Rethinking Customers, Value, and How Brands Express Their Humanity

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With the hype around personal branding in full swing, something unexpected has started to happen.

Though there is a fair amount of criticism of individuals acting as brands (some justified, some not), one of the unintended consequences is that brands have begun to act like individuals.

Some of this is a good thing – people like to buy from and work with brands that value the humans within an organization. But too often in marketing this comes with a dark side: lapsing back into talking about product  and “me speak” at the expense of what really matters, the customer.

Marketing rockstars tell brands to “be more human” and to create a friendly persona, but never go into detail on how it actually works or why it’s different from personal branding, which inevitably leads to…

Look At What We’re Building, See How Great Our Product Is, LIKE US.

You can see how this might be a turn off to consumers. But it’s not just the tone or content that’s a problem, it also shows up in the techniques and technology that brands and marketers use.

As Michael Brenner notes:

“As consumers we largely don’t answer cold calls, watch television ads, respond to unwanted emails, click on banner ads or appreciate disruptive marketing techniques of any kind.”

Part of the solution involves not just showing and embracing your own humanity (as people within brands), but understanding and respecting the humanity of your customers and potential customers. Building around them is a lot easier than guessing what they want or delivering something you want them to want, and with more access to data online than ever before companies that don’t change are starting to fail.

Here, in an excerpt from her recent book Evolve with Daniel Newman, ArCompany CEO and founder Hessie Jones looks at how financial institutions are struggling, and what they need to do to shift from focusing on themselves and their product to focusing on the customer, and providing value…

IN BANKING, THE PRODUCT RULES

It’s pretty ironic that in an environment where data is a primary element to communicate to customers, rarely do we look at the customer and their overall value to the bank. Products, or as banks would say–Lines of Business (LOBs), are their own kingdoms.

While there is process and oversight in ensuring over-communication to any one customer is mitigated, there is little effort for LOBs to further collaborate with each other.

Mortgages define their customers differently from Lending and from Credit Card Services. Now, as a bank customer the messages I receive from one bank are fragmented; many voices communicating separate messages through different mediums.

Minimal communication between departments typically has resulted in duplicated messages to the customer, and an apparent inefficiency. The right hand rarely knew what the left hand was doing.

This is the reason why today each division maps its own course for social media, resulting in varying tools and technology, and fragmented social accounts and programs.

ATTEMPTS TO DEFINE THE BUSINESS BY “CUSTOMER” ARE FUTILE

Banks don’t typically put the customer at the center of the equation. That’s not how they’re structured. My VP was a maverick. She made an attempt to undo this siloed thinking within the LOB and create a litmus test for the rest of the bank. Whereas marketing was structured by card product first, an initiative was launched to revamp the department based on customer value.

We would have a holistic view of the customer, all transactions, frequency, purchases, products, revenue potential, and customer satisfaction. While this was being defined, a core team helped define the functional impacts and impending changes that were required.

Along the way some critical insights began to surface:

  • The practices previously used by one product were not consistently adopted by another group
  • Subsequently, successes realized in one group were not consistently shared with the other products
  • The central data team struggled to re-organize customer data to accommodate the new value system that was being implemented
  • The customer call center needed more than just minor process tweaks to properly service customers based on the new configuration
  • While Credit Cards was making a move towards recognizing and re-evaluating the customer as a core focus, the rest of the LOBs continued with the status quo

It was clear that it would take much more “dismantling” of process and structure in order to deliver on a customer centric environment. The attempt of ONE department to do the right thing also meant that the entire bank structure needed to change … and that would mean serious upheaval in the process.

The reality was that the bank environment did not reward performance based on customer retention. It rewarded performance based on product revenue.

Many businesses think they are already heading down the road to social, and some truly are, but many are missing the mark so let’s dive into where businesses have gone wrong when attempting to be social and then try to put you on the course to a more meaningful social business strategy.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS A PRETEND SOCIAL BUSINESS?

The “Pretend Social Business” is a company that participates in a portion of what makes a business social yet proclaims to embrace the concept entirely. The worst perpetrators of this trend are those that continuously preach social business but are merely littering social outlets with their content – even if the content is well intended and useful. The companies that do this will push their teams to share the content; however when someone stops to like or respond to the content the sharers are no place to be found. It’s like a cold call salesman that leaves messages, receives a call back and then doesn’t talk to the prospect.

Other pretend social businesses find themselves creating and sharing content at the enterprise level (large or small) but do almost nothing to ensure that their employees and communities are spreading the good word, or even aware of what is being shared. These companies have social silos that aren’t taking the value of a social business from end to end but rather just going through the motions. These are also companies that are likely to deem Social Business a waste of time after a short span of trying it proclaiming things like, “It doesn’t work” or ”It isn’t possible”. Of course it isn’t possible if you don’t lube the engine. Just shot-gunning content out without the support of your closest stakeholders is ridiculous.

IT’S  INEVITABLE:  ALL  ROADS  LEAD  TO  SOCIAL  BUSINESS

Consider the customer experience for your business. If clients and prospects tend to use content and social media as a means for better understanding your industry, available solutions and buying options, then why wouldn’t you help take them through the entire process digitally by considering all of the parts?

  • Brand Awareness: Companies can build awareness and connections to their brand through the sharing of ideas and content in social communities. In the earliest phases of the buyer’s journey it helps to share content with the intent to educate and inspire. It’s imperative to stay away from strong brand oriented content and focusing more on what you want the market to know about; the problems that your business solves.
  • Brand Affinity: If you want to build a community around your brand you have to give them the ability to feel more connected to your brand. If you are only sharing then you may be a source of information, but you will rarely gain their loyalty. If you think about the best teachers or business partners you ever had, there was a give and take relationship. This consisted of sharing, conversing and learning together – a two-way interaction. Affinity is built through continued conversation and engagement that can take place between a consumer and a brand. If employees are just dropping links, that isn’t social business; it’s like putting flyers on the windshield.
  • Purchase: The final stage and the goal that underpins most social businesses is to sell something to someone. Yes, it is revenue that allows us to exist. All of the goodwill, education and sharing needs to generate revenue or it’s a waste of time. But social businesses see the purchase phase as the start of the generation of customer experience. Social becomes a way for customers to stay more connected to the brand– to learn about changes and better ways to leverage products and services purchased. And these days, it’s also a way to get support when something goes wrong. A social business takes social from the very first introduction to the customer through to the customer life cycle.

 

At ArCompany we  analyze data gathered from social media, websites, forums and search. This research helps inform and guide the communication efforts of many brands. If you want to learn more about implementing meaningful insights, we’re here to help.

Joe is a product/ops guy working with the ArCompany team on content, growth, and analytics. He digs media, design, startups, data, rocanroll, anything science-y, and thinking about how to become a better human.

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