Brands are owned by its customers. It’s their experience with the brand that matters. It’s their relationship and perception. As a marketer, we must protect the brand and understand the brand’s promise so we don’t screw-up the relationship between the customer and the brand. We must understand the psychological connection between the customers and the brand, so we can continue to emulate what keeps them coming and hopefully attract new customers along the way. Your loyal customers are your brand advocate especially if something goes wrong with the product or service.
Which came first the product/service or the brand?
Without a product/service there is no brand experience. Can you control the experience from the beginning? You can try but many brands are built by loyal and faithful customers. The strongest marketing tool is still word-of-mouth or better phrased word-of-social. You can create the brand environment but in many cases you cannot control how customers interact with the product over time.
Case in point, Calvin Klein started in the 1970’s as a youthful women’s wear and by the 1980’s it changed the face of men’s underwear, sparked by the semi-nude body of Marky Mark Wahlberg modelling the CK briefs. Today, global sales for men’s and women’s CK underwear account for more than 1 billion dollars annually.
Betty Crocker (not a real person but a brand), the revered expert on cake making going back to 1921, stumbled when they changed their cake mix recipe in the 1950’s. Producing a “just add water” product had their loyal following reject it outright. It seemed the brand managers of Betty Crocker didn’t understand the brand experience; by creating the mindless cake mix, the baker’s role in the process was reduced to nothing. The brand insight was that to bake a cake was to show appreciation to one’s family. Making it a mindless effort eliminated the appreciation towards the baker.
Another famous marketing blunder was the Coca Cola Company’s attempt to change Coke’s recipe in 1985. While the new formulation was intensively researched for tastability, no one had asked the customer how they would feel if they took away their original coke, a recipe that had been started in 1886. The backlash and PR nightmare forced Coca Cola Company to reintroduce the classic Coke and rename the new Coke to Coke II.
Today, customers’ backlash is almost instant and the impact on the brand can be global and drastic. As a connected society, any brand crisis will quickly become an online reputation crisis thanks to the real-time nature of social media. If a brand faces a problem of image, product failure, or mistreatment, it will quickly become the latest news on Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, Twitter, and finally front-page news on mainstream media. Many brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Lululemon, Facebook, Instagram, Tim Hortons, Maple Leaf Foods, and even Apple have felt the wrath of unhappy customers due to product issues, policy changes and inappropriate behaviour of management and staff.
The digital communications revolution has completely transformed this balance of control. The consumer’s voice has become louder and much more public. Consumers can publish their brand experience and compare it with their experience of other brands. How a brand responds under pressure can have a profound effect on its future and relationship with its customers.
Never forget that brands are owned by their consumers. They can be the best ambassadors and brand advocates or the brand’s worst enemy.They are the voice of the brand.