Here are some good questions.
- What does your company stand for?
- What does it represent?
- Who does it stand for?
Now, more than ever before, our brand is vitally important. More time needs to be spent making sure it is clear. Our customers are connected when our brand is clear. The values we share, the personal believes that we hold in common, the life experiences that are combined with personal and professional objectives are creating a need for personal engagement with our mission.
Is it about apathy? Is it about empathy? It isn’t either/or. We have to align with customers in order for them to be passionate about us. We have to go beyond being customer-centric. Notice I didn’t say our customers need to align with us. This isn’t about us. It is about what our customers love and can connect to in terms of why we are in business.
The best way to think about it is to think of community. That can mean a group of people living in the same place or it can mean having some characteristics in common. As companies, we need to understand communities. We need to know why our customers align with our community or they don’t. In most companies, there isn’t a single view of the customer because we are in siloes. And so we slice up the customer by department and by desired result.
- Are they a customer?
- Have they given recently?
- Did they renew this year?
Or … are they an advocate for us in promoting the emotional connection they have for us?
The list goes on. We wish it wasn’t true but while companies truly value collaboration we typically aren’t measured by collaboration results.
The traditional opportunity funnel is no longer working with the connected customer. What is happening with the connected customer is very dynamic and can feel like it is spinning out of control to you as a leader. We will need to adapt our mission, vision and models to react faster. Speed is paramount to the digital company.
There really can’t be a “top-down” movement to create a singular experience for the customer. When you dissect the nature of a transactional relationship, there is never to be found a unified experience. Movements don’t create unity.
We have to change our minds.
In deciding to be intentional and design a better experience, we need to dig deeper and understand more about community. A simple example is Twitter. What are #hashtags if not a simple way to create a community around a topic? And it works.
Now community is much more than a hashtag. It is about doing something that matters and being a part of it. Why has the revenue of Habitat for Humanity exploded at a time when other companies are in decline? Formed in 1976, the last revenue totals I saw placed them at $1.491 billion in total revenue. My niece can tell you about her experience. She gives her time and money to make a difference. And she does. That is what she wants to do. Habitat for Humanity simple aligns itself with that passionate desire she has.
So let’s think intentionally and design it from start to finish. To build a community starts with the passion of the customer and then our company vision aligns with that passion. That is unified with our mission. It comes to life with our brand commitment. We must then define the experience we want people to have with our brand (the embodiment of their passion and our vision / mission). We then must align that experience with everything we do. From sales to marketing to customer service to finance, it must fill everything we design. It must be on the whiteboards in our conference rooms. It must be aspirational. It has to be something worthy of the communities we are building. Our customers have to feel at their core that they personally and the entire world can’t live without our company.
The “old world” of branding has moved on. It isn’t about the jingle or tagline anymore. Today we have to build an identity, a persona, the essence of a feeling, a promise and most important, deliver on all those things. This is the new world of branding. And, thanks to technology and the deeper connections it can facilitate, it can happen.
How we as companies connect with our customers is directly impacted by technology. If you don’t believe it just look at the controversies that Susan G. Komen, LiveStrong or the Boy Scouts have/are dealing with. These great companies have seen issues escalated as a result of blogging, social media, texting, etc. Look at how fast Blockbuster declined. It really wasn’t about finance. It was all about deep changes in how we all watch video.
Increasingly, in all these cases, the role of technology means that a company’s brand is very important. It is probably more important than it has ever been before. Brand is all about being intentional and design. Customers want certainty. They rely heavily on the symbolism our company brand offers. Do you think company controversies are linked to a brand promise? Did technology accelerate the firestorm?
Company brands that fail to instill core confidence in their customers run the risk of failing and failing fast. Company brands that survive (even during economic downturns) will be the ones that are best able to evolve because they recognize the need to do so before their competitors do.