Failing to think like a customer is failing completely

The greatest danger for us all is that we view an online brand experience as somehow different from the offline experience. We forget that customers naturally think of brands as seamless entities, meeting their emotional and rational needs and wants.

Customers don’t care about which companies do what, how it happens, or even which silo is producing each part of their experience. They expect - quite rightly - that the whole process is joined up so that they can transact, and in a broader sense, so that they can keep a brand in their lives.

Without the fuel of deep qualitative and quantitative insight into how the consumer consumes across the whole brand experience and how it works for them in their lives, we can make some pretty poor and narrow brand decisions.

In the research we carry out, one of the biggest inconsistencies customers note is when they are required to transact with two different companies who purport to be delivering the same brand. They feel and see a difference between the online and offline experiences in tone of voice and brand personality.

Customers feel that they are being managed by the process, rather than facilitated and helped to transact. They feel that their control is being replaced by inflexibility and they become frustrated by the lack of intuition and logical interaction. The brand experience can become patronising and frustrating, which is the exact opposite of the experience that a brand is trying to create.

How many meetings have you been to like this: the discussion centres on the desire to drive customers toward the website or mobile platform in order to create something efficient for the business, with no consideration for touch points like human contact? We should always ask ourselves ‘do we absolutely empirically know that this is what the customer wants, or are we taking a short term, subjective view so that we can do what works for us?’.

The answer to these questions leads to very different attitudes towards customers and consequently very different brand experiences. Brands and companies need to understand that customers make judgements based on what brands do, not what they say.

We must see each customer interaction as a point of communication which can either build or erode a brand; inconsistency speaks volumes whereas, totally aligned and consistent interactions build the stickiness we all seek.

Fractured Experiences

One of the biggest blind spots we observe is the inconsistent descriptions and understanding of the customer across departments. This inconsistency leads to a dangerous process of fractured delivery against an ill-defined target. Without a clearly defined, insight driven persona of the core target customers there can be no clarity of focus. This can result in a dysfunctional brand experience.

If we add to this the confusion caused through the different priorities a business has for its digital activity, and we can see that the opportunity to distance the brand from the consumer becomes even greater. Building an experience to suit the efficiency of the business may not be in the best interest of the customer, leading to “computer says no” syndrome. It is amazing how often the customer is presented with a barrier to an experience, as though it has been designed by someone sat in a bunker and bereft of any human interaction.

Seeing the brand experience as a series of individual touch points which need to be improved separately (be they digital or “analogue”) is especially dangerous. Teams need to build with a symbiotic view of the overall experience, an experience with the customer absolutely at the centre. Without this holistic view it is possible to improve a digital journey at odds with the offline experience, the outcome of which is a disjointed brand in the eyes of their customers.

Refreshed thinking about brand experience

The opportunity for brands and those that manage or influence brands, is to create new collaborations within their companies which combine the amazing power of the digital world, the deep insight of marketers, and the incredible strength of great operational delivery in the offline environment.

At the core of this online – offline collaboration will be the customer, everything that the business knows about them, and the other brand experiences with which they compete.

It is just not possible to refresh any strategy in the new era of branding without a holistic approach that mirrors how consumers consume. Digital is, without doubt, the real powerhouse of consumer liberation when used properly. It can also be a real barrier to brand experience if developed in a tech silo, lacking clear sight of the real customer needs and wants. How we make people feel throughout the customer journey is brand critical.

The key to easier interaction and connection in the digital world is the continual functional development of user experience. We must foster new user emotions into the development which reinforce ease of use at those most critical moments and touch points. These interactions create differentiation in the brand experience.

Without positioning the customer at the heart of a brand experience which has been developed and delivered by people from every customer touch point, the irony is that the digital teams will build the same silo as their analogue colleagues, and then nobody wins, least of all the brand.

 

By Andrew Stothert, CEO of Brand Vista


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