Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Customer- Brand Relationships for building loyalty

Brand loyalty refers to a customer’s emotionally driven motive to purchase and experience the brand again and again. Brand loyalty essentially comes from an emotional involvement between the customer and the brand. Customers feel that brands fulfill their expectations and identify with them personally. They build a relationship with the brand and develop a deep-rooted commitment along with psychological reasoning that encourages them to return more. In this competitive world with a variety of options, the brand loyalty seems to be nonexistent. But is it really so?

Consumers are infidel and love experimenting with wide range of available brands. However, this phenomenon is a result of functional and price difference among the category brands. If customers have emotionally committed themselves to a brand, they would soon return back and if the customer-brand relationship becomes endearing enough, they may not experiment at all.  In the modern day context, brand loyalty is not about buying the same brand every time but allocating the maximum ‘share of wallet’ to a particular brand. To me, the key to building fanatically loyal customer base is to create an endearing customer-brand relationship. The journey starts with finding a metaphor from human relationships and evolving from the ‘casual friendship’ to the ‘marriage’, wherein customers become emotionally and behaviourally committed to the brand. 

Steps to building strong customer brand relationships
1.       Right consumer insight that can inspire the brand essence
To build a deep relationship, it is important to understand the customers and have insights on their attitude and behaviour. Good insights are generally obvious but we keep hunting for them everywhere. Insights cannot be discovered from behind the laptop or through books but by meeting customers, spending time with them, by speaking to retailer and reading reviews.  Insights inspire brands to follow a customer and not a product oriented approach.

Kellogg in India failed to realize that middle-class Indian family did not have breakfast on a regular basis, or consumed milk, bread and regional preparations like idlis, parathas etc. Kellogg wanted to change these breakfast habits and banked heavily on the quality of crispy flakes. However, Indians poured hot milk on the flakes which made them soggy and the taste then did not suit the Indian palette. Kellogg tried to build a relationship placing product at the centre, rather than the customer and their beliefs. Whereas, Maggi noodles soon understood that Indians mothers want a quick solution to their child’s hunger and they introduced the product with a proposition of “2 minute noodles”. This placed consumer at the centre of brand strategy and could create an instant connect with large customer base.
Lesson 1: Discover what you can offer in a relationship; not why others should enter into a relationship.

2.       Mind your positioning
To build endearing customer relationship, brands need to establish a relevant and a differentiated proposition. A strong and focused positioning is one of the strongest brand assets.  Brand positioning is reflected in one single statement which is succinct, focused and compelling. It is able to drive brand design, actions and behaviour intuitively. Brand which promises too many things is not able to perform exceptionally well on either and hence fails to occupy a ‘special’ place in customer’s heart. The core of good brand positioning therefore is ‘sacrifice’.

Titan in 80s & 90s was positioned on ‘gifting’. It was a preferred gift for every occasion, be it a wedding, anniversary, farewell or birthday. With explosion of options in customer’s life, Titan moved away from this proposition in 2009 to ‘Be More’, which denoted the various moods and personality of its wearer. This positioning was very strong but to customers, it was confusing. They felt that the brand was saying a lot of things to them and Titan lost that special place in customer’s mind. Titan is again back with the ‘art of gifting’ proposition.
Lesson 2: Have a clearly defined platform to enter into a relationship. Remember you can either be a wife or a mother, not both.

3.       Discover the emotion to tell your story
Products are built on facts but brands are built on emotions. The right emotion serves as glue to the relationship between customer and their brands. When something impacts a customer’s life at a personal level, they are more likely to share it but they do so only if the story is sharply defined. A story build around the brand emotion can bring the core brand values to life.

Johnson & Johnson is a leading brand of baby skin care products and is preferred by young mothers. The brand could build a strong relationship with its customers as it understood that ‘having a baby changes everything for a woman’. For years, it has been telling a story about the bond between a mother and her child. The brand story weaved around this emotion is so compelling that it resonates with mothers even after generations.
Lesson 3: Facts can find a place in mind but emotions can find a place in heart. Tell your story by choosing the right emotion.

4.       Include employees in your brand story
It’s important to ensure that employees understand the meaning of the brand. They are the ones who are responsible for bringing the brand to life. If they are empowered to create positive relationship moments with the customers, then the brand can surpass the experience offered by competition.  While organizations spend millions on advertising, packaging, etc., they do not include their employees in brand building process. Therefore, millions are spent in making a promise, only to have them broken by uninformed and uninterested employees.

Mahindra before launching its new positioning of ‘Rise’ undertook an internal branding program to ensure that every employee within the organization identified with the new positioning and the underlying principles behind the same.
Lesson 4: Build endearing relationship with internal customers before you do so with external ones.

5.       Creating ‘moments of magic’ at every experience and engagement touch point.
A brand ‘is as a brand does’. Brand idea is brought to life at every customer touch point. To create a superior experience all brand experience points should behave like an orchestra, in complete harmony to get across emotional essence seamlessly. Successful brands are able to identify the touch points along the customer journey to create experiences that can inspire the intended brand associations. Engaging customers with the brand at these points strengthens the relationship as customers see themselves as contributors to brand journey. 

Coke continues to build on its promise of happiness by the way of ‘Coke’ and the ‘smile’ campaigns. Apple is an uncluttered yet sophisticated brand and that is the experience it communicates through products, packaging and the store layout. With a boom in the social media space, it has become easier for brands to engage their customers at regular intervals. 
Lesson 5: Magical experiences can inspire but creative engagements help to retain

A successful brand can transform customer’s perceptions, preferences and priorities. At the core of brand health is the relationship that the brand has built with the customer. If this relationship has been nurtured well, it flowers into an inseparable bond resulting in fanatically loyal customers.

 This article was published in Strategist- Business Standard on May 26, 2014. 


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