Commentary

When Consumers Demand Affirmation, You Need to Love Them Back

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, June 8, 2018

Brands used to sit at the nexus of power, functioning as trust engines that could brainwash and cajole people into believing not only in what they said, but, more importantly, what they represented. 

Many marketers took advantage of this, imbuing their brands with meaning to the point that the very best became culturally iconic. But as time progressed, laziness ensued, brand marketers considered their logos’ ubiquity as the sole indicator of success. Take MTV, for example, a brand that saw its 15 minutes of fame pass into history. It lived in the moment and became blindsided when music and video evolved, leaving it squarely behind.    

If you look at today’s successful internet-based brands, a sizable portion remains predicated on respect, relationships and customer-centricity. With that dedication to showing customers love, they inevitably embark on the journey to deliver products and services that there is real demand for — as opposed simply to what brands think they want, or have to sell.

Sometimes this notion might mean cleverly aligning convenience with the opportunities of moment and place. Other times, it could connote true understanding of how you as a brand marketer can provide affirmation. Marketers need to constantly be asking questions like: where do we credibly belong? Where can we make a real difference? Where can we do something useful?

Over the past decade, brands like L’Oréal and Delta Airlines were perceived to be in decline That was until each brand demonstrated customer love through activations that helped to heighten brand loyalty. Facial recognition technology allowed L’Oréal’s Makeup Genius app to become personalized and further increased interaction with the brand. L’Oréal then doubled down, bringing in AR technology on the "Style My Hair" app to show what customers could expect from their potential color selection.

Delta Airlines was once on the path to bankruptcy when it remembered to “show the love” to its employees and customers. A sharp eye on customer experience, including everything from employing data to better understanding when flyers experience “moments of a truth” to gratis meals helped turn the tide. These days, the airline is a perennial service award winner and continues to deliver solid financial results. This was not an easy transformation, but respecting customers made it possible.

Here is what a great brand experience sounds like from a customer perspective:

I've been frequenting the Warby Parker store recently for new glasses. The over-the-top happiness their employees exude, plus their passion for helping me succeed in getting the exact glasses I need, is the reason I will never buy glasses from another company. Culture as competitive advantage indeed. 

At Warby Parker, customer respect has become clearly culturally encoded.

With mobile devices now serving as portals to affirmation, they constantly shape, morph, build, and create our individual identities. It is personal branding at scale, a world of billions of personal brands all focusing their attention on themselves rather than the customer. With consumers so invested in themselves and building their personal brands, why should they listen, care, pay attention, or even engage with your brand? 

This is where customer centricity plays its hand. When Best Buy doubled down on service, the quintessential big-box retailer leveled the playing field by matching online prices. But what struck home was the introduction of the Geek Squad, an in-home service that was the public and very personal face of the brand.       

Quite simply, brands have to prove their worth at every corner and demonstrate their ability to bring value to consumers. Existence and presence are no longer enough on their own. Boldness and the willingness to buck convention in order to delight the customer rule the hour.

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