateau on innovation. As the Asian saying goes: "He who rides a tiger can never dismount".
- Changing aspects of the brand experience too often can have negative consequences for your brand. This is particularly relevant for technology brands using the lean startup methodology to update their apps or software. The idea is that the consumer has paid not only for the current version they bought but also all future updates in the subscription price they paid. However, technology companies, in an effort to make the consumer feel they are getting ongoing value, often make changes for changes sake. Moving that back button from here to there is not necessarily an improvement and is frequently an annoyance to the user. Companies often create timetables for upgrade cycles, expecting major and minor updates through the year to happen on a preset timetable. This often puts pressure on engineering to make changes that may not be warranted or welcomed for the sake of releasing an update as scheduled.
- Altering the "contract" between your brand and your customers can have negative effects. Starbucks recently announced changes to its rewards program, basing rewards on the dollars spent instead of visits to stores only to face a backlash from its customers. The company recently announced a change to its rewards program, prompting many customers to tweet about defecting to other coffee chains. Loyalty programs are about data collection more than about the rewards, so it is unclear why Starbucks let this change potentially taint its brand and customer affinity. On a personal note, I have been a Starbucks rewards gold member since 2010. Small thing, but I looked forward to receiving notification that I had achieved gold status again this year. I will still be able to maintain my gold status under the new program given how many times I visit Starbucks annually. However, I do feel differently about the program and less enthusiastic about achieving gold status now. Sure, a lot of loyalty programs are based on dollars, but Starbucks sent a message to its most ardent customers when it based its program on visits. It said "we value you every time you walk in the door". It created a certain intangible bond with its loyal customers that it now wants to change.
- Using technology as brand solidifier. Lastly, in this "appified" world in which we now live, every brand has a technology component. Not that it should be used to allow other aspects of the brand experience to falter, but the technology component can be a "brand strengthener". Ask anyone who flies Alaska Airlines and uses their elegant app. There is a lot to be said for extending the brand experience of even a seemingly low tech brand by extending the experience to a beautiful and elegantly designed functional technology component such as an app.
Alan Nazarelli is President and CEO of Silicon Valley Research Group, a global market research and strategy development firm focused on the needs of technology companies.